March 30, 2020

The Great Mystery of the FDA/CDC Delay Revealed

One of the great mysteries in all of life is how while anybody with eyes to see could see this virus a comin’ from a mile away, we as a country remained permafrosted in inaction for a month.

We had a remarkable cushion of time to react compared to China or Italy and enjoyed the benefit of the Germans providing the W.H.O. their coronavirus test which the W.H.O. made available to the U.S.  But we said, “no thank you” and killed the only hope of containing the virus which was to test, test, test. Pride goeth before the fall.

So the whole month of February got frittered away (the NY Times has a great piece on the forensics of how this happened here and how the big players are the CDC and the FDA and they rather neatly complemented each others flaws).

The root cause for both failures seems to be leadership that lacked experience hired by a guy (Trump) who lacked experience.

Lest you blame Trump, think again. The American people have longed and thirsted for inexperience with every fibre of our being, both Republican and Democrat, Independent and Socialist.  From a reformed drunk who managed one state successfully for a short time (GW Bush) to a nobody community organizer (Obama) to a real estate honcho (Trump), the American people have demanded inexperience.

But the devilish quandary is that thirst for inexperience is completely legitimate!  From the “experienced” LBJ and Vietnam to “experienced” Nixon and Watergate, to the taping of MLK by the FBI and “experienced” Hoover excesses, to the “experienced” robed justices who declared that killing your baby is protected in the Constitution, to the deep state and swamp-ish contemporary behaviors -- well it’s been a long time comin’.

You can see that startlingly illustrated by the binary election of 2016: corrupt, experienced politician in the mode of Hoover/Nixon/LBJ (Hillary) or rank newcomer with the inexperience of ten GW Bushes (Trump).

To alter the Dylan lyric, “there ain’t no way out of here.”  Which, counterintuitively, for me is a satisfying answer.  Knowing there was nothing we could do makes it easier to stomach.

Closer to the ground we see this 2-year old Atlantic piece that eerily presages the failure of the newly hired C.D.C. leader:
“Dr. Redfield will begin his directorship at a pivotal time for the CDC. Infectious diseases are emerging at an ever faster pace, drug-resistant microbes are sweeping the world, and the United States is struggling to deal with its opioid epidemic... 
Given these challenges, others have concerns about Redfield’s experience. That may seem odd for someone with such deep medical credentials, but the CDC is a public-health agency, and improving the health of entire populations requires different skills and knowledge than caring for individual patients. CDC directors must be more than experienced physicians or scientists; they must run an agency of 15,000 employees with a budget of over 7 billion dollars, and ideally, they’d jump into the post already having strong relationships with public-health officials at the state and local level. 
For that reason, most former directors have either run a city or state public-health department before, or have worked at the CDC itself.” 
Hmmm...what could go wrong?

And the die was cast likewise with FDA hire. In a column written last year and thus likewise without hindsight:
"There have been concerns raised in media reports about Hahn’s lack of experience working in the federal government. The majority of his professional experience has been running radiation oncology departments at academic medical centers, including the University of Pennsylvania, for nearly two decades. He is also a clinical trial investigator. Gottlieb, in comparison, had worked at the FDA and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services before being named FDA commissioner."
The money phrase there is “academic medical centers”.  Working in academia neatly explains his holy and apostolic reverence for the feelings of the scientists under him than the crass citizenry and front-line medical community.  He’s a first responder to his his team, not vulgar outsiders.

So after reading the articles, including the Times piece, it seems like our muddled first response was no  accident, was actively willed, by a society in decay.

March 26, 2020

Quarantine Lite Edition

A stranger showed up at our house today but fortunately adhered to the social distancing rule.  He stayed far more than 6 feet away; actually about 93 million miles away.  The sun, of course, who made an unscheduled appearance!  On our work conference call people made mention of it given it’s an event about as rare in Cloudumbus as a lunar eclipse.

So it was all sun, all the time, and I was in it to win it. Feel like it gave me some momentum. Love being able to take dogs on a walk at lunch and thus not have to do it when I get home at 5pm from my commute.

It was like the Spring days of yore so it appears the season has not been cancelled out of an abundance of caution.  I enjoyed the freedom of movement by walking the dogs out in the field where they spied a cat running and pulled and I was dropped into a pit of mud.  But the game must go on (if not baseball this year) and so I continued my walk by cutting through the back side of the field, ending up on a calm and collected cul de sac.

