Quote of the Week:
“At 6.25am, I catch the first bus back into town and begin a day of intensive shoplifting. Such is my life for as long as it lasts.” – Writer and broadcaster Wilfred De’Ath, who has died, aged 82. From his final column.
De’Ath spent the last many years of his life wandering the byways and alleyways of England and France as a persistent and always triumphantly annoying homeless man, a diabetic amputee, camping (though not always welcome) in often freezing churches and hospitals where sleep is discouraged, writing a wry monthly column for The Oldie magazine. Nurses especially were never safe from his clutches; his picaresque accounts of a life of boozy sexual conquests and his feeble defence of Jimmy Savile are unreliably awful.
A true English eccentric, he leaves one son, Charles.
“More than 80% of patients have mild disease and will recover, 14% have severe disease including pneumonia and shortness of breath, 5% have critical disease including respiratory failure, septic shock and multi-organ failure, and 2% of cases are fatal.
“The risk of death increases the older you are.” – WHO official.
Yes folks, it’s the Baby Boomer Plague!
Only avocado toast can save us.
“We’re only taking the brightest and the best. And you weren’t born here, BoZo, so you’re on the next charter flight to Patagonia.”
An Apple a day….
Poor Apple, thanks to Covid-19 unable to get any more iPhones and stuff made in and exported from China, their shares are down 4% today, 18 Feb. 4% of a trillion dollar market cap is a pretty big lot of money to you and me.
(Although, happy day, I’ve provisionally managed to sell one of my guitars over the weekend!)
No wonder so many Republican Senators and Steve Bannon are convinced it’s all a Chinese plot to destroy the US economy; claiming that a military-grade virus was deliberately let loose from a top secret government facility disguised as a fish market in Wuhan, or something.
Not going to win many wars with a 2% kill-rate and a 14-day incubation period, are they, these Chinese? Not going to defeat America with, what, 29 cases in three months, all of them caught abroad? When they’ve already killed off 2,000 of their own people?
What mysterious plague has infected these Republicans, I wonder?
They all seem to be utter cretins.
Corona v. Us
As 150 million Chinese remain in lockdown to try to contain what seems for most to be no worse than the usual seasonal ‘flu outbreaks everywhere gets this time of year – deaths from ‘flu in the USA are running well over 12 thousand and nobody seems in the slightest bit concerned – the Financial Times is speaking of the world economy in fretful terms: “Global outlook darkening.”
Except that reports of a tiny fall in the rate of infection in Wuhan pushed world markets up by 1% in overnight trading. They are nothing if not optimists, the men who bet on flies.
18 Feb., the number of cases on ‘death cruise’ ship, Diamond Princess, in Yokohama harbor has risen to 542, another 66 being confirmed overnight – including the Abels, a plucky British couple who have been bogling about it from their cabin and say they were frogmarched off to a hostel with no wi-fi or phone signal, protesting that they don’t have the disease and if they really do, why aren’t they in proper hospital? (Update: they are now. It pays to complain.)
The British government has finally made vague waffling noises about arranging an evacuation flight for the trapped Brits, and has booked-out the Holiday Inn at Heathrow as a provisional holding tank. I’m not sure which would be worse?
Dr Sylvie Briand, head of the WHO’s endemic diseases division put the plight of the passengers – many of whom have since been repatriated – into some kind of perspective: “We need to make sure that we focus on our objective, our public health objective, which is to contain the virus, not to contain the people,” she said, pointedly.
Lawyers are now getting involved as it has dawned on some people that trapping 3,700 passengers and crew together in the confined space of a ship was more likely to spread than to contain a highly infectious disease.
New cases are increasing in Japan, with the infection now being transmitted locally, according to Japan Times. Singapore has slashed its GDP growth forecast for 2020 by a percentage point as cases there pass 75.
