Some pretty unprecedented economic measures have just been unleashed, with the Federal Reserve unleashing Infinite Quantitative Easing upon the world (you can watch the live video feed of furious money-printing from inside the Fed, appropriately accompanied by the soundtrack of GAS GAS GAS, given the simultaneous Oil Dumping War between Saudi Arabia & Russia, but more on that next time). On the fiscal side, a US$2 trillion stimulus package has also just passed, which includes a thousand bucks for every adult, that would seem to vindicate Andrew Yang's UBI (but not really - again, next time). Seeing as interest rates have already been slashed to essentially zero, the American authorities seem to have blown their load of countermeasures against a full-blown recession, less literally dumping bags of money out of helicopters. Well, looking at the charts and the horrendous earnings and jobs reports yet to drop, this ain't over by a long shot.
I mean, let's get it straight here - India's 1.4 billion people have just entered a three-week lockdown, and America's case load appears to have just begun its exponential phase, for all of GEOTUS's much-appreciated cheerleading and emotional support, which has seen his approval ratings soar yet again even among his usual detractors, despite the FAKE NEWS. For the rest of us, the best way to contribute would seem to be just staying home. About this, you guys can totally depend fully on me here; I have trained my entire life for this, just for this eventuality. This is truly my time to shine!
No need to thank us
This said, as might have been inferred from the title, the meat of this blog post isn't actually about the financial markets or the coronavirus (for once). Rather, it's inspired by my briefing last week on being phased into the MINDEF Reserve on April 1st (no joke), which with any luck, should be my last National Service experience. Said briefing included a pitch for the ROVERS and Expertise Conversion Scheme for volunteers, which as the officer-in-charge was eager to emphasize, comes with the Captain-equivalent rank of ME4. Of course, it's not really the same thing, but they might get a few bites with that.
My to-be exit from the system did have me recall the psychometric tests from my initial enlistment, and also some reflection on my time in the armed forces. Clearly, some personalities have it better in such environments than others, and while we're probably nowhere as harsh as say South Korea in this regard, the hierarchical, take-orders yes-sir culture can obviously be very hard on some, especially when dysfunctional. For enlisted ranks at least, encouraged behaviour would be akin to the Law of Jante, with the collective - even if misguided - above all.
It would then seem only natural for the system-designers to try and optimize organizational efficiency by slotting people where they best belong, which has been done to some extent through vocational sorting (with personal input beginning to enter consideration, from a few years back) via educational history and abovementioned psychometrics - which, however, would appear to be roughly equivalent to a logical/spatial intelligence test, like the U.S. military's ASVAB or AGCT. Coincidentally, reports have it that these tests will now be supplemented by a personality assessment (TAPAS), for the U.S. Army at least.
Which brings us to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). It was quite popular some twenty years ago when I was in high school - we all got typed then - and has by all accounts been humming along just fine, to the disgust of its many critics. But just to provide a brief overview, the MBTI is derived from Jungian cognitive theory, in particular that we operate based on four psychological preferences: Introversion/Extroversion, Sensing/iNtuition, Thinking/Feeling & Judging/Perception. Each individual supposedly prefers one quality from each of these four dichotomies, which gives sixteen distinct types:
[N.B. Percentages and descriptions subject to debate]
There has been general disapproval for the MBTI by more-serious psych junkies due to its supposed lack of validity, poor reliability and forcing into dichotomies, with some sneering at it being no better than astrology, and recommending the Big Five model instead. About this, it could be noted that for all their supposed differences in focus (conscious vs. unconscious), there exist correlations between Big Five traits and MBTI preferences, with nascent research by Nardi on matching EEG scans with MBTI types. Bolder defenders of MBTI have even gone on the attack, by accusing the Big Five model of simply being a bunch of statistical correlations with no theory of mind behind it (which, by the way, can be interpreted as Te vs. Ti)
We're clearly not going to be able to settle the argument of whether MBTI or the Big Five is superior here, or indeed delve into the many other options such as the Enneagram of Personality, Socionics (perhaps summarizable as a Russian variant of the MBTI) and the unavoidable extensions to the MBTI proper itself (one of the more popular of which might be the additional Assertive/Turbulent dichotomy). The main point here is whether the MBTI can be useful without being scientifically accurate, which I suppose it probably is, which is why it continues to be deployed by reputable organizations, including universities. One area in which MBTI surely beats the Big Five, one figures, is that the MBTI tells a story with its type descriptions, and allows fellowship with those of the same type (see dedicated subreddits, for instance). In contrast, with the Big Five, you get something like O - 73%, C - 28%, E - 19%, A - 80%, N - 26%; what the heck is that, some unholy mashup between Ocean's Eleven, SE7EN and a calculator?
It certainly doesn't take much imagination to suppose that the military would be able to wring some value out of the MBTI, imperfect as it may be - consider two recruits whose abilities and intelligence are roughly average (from the ASVAB/AGCT or equivalent), but one is a clear extrovert, and the other a clear introvert. Then, it would suit all involved were the former to be sent to fill up an open slot in an infantry platoon, and the latter be tasked with solitary observational duties. Switch the postings, and you might have a deserter who couldn't stand being cooped up alone in a watchtower for hours at a stroke, and a mass shooter who's heard Jim's recounting of his drinking adventures one time too many. Of course, any leader worth his salt would have taken these personality differences into account, so think of standardized testing as a systematic first cut.
China appears to be ahead of the curve here, having adopted a refined MBTI-G test, although there's also extant literature from the U.S. Marine Corps on how Thinkers and Judgers (TJs) dominate middle-grade to senior officer ranks, comprising 78% of those personnel despite being only about 30% of the general population. But back to the Chinese military, Kamphausen et al. (2008) reports that for the People's Liberation Army, "...the second part of the psychological evaluation involves passing a Chinese equivalent of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test. If the scores are too strongly skewed towards certain personality types, he or she must undergo 'discussions' about the makeup of their character". As it also happens, there also exists a healthy Chinese MBTI community, and facility with the language allowed a far deeper investigation of this quite fascinating tidbit.
First, the actual guidelines were traced:
So there we have our answer, it seems: ENFP, INTJ and ISTP personalities have to go through further screening, and may be outright rejected if certain facets (N/F/P for ENFP, I/N for INTJ and I/P for ISTP, so it seems) are too extreme. The automatic first question must then be: why these three types exactly? On this, there has been much speculation on Chinese forums, such as Doubian and Zhihu, which might be interpreted thus:
Now, clearly every single type possibly has inclinations that are not best suited for the military; however, since the recruiters can't reject everybody, the point here would be to save the greatest amount of trouble with the least amount of shrinkage in the draftee pool (ENFP: ~10%, ISTP: ~6%, INTJ: ~2%, pulled-out-of-hat average from various sources). While we're at this, the rest of the types might as well be covered, from my accumulated impressions (of course, it's not terribly hard to test as whatever you want if you know what they're looking out for, but let's just say honesty's probably a good policy):
Anyway, that's another chapter of my life done with - regular programming is scheduled to make a return for the next post.
It's all happening, with the first two deaths from coronavirus reported locally, and our northern neighbours closing the borders - which has resulted in much dislocation for our very many Malaysian day workers. From the looks of it, it's going to get quite a bit worse, before it gets better.
We'll leave the serious discussion for a bit, what with the EPL extending their suspension to the end of April already, which has led to suggestions from more desperate football fans to requisition Britain's two not-very-strategically-relevant aircraft carriers towards the emergency, in the manner of our floating platform. Meanwhile, Southampton and Manchester City are playing tic-tac-toe over Twitter, with Bayer Leverkusen and Hull City instead going for Connect 4 (which of course is also a completely solved game, for a first player victory). Watford and Leicester City are instead running simulations on Football Manager, which is by the way free to play on Steam for the week. The Russians remain stereotypically fatalistic, having adopted "We're all going to die" as their new chant.