Post-walk I necessarily had to wash all my clothes and doing that is a lot easier when working from home. Our CEO had a video chat today saying, “working from home is hard, really hard” but thus far I haven’t necessarily experienced that.

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Every Drudge has its day I guess. For years I’ve gone to Drudge Report and snickered at all the doom and gloom headlines. It’s sort of like a clearinghouse for what sells - bad news. But I laugh no more because of course the last month even Drudge hasn’t had to overplay the doom and gloom.

So many celebs getting coronavirus that you’d think they were trying to, as if it’s the new elite thing. “You’re nobody unless you’ve got the virus,” is the vibe, since otherwise you must be stuck in rural Nebraska.  Placido Domingo, Harvey Weinstein, Rand Paul, singer Jackson Brown, and now Prince Charles (“forever a prince, never a king” might be his epitaph).
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A tepid “workout” after work - the elliptical downstairs hardly gets me breathing heavy but alas it’s the only gym in sight - and then off to the grocery store where we picked up the order we’d placed on Tuesday. Steph carefully had everything in tubs where we sprayed lysol on all goods that needed to be refrigerated. The rest we're leaving in the car for a couple days to “de-germify”. Steph’s really bought into this after watching DeWine daily.  (The “DeWine Daily”?)

Had dinner and lunch delivered from local restaurant. We’re getting smarter about ordering multiple meals to cut down on delivery costs.

So just another day in quarantine. Or quarantine-lite. The virus is officially in town now, with a case at the rehab center. In addition a parishioner at my Byzantine church tested positive, yikes. They were in church four days before I was there.  Priest has cold-like symptoms with no fever but... ?

Precautions, yes, for sure. But perhaps we can dismissively say of the virus, as Jesus said to Pilate, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”

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I suspect that if and when Chinese becomes the world’s reserve currency and the decline of America mirrors the decline of Britain after WWII, historians will look back to 2020 as the decisive moment. You had a country in great economic health if doing poorly spiritually (“diseases of despair” run rampant with a 3-5% unemployment rate -- what will they look like with 15%?). You also had a country that despite the great economy had no will to improve infrastructure or build the southern wall but punished itself with record debt nonetheless. And then the virus hit at which point any imaginary money for infrastructure got burnt up in stimulus money.

It’s sort of a textbook case of how a country or individual gets in trouble: you weaken yourself in good times and then when the bad times come you’re flattened. Internal political divisions prevent America from doing productive things with the public treasury and then, in that weakened state, comes a once-a-century virus.

I still vividly recall in college reading the following passage from John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley" (about his receiving a needful fire and brimstone sermon in Vermont) that woke me up to the idea that some people (unaware at the time it included me or would include me) need fire and brimstone and perhaps there’s a role for the mean Old Testament God:
“For some years now God has been a pal to us, practicing togetherness, and that causes the same emptiness a father does playing softball with his son. But this Vermont God cared enough about me to go to a lot of trouble kicking the hell out of me. He put my sins in a new perspective. Whereas they had been small and mean and nasty and best forgotten, this minister gave them some size and bloom and dignity. I hadn’t been thinking very well of myself for some years, but if my sins had this dimension there was some pride left. I wasn’t a naughty child but a first rate sinner, and I was going to catch it. I felt so revived in spirit that I put five dollars in the plate, and afterward, in front of the church, shook hands warmly with the minister.”

March 11, 2020

A Special Coronavirus Edition

Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl
There were no fans in the crowd due to quarantines there
She would merengue and do the cha-cha
And while she tried to be a star
Tony always tended bar
Across the empty floor, they worked from eight til four
They were young and they had each other
Who could ask for more?

At the C'rona, Coronavirus
The hottest spot north of Kentucky (here)
At the C’rona, Coronavirus
Music and sanitizer were always in fashion

At the C’rona.. they fell in love
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So Italy is in free fall coronavirus-wise and U.S. is said to be 11 days behind them. So if that’s true then 3/21 should be when we get really hit.  Still, the good sign is that the Asian countries (South Korea, Japan, China) have shown that it is possible to get it under control. Alas, Europe and U.S. have not shown that ability yet. 