Premier Xi reportedly learned of the outbreak two weeks before any official announcements were made, according to the FT. China’s Central Bank has lowered interest rates to prop up the stockmarket. Farmers are having to slaughter millions of chickens owing to a shortage of feed.
In Wuhan, Liu Zhiming, the senior medical physician fighting the outbreak, has died, age 51. Snatch squads are making door-to-door searches for possible hidden victims, police are reportedly barricading people in their homes.
Two citizen journalists who reported on the situation in Wuhan have disappeared under the guise of “quarantine”. The Chinese internet, too, is in virtual lockdown, with freedom of information protestors being threatened with severe punishments for spreading ‘rumors’; while ID checks have been brought in for anyone buying cough medicine.
Two men were arrested in Hong Kong, charged with stealing $100-worth of toilet rolls at knifepoint.
Update: 18 Feb., cases 73,438; deaths 1,875. Deffo slowing down, but early days, say boffins.
Update revised: 19 Feb., cases 75,227; deaths 2,012. Diamond Princess 621 – Brits told ‘you can’t leave’.
Revised update updated: 20 Feb., cases 75,761; deaths 2,130. Hubei has changed its reporting criteria again. A sudden spike in cases in S Korea is reportedly due to a ‘superspreader’ who has infected at least 37 members of her church congregation, having never even been abroad. The city of Daegu, pop. 2.5m, is on lockdown.
Japanese authorities have begun evacuating the healthy passengers from the Diamond Princess. Four Britons who tested positive have been removed. Other Brits have been told by the FO that if they leave the ship, they won’t be allowed on any evacuation flights.
Chinese epidemiologists have published figures showing that the vast majority of patients who have died are over 60. Odds on the likelihood of dying are highest at 14.8% among the Over 80s and about 3.4% for the Over 60s. Very few deaths have been reported in the Under-50s demographic, and none in children under 9.
So you could call this the Baby Boomer Killer or, as most deaths have been in elderly patients with pre-existing heart and respiratory conditions, probably from smoking and living in a heavily polluted industrial environment – Wuhan is the manufacturing capital of China – in our own case, you might say the Leave Voter Virus.
(Reporting/Stats: Worldometer, Guardian, Aljazeera, Japan Times, FT, BBC News)
Is the war in Afghanistan finally over?
Buried in the news today is a report in the Washington Post that an agreement has been reached in Doha between US negotiators and Taleban leaders for a 7-day ‘cooling-off’ of hostilities, followed by the official signing in Kabul of a peace accord.
Such an outcome, with the withdrawal of thousands of US troops, is calculated to be a vote-winner in the upcoming US elections, and Trump will take full credit for it; regardless of whatever actual terms the accord may be based on and its implications for the Afghan government and people.
Because we don’t yet know, if any side has, who has actually won.
America’s longest-running conflict began in 2001 after the 9/11 terror attack on New York, with the US blaming Afghanistan for hosting rebel al-Qaeda units and protecting the man they declared was responsible, Osama bin-Laden; although it was later confirmed that 15 of the 19 attackers had had Saudi nationality, as did bin-Laden, by then being protected by the Pakistan security services.
Since then, over two-and-a-half thousand US military personnel and 1,750 civilian contractors have died, along with 850 troops from allied nations. A figure from Wikipedia of 111,000 Afghan civilian and military casualties combined seems absurdly low. President Ashraf Ghani was recorded in 2019 as saying 45,000 service personnel, including police, had died since he came to power in 2014. Numbers of Taleban and other fighters killed are impossible to estimate.
The Pumpkin is betting that a deal will be easily spun into an American victory, but less easily justified as it will not result in any serious shift in the balance of power in the country. With no-one holding the ring, and Afghan government forces as weak and corrupt as ever, hostilities might very well resume between the Northern Alliance – a squabbling tentful of drug-dealing warlords – and the ascetic, extreme Muslim Talebani, who regard the regime in Kabul as nothing more than a corrupt US puppet.
