Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Just Do It

American troops approaching Omaha Beach on Normandy Beach, D-Day ...

Seventy six years ago, in the early hours of an early spring morning, young men from the various allied nations loaded themselves into a series of sequentially numbered metal delivery vessels off the southern coast of England. The ask of them was not complex, but it was difficult.

The potential future of the world depended in no small part in their execution of that ask.

It was simple, but it was not easy. Many knew that they would not even make it to the dry land. But they went.

When asked, they responded.

As a people, no-one in my generation, or those above or below us, has seen a moment quite like that.

Our moment is here.

There is another enemy, but it doesn't wear spit-shined boots. It does not confront us with Panzers or Messerchmitts or Junkers. It is not led by an evil man with bent symbols and a toothbrush moustache.

As of this moment, according to data being tracked here by the Johns Hopkins University, more than three quarters of a million people in the world have contracted the SARS-CoV-2 virus (COVID-19). In the US, we now have 164,000 confirmed cases.

Both numbers are likely an order of magnitude wrong at this point.

We've all seen the images from Italy. Many have seen the devastating numbers in Spain.

Six years ago, during the last viral outbreak (Ebola, at the time), I wrote this about the treats our ancient enemies (viruses and bacteria) present:

There has been a number of movies and books with doomsday stories.  In order of decreasing likelihood, the list includes asteroids crashing into the earth.  Widespread terrorist attacks,  nuclear war.  zombie apocalypse.  The first is a virtual certainty given sufficient time; the last is, despite an actual epidemiological simulation run at a reputable university in Canada, not ever going to happen outside the imagination of George A. Romero or Rick Grimes.  I am not particularly concerned about any of these.  But one thing I do actually have on my fear radar is a viral or bacteriological plague.  

In short, we are overdue - WAY overdue - for a thinning of the herd, so to speak.  The last really great plague was the so-called Spanish Influenza of the early 20th century.  What? No.  SARS does not count.  In 1918, the flu infected nearly a half billion people, killing around 20% of them.  100 million dead is a lot of people just on its face.  But considering that the world population then was only about two billion, the Spanish Influenza killed around one out of every 20 people on earth.

  • Stay home.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Avoid unnecessary travel.
This is not a drill.

SARS-CoV-2 is not likely to be the Spanish flu (and we should be on our hands and knees being thankful for this); but we need to take this seriously.

I repeat - if the epidemiology from 1918 plays out here today, more than one hundred million people around the world are going to die in the next 18 months.

This does not need to be our future.

We are not merely ships tossed on a tumultuous sea of fate and fortune.

Here in California, our governor ordered a state-wide "shelter in place" more than two weeks ago. He made it clear why this was so. And he reminds us, daily, that our future is in our hands.

Like the soldiers who hit the beaches of Normandy in 1944, we have been called. The ask of us, like them, is not complex.

We aren't being asked to load into troop transports pre-dawn. We are not asked to face enemy fire. We are not asked to storm dug-in positions on a beach in a faraway land.

We are asked essentially to do nothing.

And unlike those soldiers, if we follow orders, most of us are going to come out unharmed.

Our moment. Our choice. Our future.

Here is a simple breakdown of the course of disease, from initial infection to resolution.

For most of us, SARS-CoV-2 represents a fairly mild problem. 85 per cent of us fall into the top two cohorts. Most who are infected will have no (30%) or mild to moderate (55%) symptoms.

A small number (10%) will have severe symptoms, and will require hospitalisation.

Fewer still will have critical symptoms.

ALL of those who are infected will have a period where we are contagious. Even those who have no symptoms at all will, for about three weeks, be able to infect other people.

Critically, those in the 5 and 10 per cent cohorts.

And here is the rub. Of those who land in the critical cohort, current data are that fully half will die. In the severe cohort, estimates are that 15% (one in about six) are also going to die.

These two skew heavily into groups who are older (over 60) and/or those who have other underlying conditions. Asthma. Diabetes. Immuno-compromise.

Many people are discovering that they have "underlying conditions" after they are diagnosed with COVID-19.

But you are going to know someone who does.

By these estimates, crudely, if half the critical cohort (5% of the population) and 1/6 of the severe cohort (10%) are at risk of death, that's about four per cent of the population.

SOMEONE you care about is in that group.

Let me put that another way.

Think of twenty people that you know. Your mother. Your uncle. Your sister. Your daughter. A teacher you're fond of from when you were young.

If this model holds true, one of them is not going to be alive in a year if you don't stay home.

Maybe you're young. Maybe you're healthy. Chances are pretty good that you're not going to get terribly sick.

Do you have someone in your life that you want to nominate to be taken away by this? I don't.

The movie does not have to end this way. There is no need to panic; there is absolutely a need to act.

Stay home. Wash your hands. Avoid unnecessary travel.

Our moment. Our choice. Our future.

Please stay home.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Like Clockwork

Image result for images clockwork

Today is one that's been on the calendar for a long time. In truth, since calendars were made of course, but from my own personal calendar, since 2000.

One of the advantages of being born in a zero year (I was born in 1970) is that the maths for the milestone years are a bit easier.

As a result, in the year 2000, I turned 30 years old. While the rest of the world was exhaling from the fact that we achieved the year without the computers simultaneously exploding and taking the developed world with them, I woke that day 20 years ago to the idea that I was finally, officially, a bona fide adult.