While we're on gaming, Overwatch has just announced a new character from Singapore - albeit as a Singlish-speaking (see also recent r/singapore gripe on kena vs. kana, and general vowel mixups) A.I. within a robot (relation with Mechwarrior unconfirmed); I suppose it doesn't hurt with the marketing. Myself, marble racing can get strangely captivating as a diversion from all that crypto trading.
Alright, WHO's declared the pandemic, as everybody else had expected - even CNN got the drop on this, for goodness' sake! Throughout the entire affair, it has turned out that sources lambasted as "fake news" by the establishment have tended to yield the truth well-ahead of the sanitized mainstream media; but fine, it's to prevent panic, amiright? Nobody mention that it's mutating rapidly, then (though this might not be bad actually)
You'll Never Win It Alone
The EURO 2021 finals
Sport certainly hasn't been spared, and the NBA getting suspended a few days ago (after Gobert's badly-timed silent joking about) was probably the first inkling some Americans had that this isn't a drill. As for football, with various players such as Juventus' Daniele Rugani popping up infected, the clubs that they had recently come into contact with would inevitably insist on self-isolation, lest they contribute members to the rapidly-improving Coronavirus FC. Clearly, there was no way that the show could go on, but being the stiff-upper-lip sort that they are, the English steadfastedly refused to yield even after La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1 etc had shut down. This dragged on until yesterday, when the league admins finally acknowledged the unavoidable, and put the Premier League on hold until April 3, but frankly I doubt it'll resume after that.
We all have to find humour in these difficult times, and given that it's written into my contract as a Manchester United fan that said humour should come at the expense of Liverpool as far as is possible, it's been a hilarious month. I mean, I almost wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy, but when it happens on its own, one can't help but giggle randomly through the day.
Much as one would like to deny it, Liverpool had assembled one of the best squads in soccer, and there was the very real chance that they would write themselves into the history books by sweeping all before them; alright, getting swept out of the League Cup quarterfinals 5-0 by Aston Villa denied them a shot at the fabled quadruple, but they could rightly claim that Carabao was a silly name anyway.
"Meh, we're still flying high, 26 wins and a draw from 27 games, the Arsenal Invincibles of 2004 had nothing on that; World champions, European champions, now headed for the best top division season maybe forever..."
Leap Day: Get smashed 0-3 by relegation-threatened Watford
"Fine, we're gonna win it anyway, let's just focus on the Treble, we gave up on the League Cup for that."
March 3: Dumped out of the FA Cup by Chelsea, 0-2
"Who cares about trebles, there's a Champions League trophy to defend, Europe is where it's at."
March 11: Atletico Madrid park the bus, strike twice in extra time at Anfield to eliminate Liverpool from the CL, 2-4 on aggregate
"...fine. But there's one thing they will never take from us, and it's our first league title in thirty years. Macheda screwed us over in 2009, Gerrard slipped on a banana peel in 2014, Kompany somehow belts it to the top corner from outside the box last year to deny us despite our 97 points being enough in like 99 of the previous 100 seasons... well, we're 25 points - 25! - ahead with ten games to play, we can confirm it mathematically in two weeks for the earliest-ever title, surely there is simply no way we're gonna bottle it this year?"
March 13: COVID 19-18 Liverpool
If a higher power exists, He might just be a United supporter, from how Leeds and City are getting done in too. Adding to the surrealism, Ronaldinho's set to star in a Paraguayan prison tournament (prize: one piglet), after getting busted for a fake passport; he's apparently tuning up well. Then there's the FAS and MCCY squabbling over who gets to foot the bill for the already-in-shambles Goal 2034, but at this rate they should just switch over to supporting the FIFA console gamers already.
"The Democratic Party debates are that way."
The most apropos headline describing the Dem primaries thus far
It's not been the best of weeks for humankind, I'm afraid. After days of a trickle of new coronavirus cases, we've just had a record thirteen out of nowhere. National health authorities ain't waiting for the WHO to say the obvious any longer, so it seems, with the German health minister asserting that it's already a global pandemic, alongside leaked projections from America predicting close to 100 million cases, and half a million deaths.
The finger-pointing has begun in earnest too, after China's apparently-successful containment of the outbreak, with zero new cases being reported in the entirety of Hubei outside of Wuhan (population: nearly 50 million); given the policy about district leaders being strung up were there any new cases (as noted a couple of weeks back), I can only say: cool story, bro. More specifically, some Chinese sources are hinting that the coronavirus originated from elsewhere (with a long, meaningful glance across the Pacific), after basically abandoning the seafood market cover, and affirming racial susceptibility differences. Iran, one of the hardest-hit, is meanwhile swinging about at unspecified countries as well, but with all the clinic-burning and shrine-licking going on there, one has to suspect that foreign transmission might be the least of their troubles.
Much as one loves to critique the gahment here, I have to grudgingly admit that they seem to be making almost all of the right moves here, with an additional S$150 million earmarked for nurses and other support staff, and national servicemen actually getting a cost-of-living adjustment, while also promptly pushing out relevant research and supporting a Singaporean who tio hoot in London by uncouth chavs, as the ugly side of sociopathic misfits regrettably rears its head in crisis.
There's no call for wallowing in despair just yet, for all that's happened, and the fallout from Super Tuesday makes this a fine opportunity to catch up on the Democratic Party nomination process, as promised. I had initially intended to cover each debate, but frankly they were largely exceedingly tedious exercises revolving around piling on the perceived frontrunner; not entirely devoid of comic value, but nothing remotely approaching GEOTUS's many legendary 420 no-scope pick-offs in 2016, such as "Because you'd be in jail". I suppose you could search for the many summaries available if you so desire.
Instead, in the spirit of good cheer in testing times, we'll be taking a leaf out of GEOTUS's Valentine's book, in providing a fair & balanced review of the major unfortunate dropouts from this trainwreck of a race, in generally-chronological order of campaign suspension. *lugs out bag of participation trophies*
Yes, I know, she's still like five years from eligibility, but given how often she's been suggested by Bernie's Chapo Trap House bunch, I'd say she warrants a honourable mention here.
Make no mistake, she has her strengths - bumping an incumbent in New York politics to be the youngest Congresswoman ever is no mean feat. And, you've got to admit, she's more photogenic than 99% of House Representatives crying over an empty parking lot would have been; certainly, you wouldn't expect Politifact to white-knight Nancy Pelosi with a fact-check rating of "False! That's not an empty parking lot, that's a mostly-empty road with some parked cars, liar liar pants on fire!" quite as eagerly.
Among her many other achievements is being the poster girl for satire websites like The Babylon Bee, who have been assured a steady stream of headlines from her antics, some admittedly meaner and more low-effort than others. I mean, sure, they could have replaced her with Bernie in most of those articles, given they inhabit much the same mindless-economics-free space, but let's get real - if you have got to watch somebody spout entirely-impractical socialist bullcrap, would you rather it be a scruffy seventy year-old curmudgeon, or a kinda-attractive twentysomething Latina?
Women should have a chance to mess the world up too!
Democratic politics, while all sunshine and roses on the outside, can however be a vicious beast; while AOC may currently be the golden child of its progressive wing, it could be noted that her actual influence remains spotty, as evidenced by the big zero she came up with for her Green New Deal (covered last year), even from fellow Democrat veterans who knew better.
It begins to get somewhat personal when one sacrifices other people's jobs on the altar of one's own righteousness, though, and that's before she unveiled plans to build a Progressive campaign arm to unseat fellow Democrats, while refusing to pay party dues, to top it off. Given how irritating all the horseplay from AOC's Four Horsepeople of the Apocalypse is compounding up to be, Pelosi and friends going for the total Suicide Squad reboot by eliminating her House seat must be fairly tempting. On the bright side, they'll always have a job at The Babylon Bee, because where else are they gonna get material like that?