Will the accord, if it does get signed, halt the relentless infiltration of Taleban insurgents, who already control much of the country? Are they likely to back off now, sensing victory, with the inviting prospect of having driven all the foreigners out – for the umpteenth time in 300 years?
And then there is the question of who, if anyone, will be able to resist the likely return of Russian influence as Putin continues to fill the vacuums created by Western withdrawals; and how will that play with Beijing, also vying for influence in the region?
Don’t mention the other war!
In case you were wondering why Messrs Parnas and Frumin are still being prosecuted for campaign finance irregularities involving laundered Ukrainian money, but the guy who hired them, the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, isn’t even under investigation, Rachel Maddow at MSNBC has a possible answer.
She reports, 19 Feb., that Barr’s Justice Department – should that be Trump’s Justice Department, we wonder? – issued a memorandum in January, only now released, ordering all federal courts under its jurisdiction to funnel any open cases involving matters pertinent to Ukraine through a single official.
No new cases involving anything to do with Ukraine may be opened without first consulting the department, says the memo.
The story follows on from the revelation that Trump is no longer being investigated by New York prosecutors for campaign finance violations involving payoffs to inconvenient women, in the case where he was named as an unindicted co-conspirator with his lieutenant, Michael Cohen – whom the President is gleefully leaving to rot in jail, obviously, as punishment for co-operating with the Mueller investigation, while trying to get his other cronies who aren’t considered ‘rats’ off the hook.
The 17 cases against Trump and his dodgy children appear to have been quietly dropped, it’s reported, following a visit to the Southern District court last year by Barr – on the day after Trump appointed him Attorney-General.
At the weekend, having controversially attempted to interfere in the sentencing of another of his soldiers, Roger Stone, Trump announced he had commuted the sentences handed down to two corrupt politicians, as well as to his fellow billionaire fraudster, the ‘Junk Bond King’ Michael Milken, referring to himself with breathtaking insouciance as “America’s chief law-enforcement officer”.
That’s actually supposed to be the Attorney-General, it’s not in the job description of the president. But when you have committed so many crimes it helps to be in charge of the investigations and to have the FBI broken and the Justice Department in your pocket.
Eleven-hundred current and former federal prosecutors have called for Barr’s resignation.
We keep reading Comments from apparently sensible political experts that, no, America is not Weimar Germany, don’t we.
Indeed, it’s looking more like 1920s Chicago.
The madness of King Donald
Remember when he threw paper towels at hurricane survivors in Puerto Rico? Well, now he’s gone one better, in a bid to peel off a few black votes.
At a recent, quite small rally of a hundred or so seriously deluded African Americans, organisers called the audience up on stage one by one and, praising all that Trump has done for the black community, handed out $thousands of free money in the form of ‘cash prizes’.
The money came from a donation of a quarter of a million dollars from Trump SuperPAC, America First!, to the Urban Revitalization Coalition of America, a non-profit run by Trump ally, Darrell Scott.
Mr Scott was handpicked in 2016 to improve Trump’s image with black voters by Michael Cohen, who has since branded Trump a ‘racist’. (Reporting: New York Times)
People have been wondering why Trump has pardoned or commuted the sentences of several corrupt former officials. It seems his choices were crafted to send a message to his opponents, as each of them was convicted of criminal acts of which Mr Trump has himself been accused.
Flamboyant former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, for instance, the man who tried to sell President Obama’s vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder, was impeached before being found guilty of 17 charges, including wire fraud, attempted extortion and conspiracy to solicit bribes.
He left a Colorado jail today, claiming loudly that he had been held as a political prisoner.
Earth is beginnoing to look more like Jupiter… new storm to follow Dennis midweek. Image: Meteosat.