I've written a couple of times on the topic, but I clearly remember that birthday. My mother was visiting me in my home (in those days) in San Jose, California. The day began with some showers, but the sun came out. We spent lunch at Valley Fair Mall (now "Westfield Shoppingtown") where we grabbed a quick meal and a tiffany lamp for the house. On the way home, we stopped at the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden (which was one of my favourite spots in the city) before returning for dinner. Even at 30, it was a nice treat to have my mother prepare my favourite meal for a birthday.

I remember thinking that 30 was a milestone because I know longer thought of myself (or referred to my friends as) a "kid." All the trappings of adulthood of course existed already - real job, dog, house and mortgage. I had done my taxes already several times. I had a retirement fund. But now, there was no going back.

After all, 30 was the age when people in the 1970s cult film "Logan's Run" faced the final curtain.

But I also thought of the reality that at some point, I was actually going to be 40. And then 50. 40 came and went a decade ago.

50 arrived today.

Those who know me are already aware that my hobby is my 1952 MG. It's not "modern" in any way - 54 BHp engine, no power steering, no top. All its workings are mechanical.

I got the car for my 40th birthday, and from time to time, I am in the garage working on this or that 'thing' that decides in its uniquely British way that it just no longer wants to work properly.

The car was already 18 years old when I was born.

In the past decade, certain parts have just...worn out.

About 8 years ago, one of the carburettors developed a hairline crack, so it had to be replaced. It took a while, but I found a spare in Oxfordshire, England - ironically just a few miles from Abingdon, where the car was made. The factory was closed in 1980 or so, and now, a Starbuck's is where the cars used to roll off of the assembly line.

A carburettor is a device that used to exist in cars that more or less functions the way that your lungs do. Gasoline - the life's blood of an internal combustion engine - is mixed with air before being sucked into the ignition chamber, where the two are combined with a spark to drive the piston, and then, the car itself. If the carbs leak air, or are out of balance, your car will gasp in much the same way that you will if your lungs aren't working.

Two years ago, the starter's solenoid needed replacement. That was an easier "find" - an OEM still manufactures Lucas knock-offs online. A week later, the old one was out and the new, in. Back on the road.

In time, I've also replaced the dynamo, an oil line, and an odometer cable.

A 70 year old car has 70 year old parts that fail. But those parts can be replaced. So it will remain on the road as long as I have the interest in keeping it going (and the physical ability to do so). At some point, I hope that my son (now 14) will be interested in it, and I can give it to him. When he was six or so years old, he "helped" me replace the broken carb.

A human being is in one sense, a collection of parts. Some can be replaced easily, some not so easily. One of other off-time activities is running. 11 years ago, I wrote a brief blurb about it here.

In 1998, I was able to run 2000 km in a year. At the time, I could pretty easily keep a seven minute per mile pace. Pushing it was 40 minutes for a 10km (about 6.30 per mile).

At 40, I could keep a seven minute per mile pace, but it was not easy.

Age and wear and tear slow you down.

Last year (2019), I was able to log about 500 miles total And my goal is now eight minutes per mile. I get the occasional leg injury (pain in the heel of my foot, a strained gastrocnemius). These injuries take much longer to recover than they did. A tweak used to put me on the shelf for a week, maybe two. This past fall, leg tightness meant reduced activity for two months.

Unlike the car, I cannot go out and get a new lung, or replace a leg. Joints can be replaced with titanium, but they honestly aren't the same.

I used to laugh when my father would fall asleep in our green armchair in the living room after dinner. Last night, I was sitting on our sofa and briefly nodded off. Dad was 53 when he died, so he never was really an old man, even though I thought of him as one for most of our shared time.

Today, I'm fifty years old. And despite the fact that my own parts don't work as well as they used to, I am ok with it.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

For Though Your Dreams May Toss and Turn You Now

Today is the 21st of January. For most of the world, one of 365 days (or in this Leap Year, 366) in the calendar. Another page on and another off.

However, for my family, today is my father's birthday. 

Dad's been gone for 26 years as of this coming July. More than half of my life. My own birthday is up on just over three weeks. This is a big one for me, but mainly because people think in base 10 (I suppose because, per Tom Lehrer, for those of us not missing two fingers...)

Many years ago, I thought my father was a big man. That he was the strongest person in the world. I thought he knew just about everything. We used to watch "Jeopardy!" on television every night after dinner, and I was amazed at how many of the questions he could get right. 

As I got bigger, I found out, one by one, that of course, none of these things was true. Dad was six feet tall and 155 pounds on a good day - hardly the biggest man in the world. More than once, as I got older, I could lift and do things that he couldn't. And there were times when, Jimmy Stewart to the side, I went to dad for an answer and even between the two of us, we could not find it. 

I have my own son who once looked at me in the same way. I was the big person who knew the answers to everything. Now, my own son is an inch taller than I am (he's 14, so he caught and passed me; I never reached my father's height). Years ago, he started asking questions I could not answer.

But while my father was not the biggest man in the world, and he did not have all the answers, he always remained the most important man in my life.

When I was young, I thought dad was an old man, which I suppose all kids do. He lost his battle to cancer in 1994. He was three years older then than I am right now. 

Dad never got to be an old man.

With the passing of time, I've found, as everyone does, that with each year - with each day - I have fewer and fewer plans and more and more memories. 

I think about dad often. Today, he would have been 79.

Happy birthday dad. I miss you a lot.