Kirsten Gillibrand is living proof that one can be a presentable female congressperson from New York without going off the far left wing. Very unfortunately, AOC apparently sucked all the air and attention from those quarters, leaving us with next to no records of her ever running. If it's any consolation, she should be able to restart with a clean slate in 2024, because I suspect everybody else forgot too.
Has ever a hyped-up frontrunner collapsed so precipitously? The eminently Irish/Welsh Robert Francis had at one point been third in the polling behind only Biden/Sanders just a year back, having run Ted Cruz close in Texas. Beto would carve the standing-on-table and posing-for-Vanity Fair niches (to his dog's evident discomfiture) out for himself, before word got out that he had previous arrests for burglary and driving under the influence, leading to a hit-and-run.
It has to be said that neither of these transgressions are disqualifying for Dem candidates, though (and indeed, might even be a plus given the direction they're heading), but Beto had a bigger problem - he didn't have a natural base. Being faux-Hispanic and printing cheer guides can only get one so far, and after indecisively dangling a run while still flavour of the month, he then demonstrated a complete lack of awareness by advocating for gun confiscation... in the Lone Star State. I've never seen a political career crater so quickly, as TRUMP's initial assessment of Beto's credibility proved only too accurate. GEOTUS took particular delight in rubbing his exit in, and from the looks of it, it will be permanent. Adiós, Robert.
The Democratic Party is all about intersectionality these days, which is like diversity but with three more syllables, because intellectual pretensions are also in. Kamala Harris was its flagbearer, because she's not white, not male and not ancient, unlike the remaining contestants. She rode these rare and valued attributes to third favourite for much of the past year after Robert began to fade, because no-one was going to say she wasn't, when she had all those checkboxes ticked.
As strategies went, she had a ready-made one: win her home state of California, which as everyone knows, has like four bazillion delegates. Even the seasoned pundits over at FiveThirtyEight were questioning whether she had to even try before that. So the idea went, all she had to do was to coast along for the first few contests on the in-ter-sec-tion-al-li-ty, then along comes California and then bam!, she's off and away.
Well, she didn't even make it to 2020.
One of the critiques of intersectionality is that it deindividualizes its subjects, by reducing them to a predefined set of labels. Kamala Harris isn't just a not-white not-male not-antediluvian, she's a person underneath it all. It seems the voters agreed, and peeled back the wrapping, and... didn't like what they saw.
To begin with, she's a cop. As far as occupations go, this had to be one of the worst for a presidential bid from the Democratic side, because liberals are really not very keen on the whole concept of law and order (being a lawyer like Clinton and Obama is okay, because they can get you out of jail). Thus, she got hammered from the left for enforcing rules and regulations, and from the right for comparing immigration officers to the Klan. Moreover, she was cursed with conscientiousness, and got called out for refusing yet another climate change pity party in favour of raising funds, while being unable to tread the tightrope on healthcare and housing plans, not having caught on that she was supposed to just make up the numbers, like the rest of them. This left her with few supporters in the party.
Her campaign was also marred by one of the weirdest hijinks of the entire primaries, and that's saying something. Empire actor and close acquaintance Jussie Smollett would make national news with claims that he had been set upon by two white males, who allegedly beat him up before releasing him with a noose around his neck... coincidentally as Harris was promoting an anti-lynching bill. The outrage was incandescent, but too many details didn't add up, like how supposed white supremacists would target an actor of a show they don't watch while yelling "This is MAGA country"... in the middle of a sub-zero Chicago blizzard. Turns out Smollett hired two Nigerians (gotta help each other out) to play the part. Since it was Chicago, he appeared to have gotten away with it for awhile too, but it was ultimately too high-profile to keep under wraps. That's six felony charges carrying up to three years each and a ruined television career... and she didn't even make it to Iowa.
But it's not all bad for Harris. Her intersectionality fundamentals remain very much intact, and as such, she remains an entirely tenable vice-presidential pick for either old white male that emerges victorious. If I were her, I'd just lay low and wait for my number to come up, and refrain from accusing Democrat voters of being racist and sexist until firmly ensconced in office.
Unlike Beto, Julian Castro is a true Hispanic. Unfortunately, he would automatically lose Florida, and it's not even really his fault. As suspected, he would endorse Elizabeth Warren instantly upon dropping out, because he's exactly what a campaign manager would manufacture as her foil.
Kindly spiritual healing lady Marianne Williamson brought good vibes and New Age love to the otherwise-hostile debates, and I guess she did some helpful juju to the rest of the candidates' chakra alignments (she wants you to know that she's not big on crystals or woowoo, though). Anyway, spending a few months with that lot had her admitting that conservatives were nicer to her then the Dems, and perhaps had her re-evaluating her association with them. Probably one of the sanest and best-adjusted of the candidates, she's currently marshalling her psychic energies in support of Bernie against Biden.
Cory Booker was described as "one of the bigger name politicians" to throw his hat into the ring, when he declared his candidacy. He did get in a jab or two at Biden, but by the time he quit mid-January, the general reaction was a quizzical realization that, hey, did anybody at all ever declare their support for Booker here? This about sums it all up.
We're coming to the actual big guns now, and I would like to say that Andrew Yang caught the imagination of the American public for a brief, shining moment, as Linsanity did in 2012. Frankly, forward as it might be, I can see a bit of myself in him - he's ethnically Chinese, supports blockchain and cryptos, is about the only candidate even talking about A.I. and automation, promotes financial literacy, peruses Reddit, and has an opinion on computer games; I like to think we have quite a bit in common.
Sadly, his candidacy was doomed from the beginning. Yes, I'll say it - it's because he's Chinese. He had zero chance.
But wait, some might say. The Democrats are huge on this identity politics thing! Weren't you just pumping Harris up on her intersectionality score? Well, first off, it's not the same with Asian guys, see - if they succeed they're a model minority, if not they're honorary whites. Just observe the Dems' horrific behaviour - when Obama was POTUS, sure the Republicans didn't much like him, but any attempt to disparage him based on skin colour would have been censured. However, say "Orange man bad" nowadays, and Democrats laugh. I had thought that America had moved beyond such revolting dermatologism, but it seems I thought wrong. This will take time, Andrew. Black, orange, yellow, they surpass discrimination and racism in turn.
In CNN MATH, 3 is less than 1
That aside, Yang had another big disadvantage. Running on a platform of proto-socialism like Bernie is one thing, but doing it as a Chinese? His opponents can just run pre-1970s Communist posters as attack ads, and they wouldn't even need to photoshop the faces! I'm not joking about the establishment bias against him either - when your microphone gets cut halfway in debates, you get dropped for Beto in CNN presentations of top vote-getters despite, well, getting more votes, and the bloody New York Times edits you to be the shortest male candidate from being of average height (only retracted after protest), one has to eventually suspect an underlying current of media racism.
All this considered, one understands why Yang named his UBI giveout a Freedom Dividend, because one can hardly find two words in the dictionary that are more quintessentially American. A more-involved discussion of UBI would take up entire blog posts, so suffice to say that I'm not very convinced of his math for now - mostly due to unaccounted second-order effects - though I can give credit for him at least trying to show the working (as opposed to Warren having the figures sorta, and Bernie just handwaving everything). His rational approach did win him a small but loyal core of Yang Gang diehards (to the possible confusion of tens of thousands of Chinese of that name); his (accurate) analysis last month that "Donald Trump is not the cause of all of our problems and we are making a mistake when we act like he is" would sadly be the beginning of the end.