GW: means Grotty Weather, of course
North Atlantic: “… a new, potentially explosive development of an extra-tropical cyclone is expected tonight”(18 Feb.), following on the heels of Storm Dennis, that left extensive flooding across the British Isles at the weekend. (Severe-weather.eu) The storm is passing between Scotland and Iceland on the 20th. A remarkable central pressure drop of 44mb in 18 hours was recorded on the 19th, to bring hurricane-force winds over southern Iceland.
Another deepening cyclone is being monitored behind that, organizing out of Canada across the Labrador Sea, and inspires a BBC forecast of a third weekend deluge in 3 weeks for already saturated areas of the British Isles.
USA: states of emergency have been declared across Mississippi and Tennessee, reports Floodlist. “Days of heavy rain caused rivers and dams to rise, prompting evacuations and some flood rescues. Among the worst hit areas is Jackson, Mississippi, where the Pearl River reached 36.67 feet on 17 Feb., its third highest level on record.” Governor Tate Reeves described it as ‘historic; unprecedented’.
Australia: Another powerful storm front “pushed through Sydney, Australia, on Tuesday night, bringing with it an intense lightning show and powerful winds. Power was cut to many throughout the city as gusty winds brought down trees and power lines”, disrupting transport. (Accuweather) Local video showed big hailstones thumping down as the storms broke over NSW and Victoria states.
Indonesia: “authorities report that at least 2 people have died and hundreds of homes damaged after flooding and landslides in 4 provinces of the country.” in West Java’s Bandung regency, thousands of people have been affected by flooding for the second time in a month. There’s also been severe flooding in Borneo. (Floodlist)
Argentina: floods have followed days of heavy rain in the north of the country. In Chaco, 192mm of rain fell in a single day. In Tucuman a storm on 18 Feb. has left communities cut off and caused wind damage to properties. Hundreds of people have been evacuated and the army is delivering relief supplies. (From: Floodlist)
Peru: “Landslides and flooding in southern Peru have damaged homes leaving dozens of families displaced and at least 2 people dead. 1 person is missing and over 200 families displaced after heavy rain triggered a landslide in Ayacucho , south-central Peru.” (Floodlist)
This is us today! Nobody wants Britain anymore – we’ve been painted out! (Accuweather rain map, 19 Feb.)
Some positive news from America, legislators in the state of Utah have approved plans for a funded program to move to renewable energy, electric vehicles and carbon reductions over the next decade, flying in the face of Trump’s rebarbative policies. What’s unusual about the Utah Roadmap, as it’s being called, is that Utah is a rock-solid Republican state. Ironically, voters will be going all-out in November to re-elect the environmental vandal and criminal ecocide, Trump. (Reporting: Guardian Green Light)
Methane: “A single blowout at a natural gas well in Ohio in 2018 discharged more methane over three weeks than the oil and gas industries of France, Norway and the Netherlands released in an entire year.” A new report examining the more-than doubling of atmospheric methane in the modern era claims that the volume of human-induced methane emissions from oil and gas operations – especially fracking – has been underestimated by 40 per cent; ‘experts’ concluding therefrom that industry measures to reduce or even capture and store emissions will be a major step forward in reversing climate change.
Where do they get these people from?
The Guardian report of the report fails to make the obvious point that global heating is the single greatest cause of methane emissions from thawing deposits under the sea and permafrost on land. It’s known as a feedback loop, Guardian people. I’d also defy you to distinguish between ‘natural’ and ‘man-made’ sources of methane when man-made CO2 is causing the heating that is releasing methane naturally from ‘sinks’ where it has remained frozen in vast quantities since the end of the last glacial period, 12 thousand years ago.
Arctic: “On February 18, 2020, the Arctic was as much as 3.6°C or 6.48°F warmer than 1979-2000.” The extent of sea ice is marginally greater currently than the 2010-20 average, however it is very thin and there is virtually no ice more than 2 years old to melt below the surface and thus provide a buffer to prevent heat reaching the lower depths where volatile hydratic methane clathrates are found in large numbers on the shallow sea bed. (From: Arctic News)