All posts filed under: COVID-19

Reducing the Chance of New Pandemics

It has been months since the novel coronavirus hit Western countries, and many are now wondering how and when normality will return and what a new normal might look like. Some expect that a second wave of infection will be avoided by seasonal properties inherent in the virus, while others contend that this will only happen if strong action is taken to contain it. Some expect that a vaccine will allow a rapid return to the world we had before, while others argue that even if such a vaccine were to be developed, it would permit no such thing. Absent from many of these discussions is how to avoid another situation like this one. The argument can be framed in simple economic terms or in more complex terms related to existential risk and the very future of our species on Earth. The current pandemic is estimated to have cost nations on average a third of the world’s GDP—over 30 trillion US dollars—so spending billions on even a marginal reduction of the probability of another such …

Can the Chinese Communist Party Achieve Global Dominance?

Many of us have woken up in recent years to the threat we face in the Chinese Communist Party. The danger that the Party presents to citizens of China has been well documented for decades, but it is only recently that this danger has been extended to the rest of the world—or perhaps it is only recently that the rest of the world has caught its first alarming glimpse of a long-hidden menace. This menace comes in a variety of forms. In the arena of infrastructure and investment, there is Xi Jinping’s vaunted “Belt and Road Initiative.” The aim is to create Chinese vassal states all over the world by issuing loans that cannot be repaid. This enables the Party to assume control of ports, pipelines, and power plants, and ultimately to gain leverage over indebted governments. Then there is the great misinformation war. Beijing has the Western media in its sights—most of the major Australian media outlets are already being paid to publish Communist Party propaganda. At the same time, Party-controlled telecom companies like Huawei …

COVID-19 and the College Football Debate

Why should we have to go to class if we come here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS. ~Ohio State University football quarterback Cardale Jones, October 2012 tweet Last week, the question of whether or not the American college football season would start on time in the early fall got complicated. Some schools (with enrollments of up to about 50,000 students in total) had already opened for voluntary workouts. Now, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has approved a six-week plan that would allow student athletes to return to campus for pre-season workouts, and so testing for COVID-19 has begun. The results so far have been stark. Clemson University had 23 players test positive. There were 13 players with COVID-19 at the University of Texas in Austin. Ten athletes at Iowa State tested positive. The University of Alabama had eight, as did Kansas State University. University of Houston had six, Texas A&M had five, and Mississippi State had four. The list went on and on with more schools reporting …

Rethinking Health Disparities

In the last few decades, the proliferation of diversity, inclusivity, and equity literature throughout the medical profession has become institutionalized. Medical organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Institute of Health (NIH), and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) have embraced this ideology and its accompanying bureaucracies and web-based material, and have called for cultural changes in some of our most important fields of study. Reforms are ostensibly intended to address healthcare disparities between groups, and new initiatives are frequently justified with reference to what the Sullivan Commission called the “ghosts of discrimination.” 1 The authors of reports like these will invariably go on to talk about implicit bias, the need for diversity in the healthcare workforce, and an examination of structural forces and power distributions that shape group disparities in health outcomes. In January 2020, the ACC published a cover story stating that healthcare group disparities and the lack of diversity in healthcare were a “national emergency” and strongly promoted the use of the Implicit Association Test (IAT).2 Even as late as …

Reassessing the Guidance on Face Masks

The efficacy of face masks for limiting the spread of SARS-CoV-2 remains uncertain and hotly contested. Recommendations vary between countries as do the reasons given. In Norway, where I live, masks are not considered necessary because very few people are infected, and efforts to contain the spread of the virus have been quite successful without mandating their use by the general public. But the debate about whether or not masks “work” is complicated and requires attention to numerous variables and contingencies. Even if we can agree that masks do help limit the spread of the virus to some degree, the conditions under which they are most effective can differ enormously, and recommendations to wear masks “in public” can actually mislead more than they illuminate and even cause some harm. We now know more than we did even a few weeks ago about how the virus spreads. In a blog post inspired by a Quillette essay analysing superspreader events, immunologist Erin Bromage delineates the salient principle as “Successful Infection = Exposure to Virus x Time.” Exposure …

Is State Protection a Threat to Liberal Democracy?