Just to clarify, I'm hardly down with all of Yang's stands (e.g. on the Green New Deal), and thought that his whipped cream stunt was in doubtful taste. And, like, MATH as a slogan? Really? Worst of all, joining CNN as a commentator? It's small wonder that some of his supporters, in seeking a new candidate, have turned to the light of the Emperor - MATH is halfway to MAGA, after all!
Tom Steyer's a hedge fund billionaire who attempted to beat Biden at his own game (i.e. getting the black vote out) in South Carolina, by straight up offering them cash through reparations (which can obviously get pretty tricky to assess). He was also all-in on fighting climate change, but overall, his candidacy never made much sense, other than as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get on the big stage. Bloomberg's presence and his dance to "Back Dat Azz Up" did apparently make him the Dem voters' preferred billionaire, which means they eat him last.
It was barely a month ago that Mayor Pete was soaring highest with his upset win in Iowa, but alas, it wasn't to be. Buttigieg was admittedly an easy option for party powerbrokers to congeal around, were they of a mind to - guy's clean-shaven, fairly well-spoken, the very picture of inoffensiveness. They could conceivably mould him into an agreeable platitude-spouting figurehead (e.g. "The shape of our democracy is the issue that affects every other issue", which got him panned by Williamson, of all people); he's clearly been mimicking Obama's speech patterns all the way up to memorizing soundbites, and from how the mainstream FAKE NEWS pushed him over Bernie in reporting the New Hampshire results, I'd gather that the establishment Democrats would be pretty okay with his nomination.
Sure, all that prep could make him seem somewhat inauthentic and calculated in the eyes of some, and he's relatively inexperienced with a thin record to boast of, but both these drawbacks could plausibly be countered. Ditto for his father being Marxist, or controversial positions on after-birth abortion, Supreme Court packing and not going far enough on free college. No, his problem was very simple: he's gay, and blacks flat out won't vote for gays, as South Carolina kingmaker Jim Clyburn said matter-of-factly in driving his state's support to Biden.
Just a moment here... isn't that homophobia? Why isn't the zero-tolerance Democratic Party censuring these blacks, or at least angling for equal acceptance, like in Singapore?
In any case, intersectionality wasn't working in Mayor Pete's favour here, and his campaign was done after polling approximately 0% with African-Americans and getting chased into his car by Black Vote Matters protestors. That said, that constituency isn't going for Bernie despite him not taking the (D) either, and under these circumstances, him yielding to Biden in consideration for a possible juicy Cabinet slot is only logical.
I'll be first to admit that I haven't been following her career closely, but make no mistake, this lady's a fighter. She demands accountability, she's won all her elections in Minnesota, she's managed to wrest half of the New York Times' endorsement, and she'll eat her salad with an unwashed comb if she has to. Do you have anything on that? I don't. A Redditor has dubbed her "The Starscream of Karens", but I doubt she'll be fazed.
Position-wise, she has said her piece on whether English should be the national language, but from her debate appearances, the issue dearest to her heart is bringing Pete Buttigieg down. I'm not talking about a run-of-the-mill feud here, like TRUMP vs. Ted Cruz. This is legit "from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee" stuff. Initially, there was suspicion that she would be staying in for Super Tuesday to block Bernie in Minnesota, but it turned out that she was simply lying in wait for Buttigieg to drop out first, before doing a little jig.
Can't wait for them both to be back for 2024.
Let's play Spot the Bloomberg!
[N.B. Full series thus far, Bloomberg's own entry]
Mini Mike Bloomberg's campaign will be remembered as an objective study on what money can and can't buy. What it can buy is some 12% of the Democratic base's support at nearly US$29 million per percent, the second-most endorsements of any candidate from prominent party members despite joining up barely a year ago, a gaggle of new party members to boot, access to the Democratic debate stage despite not meeting preset criteria, and possibly a box to stand on during said debates (it comes with the full package). As to what it can't buy, the 2020 Democratic nomination's out of his reach, since as GEOTUS said, he came up very short after lighting half a billion dollars on fire and not winning a single state. If nothing else, Jeb! can be thankful for Bloomberg making him look good.
Fine, maybe we've been too harsh on him here, so we'll say it again - Bloomberg's loaded. To the tune of
Definitely, many Democrats aren't happy with Bloomberg all but buying the election, which had led to low attendances and stage-stormings at his events. His inexperience however showed, from him reportedly considering Hillary as his running mate, after rumours that she was planning a return in response to his entry. I mean, I'm hardly a fan of Bloomberg, but unintentional suicide doesn't sit well with me. Don't do it, Mike! Your billions won't save you here! Thankfully, it seems the threat has been averted.
What does rankle me, personally, is Bloomberg's attempt to buy memes. Instagram accounts, fine, false advertising, shrug, and influencers exist to get bought for the right price, but it's just not the same with memes, man. Perhaps I'll recount my admittedly tiny role in GEOTUS's ascension via the GREAT MEME WAR of 2016 someday, but let's just say that I don't think Bloomberg will be able to buy that kind of freely-given devotion.
he who memes with his hand has forgotten the face of the Emperor;
I meme with my mind.
I do not troll with my words;
he who trolls with his words has forgotten the name of the Emperor;
I troll with my heart.
I do not shitpost with my phone;
he who shitposts with his phone has forgotten the glory of the Emperor;
I shitpost with my soul.
Anyway, from Bloomberg's empty campaign offices, one suspects he had expected this result all along. Come to think of it, given the Democrats' insistence that TRUMP swung 2016 thanks to US$100,000 in lousy Russian Facebook ads, shouldn't Bloomberg have done slightly better with seven hundred million bucks?
And we come to Pocahontas.
She's the only candidate to score a dedicated blog post here, as far as I can recall, thanks to her ill-advised genetic test brouhaha. Okay, to be honest here, I've accumulated an entire folder of Liewatha/Fauxahontas jokes without going out of my way to do so, but really, there are only so many variations on virtue smoke-signalling, folding up of teepees, not having a reservation and rejecting of peace pipes that one can spin up.
As acknowledged then, Warren does have her advantages - ample feminist backing, decent name recognition, no excessive scandals outside of reflexive hypocrisy, such as lying on school choice. She supposedly got Obama's private support (which may say more about Biden, though), and successfully wrecked Bloomberg in the debates after he pulled level in the polls through the power of moolah. Trouble was, she tried too hard to please everybody after nearly taking the lead last October, to become a mythical "unity figure" that both moderates and progressives could rally around. Unsurprisingly, she failed, because as Aristotle noted, a friend to all is a friend to none.
This triangulation ensured that she would never be wholly trusted by either faction, with moderates cautious about her flighty concessions to Medicare for All and other money-haemorrhaging designs, and progressives feeling betrayed that she wasn't backing Bernie's incoherent shouting to the hilt, and ready abandonment of her vow to forego super PAC funding. In the end, with Berniebros turning on her for splitting the progressive vote by not dropping out, and coming in third in her home state, she would seek refuge in misogyny, because it's not like women make up 60% of Democratic primary voters and are free to vote for whichever thoroughly-unlikeable female candidate they want.
Not that not being a candidate's gotten Warren off the fence, as she's resolutely refusing to endorse anyone. Big heap sad.
Getting it straight here, Tulsi Gabbard's still officially in the running. Yes, she's made the podium! Frankly, I was rooting for her throughout - certified badass, probably the fittest of them all (I'd take her over Biden in a push-up contest without a second thought), centered, sensible, refused to back the embarassing impeachment hoax against tribal pressure, Chris-Christied Harris, called out the FAKE NEWS for what they were, stood up to Crooked Hillary after she accused her of being a "Russian asset" out of the blue... I mean, she's like the dream candidate there. So, of course the Democrats conspire to shut her out of the next debates, after she qualified according to their rules. Misogyny, indeed! Can anyone blame her from wanting out from that garbage organization, after enduring all this?