It was hard reading about how the CDC and FDA botched up testing during the critical time just before the coronavirus got let loose in U.S.. Just another sign of decline. It’s almost funny: World Health Organization offers us testing kits. Proud CDC (stands for “can’t do crap”) won’t take hand-me-downs. Except they ended up making an error on all initial tests leading to inaccurate results. States, itchy to get testing, ask FDA if they can test on their own on FDA says “no! Let CDC handle!” Yes, this is the government we want to run health care system.

So CDC and FDA raise hands enthusiastically: “me too! I wanna be added to list of incompetent institutions!”

The hermeneutic key to understanding modern American life is simply: “no one is good at their job except Amazon”. I recall a book written decades ago that said, in effect, the good thing about living in a country in decline is that if you do merely mediocre work at the beginning of your career and stay the same, you’ll begin to look like a star by the end of it by comparison.

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Two people with coronavirus were at the same airport as me last week, in Fort Myers, Fl. They had traveled internationally and got back to Fort Meyers on the Wednesday carrying the virus. We arrived on Saturday morning and I naturally wondered how long that virus could live on surfaces they touched.  Mrs Darwin on Facebook promised I wouldn’t die from it though, so there’s that. Although she might’ve been writing for a younger crowd.
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Michael Brendan Doughtery:
I honestly think lots of this disagreement is because percentages and factorials are too abstract for people who are reading their phones quickly while waiting on line.  1 percent and .1 percent seem pretty close to most people.
Uh, yeah, for people not good at math.

March 06, 2020

Thoughts

When I was a kid one thing I was dead set against fortune tellers and palm readers.  Primarily because the risk of potentially receiving bad news far exceeded the potential joy of receiving good news.  This is actually in line with science, that tells us our brains are much more sensitive to bad news than good.

(Of course now we have DNA tests that can tell us too much future information in some cases.)

God, mercifully, usually doesn’t tell us these things in advance - except in the exceptional cases of Jesus and Mary. I can picture Jesus’s dawning horror reading Isaiah passages as a youth and realizing they applied to him. Lines like “he was crushed for our infirmities”,  “surrendering himself up to death” and - even worse (?) for a God who cares about righteousness far more than us - “letting himself be taken as a sinner”.   So he went to his baptism sinless and to his crucifixion flanked by sinners.

Similarly Mary learned that “a sword will pierce your heart” at the Presentation in the Temple.

The magic quote today was from Amigo de Frido who commented on the gospel passage that goes, “if you have an offering and recall something your brother has against you, go and be reconciled first with him and then make your offering.”  The devastating line was: “God reconciled us by treating us as if we were the offended party.”

March 03, 2020

The Divine Punchline

I knew a blogger once who admirably tilted at the windmills, who peddled fiercely against the tide of his East Coast friends, who relished George Will despite a local media that excoriated all things conservative, who valiantly defended the pro-life cause...but now has pulled the proverbial 180 (I’m hoping for a 360).

Fortunately people can’t be reduced to their political choices and Lord knows given the poor slate of candidates on both sides of the aisle there’s ample room for grace. And yet I can’t help feeling a sense of the tragic in this particular case. Under the tutelage of the therapeutic state he has honored the tide in order to get along better with others. This perhaps is the most understandable of reasons. I suppose it’s akin to the alcoholic not being able to get near a beer but still...

Of course politics is meaningless compared to what is says about one's Catholic faith but given the slate of Democratic candidates it does seem pretty hard to square being Catholic with publicly supporting them given their absolutism on abortion, infanticide, religious freedom, etc...

I tried to support him in his old conservative views but obviously my efforts were futile, perhaps even worse than futile. But I was rewarded today with an answer from on High by coming across an Eve Tushnet review of Waugh’s Sword trilogy novels that speaks to our futility in conversions religious or political:
"Even the sacraments are thrown into doubt by our actions: Guy’s broken marriage, his skeletal confessions—and his confession to a priest who may be a spy. Nothing is remembered rightly; there are no more memory palaces. Sword of Honour’s God is insistent that going after what we want is the worst way to get it. This is the modern God in arms, budgeted entirely for covert operations. And everything we do to try to right things, to preserve home or family or faith or the literal lives of other threatened people, will become the setup for a divine punchline: I am the only one who saves."