The world is awash with predictions about the impact of COVID-19 on life in the liberal democracies—from more online shopping to less globalisation, from higher taxing governments to more working from home. But most analyses compare 2020 with 2019 and examine the immediate changes wrought by the pandemic alone. Long-term, COVID-19’s impact may turn out to be considerably greater. To fully appreciate the potential consequences of this pandemic we need to examine it in the wider context of the last two decades. It must be seen as part of a series of developments over that period that, collectively, could transform liberal democracy more dramatically than is currently predicted. Those developments have driven the physical and economic insecurity of citizens to levels never previously experienced in the modern liberal democratic state. COVID-19 may be a tipping point for insecurity. Self-preservation may be the new priority that triggers a radical transformation of what the citizens of liberal democracies demand from the state and what the state delivers. Taken too far, that transformation of the citizen/state relationship could …

The Battle for Russian Journalism

Russia is a heavily authoritarian state, where the ruling class serves itself first and best. The country’s politics revolve almost entirely around the figure of Vladimir Putin, who has been the nation’s president (with one four-year break) since 2000. Closely researched books—such as Putin’s Kleptocracy by the late academic Karen Dawisha, and Putin’s People by the journalist Catherine Belton—convincingly expose his personal corruption and the culture of theft among his closest associates. These people see themselves, in Belton’s phrase, as “anointed custodians,” and have decided that their mission to restore at least part of the empire of which Russia was shorn by the break-up of the USSR entitles them to great power and rewards. Nevertheless, Putin’s Russia is not Xi Jinping’s China nor Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s Egypt—there does exist some space for civil society. It is more like an upscaled nuclear-armed version of Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. An opposition exists, but it cannot win. The leader may be criticised, but not replaced (except, in Putin’s case, when he arranges it as a manoeuvre to extend his reign). Protests are …

Pandemics and Pandemonium

Minneapolis and urban centers across America are burning, most directly in response to the brutal killing of a black man by a white Minnesota police officer. But the rage ignited by the death of George Floyd is symptomatic of a profound sense of alienation that has been building for years among millions of poor, working class urbanites. The already diminished prospects facing such people have only been worsened by the unforeseen onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic and the policies devised to combat it. Like earlier pandemics, the virus has devastated poorer communities, where people live in the most crowded housing, are forced to travel on public transport, and work in the most exposed “essential” jobs, most of which are badly paid. Unlike the affluent of Gotham, some 30 percent of whom were able to leave town and work remotely, the working class remained, forced to endure crowded conditions as the disease raged through the city. No surprise then that inhabitants of the impoverished Bronx have suffered nearly twice as many deaths from COVID-19 as those …

Fighting COVID-19: Australia’s (Largely Untold) Success Story

On Friday, May 15th, pubs around Sydney re-opened after being closed for two months, a development that caused one delighted Sydneysider to observe: “Clinking that first glass… felt like I’d sloughed off a thousand years of sadness.” In fact, it had been roughly two months—a period during which 24 million Australians, myself included, observed a lockdown on all non-essential services. There are still many restrictions in place. And it will be months, if not years, before all aspects of society return to business as usual. But overall, the easing of restrictions has come faster than many Australians expected, in large part because the lockdown policies worked. The country has witnessed only about 7,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 103 deaths. Daily new cases spiked in late March in the low 400s, but then plummeted rapidly, and now are typically within single digits. It was once believed that, absent a vaccine, long-term herd immunity might be the only way to stop this pandemic. But examples such as Australia show that many countries may be able to …

COVID-19 Has Exposed Critical Weaknesses in Global Higher Education

The traditional educational services sector in the United States, and world at large, was not prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, including institutions of higher education, leading to significant disruptions in learning outcomes and budgets. Notified at the last minute, many students found themselves having to pack up their bags and leave campus dorms—sometimes with nowhere to go. Although the dust is still settling, four-year colleges might experience a 20 percent decline in fall enrollment, accelerating a trend already in place since 2011. In fact, 500 to 1,000 colleges might be put completely out of business. These new challenges add to already deteriorating outcomes among college graduates, ranging from an all-time high of nearly $1.6 trillion in student debt as of 2020 to a flattening college wage premium. Moreover, a national 2018 survey of employers found that only around 40 percent say that recent college graduates exhibit professionalism, a good work ethic, and have decent oral and written communication, and only 33 percent say that recent graduates possess leadership skills. This is particularly concerning given that …