Myself, I imagine her seated in the back of the bar with her hard-won delegate (the other one's off to barter some firewater from Warren), playing the long game. Consider: Gabbard's a very healthy 38; her opponents are nearing eighty, one's just had a heart attack, and the other can barely remember who he is; now, no-one's wishing anything bad to happen to them, but with the coronavirus going around, let's just say that it's hardly outside the realm of possibility that she might be the only non-suspended candidate left standing, when the convention begins in July...
...can we not just call it "mega-ultra-high threat" instead?
Welp, this may be it, then. Remember when a handful of new cases outside China was news? Well, South Korea's reporting over five hundred a day now, Italy's leaped from virtually nothing to third place with nearly 900 in a week, and dozens of countries are looking around and gingerly raising their hands while going "Mr. World Health Organization, I don't feel so good". With all eyes waiting on the WHO to say the dreaded P-word, they've instead merely raised the threat assessment to "very high", up from "public health emergency of international concern", which was previously reported as its highest level of alarm; apparently the Phase 6 "pandemic" category, as employed until 2009 at least, is no longer in use somehow.
Netizen doomers weren't amused at the WHO's downplaying of the gravity of the situation, all the more given their perceived deferral towards China whilst the disease was still mostly confined there. It would soon be whispered that this refusal was motivated by financial concerns, since an official acknowledgement would trigger the World Bank's Pandemic Emergency Financing (N.B. not "Very High Threat Financing") bonds, which are due to mature in a few months. Notably, a Nature commentary from last August had questioned why such funds were earmarked to go back to investors in the first place.
The latest explanation from the WHO is seemingly that calling COVID-19 a pandemic would cause countries to prematurely abandon containment strategies while they still kinda work. This may be one of the worst-kept secrets in modern epidemiology, though, with a bunch of experts, the NIH, CDC, various hospitals, the French PM and Bill Gates all hinting that we might be on the verge of The Big One, with Moody's putting the odds at 40%; sure makes a change from "It's just a flu, bro".
Keep Calm & Carry On (But Not The Virus Please)
Given that one of the few things worse than a pandemic, is pandemic plus panic and economic meltdown, some have reasoned that fibbing to the public is actually the correct route to take, thus leaders like GEOTUS TRUMP projecting composure and buying his people some prep time, while putting in an expedited order for one billion N95 masks on the quiet, against childish slander from the likes of the New York Times (how far they have fallen!). Censorship and disinformation appears the flavour of the day, particularly with China's funny numbers and probable widespread undercounting alongside what looks like a partial Internet ban. It was left to two nurses to make a public plea for foreign aid in The Lancet Global Health after witnessing the enormity of it all (which has been swiftly retracted within a couple of days; someone should really keep tabs on those two), amidst increasing frustration from the locked-in residents.
Courageous survivor dog battles ninja in virus-ravaged Wuhan
[N.B. Sequel is already out! Sure it's not Jedi Bruce Lee with lightsaber nunchucks, but we all gotta start somewhere]
Considering all this secretiveness and outright falsehoods by the powers that be, it was left to the truthseekers at various ironically-quarantined subreddits (with admins doling out questionable warnings and outright deleting first-hand reports) and 4chan to preserve the torch of free and open discourse, with creative investigative journalism via Grindr catfishing to obtain on-the-ground interviews, and a chillingly-prescient 4chan /pol post predicting on the 31st of January that "...the WHO is already talking about how 'problematic' modeling the Chinese response in Western countries is going to be, and the first country they want to try it out in is Italy. If it begins a large outbreak in a major Italian city they want to work through the Italian authorities and world health organizations to begin locking down Italian cities in a vain attempt to slow down the spread at least until they can develop and distribute vaccines".
Indeed, despite Italy's pretty-good healthcare system and comprehensive testing (strangely against WHO advice, it should be said), it's not looking very rosy, with reports of stores being raided and price-gougers abounding already. One supposes that's humanity for you, with similar hoarding going on in Korea, Germany, New Zealand and even Great America - though the Second Amendment should help reduce looting in the latter. Much of the regrettable violence has moreover been directed at Chinese, with a Filipino fella apparently getting assaulted in Italy out of mistaken ethnicity, despite well-meaning "Hug a Chinese tourist" campaigns several weeks back. You know stuff's serious when the Italians postpone Serie A matches, with China's PR efforts and geopolitical ambitions crumbling rapidly, as Xi faces domestic mass disobedience from workers (understandably) refusing orders to return to normal duties.
Moving from WHO to whodunnit for awhile, some might figure that Iran being one of the hardest-hit countries together with China, despite their relative geographical separation unlike say with South Korea, might be worth a rethink. While Iran is of course likely playing fast and loose with the statistics too, they've nonetheless reported a remarkably high death toll. Yet more interesting, perhaps, would be the number of leadership figures affected, with their deputy health minister and coronavirus IC shown sweating uncontrollably on live television, a vice-president confirmed as infected, amidst rumours that their President has it too, together with other staff members.
The more conspiratorially-minded could interpret this as Great America sending a reminder that they have more than just Hellfire missiles in their arsenal; then again, there seems to have been a quiet official admission that the virus didn't originate from the seafood market after all, reigniting theories on how it was a lab leak that can be traced back to... *drumroll* Canada. Just to pile on the cloak-and-dagger, Best Korea's Kim Jong-un has reportedly nominated his sister as successor due to a mysterious illness, while in unrelated news, their first confirmed COVID-19 patient has sadly perished from state-of-the-art experimental lead therapy. As things stand, Iran has finally banned Chinese nationals from entering, but it's tough to tell who's being protected from who here.
Prayers And Wishes
While some are trying to keep optimistic, with Japan for example still hopeful of hosting the Olympics (denying the Akira prophecy) despite already closing all elementary and high schools, faith has evidently preserved the true believers. Indonesia's still adamant on fighting the virus with prayer - word from the Health Minister himself - with a pastor suggesting that the solution would be for China to accept Jesus.
This is not a good sign.
Much of South Korea's terrible state, to begin with, might be fairly attributed to the Shincheonji cult (borrowing from the ever-popular Heaven & Earth motif in Oriental theology). No-one would have cared too much had they just run the standard script of worshipping their leader as the second coming of Christ and multi-level evangelism, but they took it too far by purposely sending infected congregants to other churches, after achieving an 82% infection rate internally. Can't be too sad that they're being investigated here. It's not like more-established religions are being sensible, however, with Iran refusing quarantine as "old-fashioned" [!?] while insisting on continuing communal prayer. Small wonder they're a new outbreak epicenter, then.
While we've lauded the local branch of the Catholic Church for doing the reasonable thing in cancelling masses, this line of thought doesn't seem to have been picked up by the Pope, who insisted on showing solidarity with coronavirus sufferers - I'm for that, by the way - by shaking presumably hundreds of hands, and kissing plenty of heads. He promptly turned up ill the very next day, which had me scratching my head, as with much else with religion. To top it off, Iran's former ambassador to the Vatican has just passed away due to the virus. It definitely doesn't discriminate - the WHO did get that right.
For those predisposed towards deities, may I propose a candidate?
[To be continued...]
Well, the outlook doesn't seem the greatest, but one supposes it's best to maintain realistic expectations, instead of getting overwhelmed when probable-if-distasteful scenarios happen. While the CCP's stance has consistently been that they have it all under control and that "some other countries have overreacted", many observers have savvily suggested to watch what they do, not what they say; if it were all a-ok as according to the official numbers, why are thousands of medical personnel and dozens of cremators being deployed? Or highly-prominent citizens perishing from apparent lack of care?
Let's face it, China if nothing else is huge - even fifty or a hundred thousand dead due to an epidemic, while certainly a terrible catastrophe by any measure, doesn't strike one as something the CCP would lockdown half the country for; rather more of a shrug of the shoulders and "oh well, sucks that our annual death toll jumped by like 1%, c'est la vie". Small wonder that a number of observers are remarking that the figures don't make sense, what with significant levels of censorship seemingly imposed by the Internet giants.
Transparency remains at a premium as it was confirmed that the international WHO team would not be allowed into Wuhan or Hubei, which is exactly where they should be to get an actual feel of the ground situation. Well, with a DARPA-funded study upgrading the R0 estimate to 4.7-6.6, the Wuhan officials' response has been to hold local district leaders responsible for reporting a single additional new case (guess what's not gonna be reported?). This imbecility was somehow topped by the American FAKE NEWS industry, which instead slammed the administration's coronavirus task force for... lack of diversity.
Mr. President, according to CNN, our number one priority right now when faced with devastating pestilence, is to include a non-white, non-male member to this urgent meeting
As it stands, The Lancet has published a statement from a collection of international bigwigs supporting China's efforts against the virus, and issuing a blanket dismissal of bioweapon conspiracies, so one supposes that's it on that front for now; wouldn't be polite to stir the muck when the ravenous locust swarms are descending from Africa, after all.
The Home Front
It was some sort of a relief that Singapore's no longer number one outside China, as South Korea took over that dubious distinction with a sudden explosion of fifty-one cases in a single day to zoom over the three hundred-case mark, with Japan joining in on the breakaway and prompting an update of the local delicacy hospital observation ward meme. On one hand, we're still supposedly more badly affected than most Chinese provinces normalized for population size, more cases are emerging with no known source, and the supposed saviour combo of heat and humidity doesn't appear to be inhibiting the virus anywhere near as much as hoped. On the other hand, the baseline probability of catching it remains objectively miniscule. In the language of the crypto markets, the next few weeks are critical as to whether we go exponential, or the trend peaks.
Not to toot our own trumpets too loudly, but Singapore's overall response appears to have drawn general plaudits, from just about any relevant forum I've frequented. The praise was mostly centered around the comprehensive and open tracking of COVID-19 infections (see new MOH ArcGIS and custom dashboards), coupled with a perceived willingness to test any and all possible cases/contacts, sensible paid quarantine, free treatment and mass evacuation policies, plus the fortuitous opening of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID). This has garnered high praise from evaluators from Harvard's T. H. Chan School of Public Health, who hailed Singapore as having achieved the gold standard of near-perfect detection, compared to an estimated over 60% of cases going undetected outside of China, with doubts getting raised over Japan and South Korea's strategies. In fairness, however, our small land area and particular attributes probably don't apply easily elsewhere.
That said, we're hardly in the clear yet, given local community transmission having occurred since the beginning of the month, with some of the affected having attended public gatherings such as Chingay, and dengue season upon us too (with one particularly unfortunate patient catching both COVID-19 and dengue). Interestingly, two large clusters have emerged around religious congregations (as also the case in South Korea), because they're social like that. While we're on this, remarks from certain quarters on how the virus was retribution for the mistreatment of Uyghurs has been rapidly smacked down, though a megachurch pastor's recent promise that "no virus can come near you" might seem... slightly irresponsible. As a counterpoint, the incomparably more-experienced Roman Catholic Church has suspended all Masses here indefinitely, because they have to be the authorities when it goes all Biblical.
Pets no spread COVID-19, no throw out of window pls
4G Leadership Test
It should go without saying that we're facing up to some tumultuous economic times; PM Lee has publicly announced COVID-19's impact to have exceeded SARS since last week, as easily evinced by anecdote and direct observation of mall traffic. Tourism will likely be particularly hard-hit, after international reports of travellers getting infected here, leading to an increasing number of countries outright prohibiting entry to visitors from Singapore. The Tourism Board chief has said what he had to, but talk has always been cheap when it comes to deadly epidemics. We've done the same to China three weeks back, of course, and the People's Republic is continuing to find out just how close their friends are, with North Korea and Russia too closing their borders because they may be pals, but they're not that stupid. Then again, not like China didn't do the same to Mexico over H1N1, and it's only reasonable to doubt how contained the virus is, within China's own territory.
Given the upcoming elections and concurrent long-planned leadership transition, it was inevitable that the fourth generation's response to this crisis would be regarded as their baptism of fire (and fever). In response to the many petitions for assistance by various business associations, extensive Budget measures would be declared, with close to S$6 billion earmarked for relief efforts and the GST hike delayed (but not cancelled, which got it panned by the SDP, whose chairman's being... optimistic on the COVID-19 situation). Sadly, the rental rebates (as also done in Hong Kong) and other initiatives seem unlikely to rescue the economy, with a recession imminent.
Now, given that it seems to be also the season for straight talk (as we'll see), it might be suggested that the 4G batch has a lot to prove, given the (hardly inaccurate) sense that the country may have been running on autopilot for a long while. One particular bugbear would have to be the government's official policy on face masks, which was that healthy individuals did not need to wear them (drummed in daily by The State's Times). Sounds reasonable and reassuring, right?
The coronavirus has at least brought out some of our ministers' funny Tweetlord side, and while they won't be challenging GEOTUS anytime soon, it sure hasn't done their popularity much harm
Well, it turns out that the government has both a public and a private elite position on this, straight from the white horse's mouth. A closed-door meeting held between our Singlish-slinging Trade and Industry Minister and the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) bigwigs would be leaked (read transcript), in which it was revealed that the distribution of four masks per family (and accompanying propaganda) was a gamble, because we really didn't have that many masks to spare.
The SCCCI were suitably mortified at the leak (which, however, was hardly the first), and though probably a wash for the relevant minister's reputation domestically (not that discretion's one of his better virtues), with some liking his earthiness and others not impressed by the lack of humility on show, his throwing shade on Hong Kong for their handling of the mask situation hasn't gone unnoticed over there. The latter part of his speech seems to confirm a general movement towards decoupling (or more delicately, "diversification") from China, which concurs with previous geopolitical analysis.
Not time to care about appearances
All considered, it's tough to understand how wearing a mask would harm an individual, despite all the insistence that it's not necessary and that it could be defeated by dirty hands; of course, from society's point of view, not everybody needs a mask as much as others, and rushing to secure personal supplies could cause unwelcome panic, fair enough. Still, it has not escaped certain observers that the government may not have been entirely honest about the availability and efficacy of masks, despite assumed best intentions. This tends to have people wonder what else they're not being upfront about, as expressed in an uncharacteristic outpouring of emo poetry.
Interestingly, the concern doesn't appear to be evenly distributed amongst the populace, with barely a majority even bothering to pick up their four masks per household (which, come to think about it, doesn't go far). Meanwhile, a few more-entrepreneurial citizens, sensing the opportunity, moved to fill the supply gap. Now, from a purely economic viewpoint, this should be a net societal benefit as long as they're importing the masks from outside (as a Chinese singer did, in scooping up 160,000 masks from Singapore). Consider a situation where a mask costs S$0.20 normally, with a supply of say 100,000 masks per week. In a period of great demand (such as now), it shouldn't hurt anyone if a merchant imports an extra say 50,000 masks and offers them at S$1.00 apiece, because this provides an additional option to customers (i.e. to get a mask, but at a higher price, instead of being forced to go without), assuming prices for the original supply stays constant, i.e. must provide non-negative utility.
Unfortunately, this kind of reasoned logic has seldom gone very far in an emergency, with the automatic knee-jerk response being to slam the importers for profiteering, with CASE receiving nearly four hundred complaints about overcharging for masks and related items already this year. Blatant scams aside, I'm uncertain if plucky small-time vendors (such as this guy near my old place) deserve all the denigration they've been getting. Anyway, it looks like the only way to stay above reproach when it concerns face masks has been to give or raffle them away for free... and even that doesn't always work.
And it was that damn bat that started it!
[N.B. Recycle, reuse, upcycle]
(Sources: villains.fandom.com, imgflip.com)
The latest update has the government finally looking into manufacturing masks locally, which frankly shouldn't be that complicated, and pretty dang lucrative to boot. Taiwan's gotten the drop on this by securing sixty mask-making machines already, and are poised to become the world's second largest manufacturer of masks, behind only China. Hopefully this will negate the need for Taiwan to print their flag on their masks, to protect their supplies from export.
The Not So Pretty Side
Sadly, baser instincts came to the fore once the authorities raised the DORSCON threat level, with highfalutin pretensions towards Total Defence deflated by the undeniable sight of supermarkets across the island getting raided to emptiness by hoarders, some of who further simply abandoned their loot after getting tired of queuing. Our increasingly high-profile Trade and Industry Minister could not help but comment that such behaviour would undermine international confidence in Singapore. But then, given how the very same government has dissed locals for being insufficiently hungry and not stealing others' lunch, there's a case to be made that this "selfishness" is simply the rational outcome.
This episode definitely sparked much soul-searching over in the Singapore subreddit, with numerous virtue-signalling posts mocking the plebs' unworthy ugly behaviour, mass hysteria and paranoid attitude, to the extent of self-flagellation for being a "first class country with a third class mentality". Notably, EDMW appears generally more understanding of said behaviour, tilting towards less judgment and more self-irony, because those of not-as-high SES know well that it's ultimately every man for himself in this sad culture; as a more-aware Redditor expresses, "...the government has never walked the talk. They and their families do not take public transport and do not live in HDB and are therefore not exposed to crowds like the common population. Hence, they are comfortable to state that masks are not required for healthy people. Do your own due diligence".
Anyway, the hoarding has backfired for some, most pointedly those who swarmed Mustafa Centre alongside Case 42. To return some perspective, however, all this is hardly unique to us - the infamous annual Black Friday sale tramplings in America aside, hoarding and theft has been happening in monoethnic societies like Japan too, and Hong Kong has witnessed armed gangs staging large-scale robberies for... toilet paper ("It's a better gift than wine now", according to Fortune; eh, I know what I'd rather be stuck in a washroom stall with). Our Malaysian neighbours haven't missed out on the opportunity for some good-natured ribbing, but they probably shouldn't press their luck.
Though the panic buying's stemmed for now thanks to purchase limits, there's more bad behaviour to go around, with multiple reports of nurses and other healthcare workers getting ostracized by the public, despite their ongoing sacrifice (as also being recognized in China, over clumsy propaganda). Recall Kipling's observation on how it's "Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' Tommy, go away/But it's "Thank you, Mister Atkins", when the band begins to play"? Well, the music's at full blast now, but there ain't much thanks going around, looks like.
[To be continued...]
*breathes deeply* FFFFFUUUUUUUU- massive, MASSIVE plot twist in Kengan Omega! Ah yes, coronavirus too. *pulls out giant foam finger* Singapore #1 (outside of China and Cruise Ship)! Oh, this is one ranking list we don't wanna top for once?
The coronavirus has finally been officially christened as COVID-19 by the WHO a few days ago, superseding previous popular descriptors such as the Wuhan/China Flu. This omission of location/ethnicity-specific terms was intended to fend off unwarranted stigma, as was the case for the Spanish flu, which got named as such due to the Spaniards being honest enough to report it (but as far as nationality-based associations go, it could probably have been worse). Taiwan for one will be retaining the Wuhan naming, but given they're being shut out of the WHO due to PRC pressure, it's easy to see why.
Dumping a bunch of resources, before continuing:
As to what's known about the virus thus far (information subject to change; I'm no authority on it, and there have been plenty of walkbacks no thanks to the rush to publish in medical journals, with Science for example critiquing no less than NEJM for a letter that posited asymptomatic transmission... which however now appears very possible, according to the US CDC director): it's pretty contagious, with the WHO estimating that each infected person will spread it to something like 1.4 to 2.5 additional people (R0=1.4-2.5), with CAS researchers having the R0 as high as 4.08. The mortality rate (from destruction of lung tissue) has been about 2% within China, which doesn't seem too bad until one considers that this is orders of magnitude above that for the common flu (~0.05%). The death toll has long surpassed that of SARS from 2003; further, it can be transmitted as an aerosol, through feces, and maybe even farts and the Emperor knows what else.
In short, COVID-19 looks like very, very bad news.
But it won't result in a zombie apocalypse, or so the Malaysian government has reassured, so we have that going for us.
Diagnosis-wise, production of test kits seems to be ramping up (if of variable accuracy; A*Star's appear reliable though, and they've shipped a bunch to China), with accompanying improvements in detection speed. However, despite optimistic reports such as that from Thailand on combining flu and HIV medications for treatment, and the rather unorthodox recommendation of cow dung lotion from a Hindu swami, there is as yet no recognized cure. Vaccine development is likely to take months or years - time that the world in general, and China in particular, might not have.
Ominous splatter there...
(Source: gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com [16 Feb 2020])
Over to the epicenter of the Bad News Breakout, it's not looking mighty good. The latest tally has over 68,000 confirmed cases in China, with over 1,600 deaths, and that's after wielding the directed power of the behemoth uniparty state, and enacting quite draconian measures.
The more-benign side of China's production capabilities was on display in their rapid conversion of an exhibition centre and construction of the thousand-bed Huoshenshan facility, which was raised in just ten days using prefab structures; so the rooms aren't the cheeriest, and there remain some minor defects, but how many other nations could have managed such a feat of coordination at short notice?
The darker side of China's repressive habits however came to the fore as the spread of COVID-19 showed few signs of abating, and large population centres were mercilessly quarantined, one after the other. Before the Chinese New Year, eight cities close by Wuhan, comprising some 23 million people, had already come under curfew and lockdown. By the seventh of February, the quarantine had been extended to Guangzhou and elsewhere, for a total of about 700 million souls by today, or 10% of the entire world population/two Great Americas.
In perhaps the surest sign of how serious the threat was, the Chinese Communist Party actually caved to the Hong Kong protestors on closing all crossings to the mainland after being faced with a mass strike by hospital workers, despite the obvious symbolism of separation inherent in that act. Of course, given that Guangzhou is literally on Hong Kong's doorstep, and Hong Kong had been near the top of the transmission charts moreover with a first reported death, this was probably the sensible path to take, disregarding the politics of it all.
Dispell popo with this one weird trick!
Speaking of quarantine, the mainland definitely isn't playing around - there have been multiple attested reports of citizens being confined to their own apartments, with the aid of metal bars and heavy chains. The official stance on what to do if there's a fire appears to be to call one's designated contact, and hope that they arrive before it's too late; such measures haven't been good for the mental health of some residents, at least one of whom has started his own fire, alongside heartrending tragedies such as a disabled teenager starving after being left behind. Happily, most seem to be coping okay, with the more productive taking classes, running marathons and watching free "special" high-definition videos (one of the measures also taken by cruise lines), while being cooped up indoors.
These punitive policies have only increased in severity, what with banknotes getting in on the quarantine (and not the American civil forfeiture way), cough medicine being withheld to flush out recalcitrant isolation ward dodgers, and the ultimate late stage socialism penalty of death for breaking curfews, as also implemented in Best Korea. The sad realization however remains that almost all of this suffering was for the best, in an epidemiological sense. What other major country could have effectively enacted such a comprehensive lockdown? In Great America and other mostly-liberal democracies, you'd have a buncha Karens going muh rights, clearly I can't be infected and I wanna speak to your manager and/or I sue, because freedom. One shudders to imagine the absolute state of India or Africa if the virus gets there, and that's before the ongoing locust plague in the latter. For other places such as Indonesia and the Philippines, there seems a wilful refusal by the authorities to even consider that they might be involved, despite their many travel links with China. Can't have it if you don't look too hard for it, though not all of their citizens are remaining convinced.
There are indeed some very good economic reasons to ignore the threat, even in China where the virus is apparently dropping people on the streets. The work stoppage has essentially ground their markets and industry to a halt, with Paramount Leader Xi (fresh out of a slightly-suspicious hibernation) faced with an unpalatable choice: maintain the total lockdown, and have an already-vulnerable economy crater and hasten the departure of manufacturing, or resume normal business, risk the gradually-snowballing virus spreading out of all control, and eat perhaps a few percent loss of the population. They have apparently decided on the latter, if with the very-understandable concession of requesting flexibility on the fulfilment of their Phase 1 trade deal terms with Great America, while again banning selling and injecting huge liquidity into the moribund stock market. Myself, I'm pretty eager to find out what the massaged GDP numbers will be (then again, it might be considered that nations such as Germany and us truly have just avoided recession with extremely-convenient 0.1% growth rates, so take it as you will)
First win the War on Cold, *then* resume Cold War II
[N.B. That's if the debt situation and possible austerity can be resolved]
Amongst all the morbid fascination and undercurrent of mounting disquiet lies a lingering concern: can China be trusted? After all, there seemed to have been a fair chance that all this could have been nipped in the bud, had the Wuhan local authorities simply been more forthcoming at the outset. Instead, with over a third of China mothballed, and numerous towns and villages very sensibly BUILDING THE WALLS internally, the Foreign Minister somehow kept on admonishing other countries for enforcing travel bans, even warning that it would hurt goodwill and cooperation in the future; well, not as if all those smart students aren't hacking the system with third-party transits to get where they want to, anyway.
But let's trace the cover-up from the beginning. Like Singapore, China has instituted POFMA-type laws that purport to combat "fake news" through hefty penalties - up to seven years in prison, in the case of China. Such laws were applied against medical personnel who discussed COVID-19 abnormalities in a WeChat group, with eight of them arrested for misinformation because there were obviously zero concerning cases, comrade, and sure as day follows night, zero cases got reported. Anyway, one of the admonished doctors would catch the officially-nonexistent virus, and the doctor's death would spark a seldom-seen level of fury at the CCP, who had to transition from mass-banning WeChat accounts, to mass-banning Weibo hashtags demanding freedom of speech. A number of brave and principled journalists have attempted to provide on-the-ground updates, and have quite predictably gone entirely missing.
Of course, in an era of ubiquitous smartphones and free VPNs, an information quarantine towards controlling the narrative was never gonna work, and a deluge of data and video would continue pouring out of Wuhan and greater China. Some of it was merely reasonable speculation: if COVID-19 was "merely" another SARS/MERS/H1N1 (it's not), why are the quarantine measures on another scale altogether? Did the CCP know something the public wasn't supposed to know about the virus from the beginning, and are mostly out to save their own necks?
Despite the powers that be censoring material on WeChat, Weibo & Toutiao as quickly as they could while running the usual disinformation playbook, there were simply too many alternative channels to police, with plenty of authentic-seeming video clips making it to Youtube and Twitter - and not a few of open discontent at the government. When there's broad evidence of bodybag stockpiles, entire communities being abandoned to their fate and crematoriums working at a rate far above that expected from official death tolls, people have got to expect that something's up, even if there's some exaggeration mixed in.
Exactly as projected!
And on the official transmission & mortality numbers. The CCP's relation with statistics has long been kinda functional - the GDP aside (famously disbelieved by their own Premier), what is one to make of a province of 80 million people claiming a poverty rate of 17? No, not 17%, seventeen people (to be fair, Singapore has long refused to even propose a figure, while the response for pretty basic employment statistics had been stonewalled by a minister's motherhood statement once again, just last month). Now, it's easy to understand why a country might want to fudge the numbers - with all the suffering that comes with a recession, finding a way to drop the minus sign seems the proper thing to do - but would it hurt them to at least try to make it believable? Roughly 50 deaths from the flu annually, from a population of over a billion? Why not just go full Best Korea and report a big, fat, zero then?
It didn't take much scrutiny for various dataphiles to sense that China's official COVID-19 numbers were far too neat, and a talented Redditor soon found a predictive near-perfect fit for the number of confirmed cases, which moreover seemed immune to policy impacts. This quite remarkable lack of noise was confirmed by professional statisticians, with disease modellers and supposed insiders positing that the true numbers could be at least ten times higher, as supposedly briefly leaked by Tencent. The kindest explanation, then, would be that the too-regular figures arose from a lack of test kits and non-standard cause of death definitions, alongside internal political jostling.
Internationally, the WHO has been perhaps curiously pliant on accepting that China has it all under control, even as the CCP's fiddling with definitions against WHO's own guidelines, while doubling down on silencing whistleblowers. Of course, it's not like the WHO has the heft to get China to do anything the CCP doesn't want to happen, and it was left to America - thankfully under GEOTUS's impeccable leadership - to flat out accuse them of lying. Nonetheless, America has pledged US$100 million towards China's good fight, and China is finally allowing (maybe) an international team in, after weeks of refusing help and driving in circles. Given their dawdling here, it's hardly a surprise that the WHO is next on TRUMP's chopping board.
The refusal to admit outside observers and general censorship throughout has only fed the many conspiracy theories floating about, and the most popular by far is that COVID-19's an engineered bioweapon, with a Harvard epidemiologist more or less going "I'm not sayin' that it is, but this stuff ain't natural". On this, the main driver was the discovery of a Level 4 virology lab (a similar one coincidentally featured in a Dean Koontz thriller), located not twenty miles from the wet market getting blamed for the spread without actual evidence.
The bioweapons theory has been lent some credibility from being investigated by the White House, a week after a U.S. senator pointed out that many of the original cases, including the supposed Patient Zero, had no contact with the wet market. Admittedly, this sounds somewhat circumstantial, but there have been no lack of tasty indicators cropping up, such as the ACE2 receptor-based viruses being messed about on bats by the Wuhan Institute of Virology back in 2014, an implicated Canandian scientist getting offed in Africa, and said lab suddenly coming under PLA control. Adding fire to the fuel, a paper from the South China University of Technology has just raised the possibility of the virus escaping from another nearby research facility. Brave lads.
It starts to get extremely messy when we get into the motives, all the more with the spectre of Unit 731 hanging over China, coupled with hints that COVID-19 might be particularly deadly to Asian males (this typically vehemently explained away by correlations with smoking). Proponents of China's mischief have posited the creation of an intentional pandemic for which only they hold the cure towards gaining power, or more cynically for use against Hong Kong/Taiwan and/or the unproductive elderly.
China has expectedly disavowed any such biowarfare objectives, and their apologists have (not entirely without foundation) pointed the finger at the CIA, for spreading it with the aim of destroying China's economy in the build-up to Cold War II (which, truthfully, isn't exactly outside the ballpark of CIA nastiness). Russia, recognizing major troll lulz to be had, has thrown their weight behind China on this one. Either way, I'm suspecting it won't matter by the time the truth emerges.
As to how it's affected Singapore, that'll be for the next post...
[N.B. The Sabaton cover]
For a hill men would kill, why? They do not know
Stiffened wounds test their pride
Men on fire, still alive through the raging glow
Gone insane from the pain that they surely know
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