Oct 302020

The latest figures from the United States are scarier than ever. It appears Dr. Fauci was right when he predicted that the daily number of new cases will reach 100,000; according to the World-o-meter data that I’ve been following, there have been 101,461 new cases in the US today.

Does this mean that the United States officially qualifies as a “shithole country” with regards to how it manages the pandemic?

Not so fast.

Per capita, these figures mean 306 new cases per million people in the past 24 hours.

But look. Here’s my country of birth, Hungary. They were doing well until they weren’t. In the past 24 hours, they produced 3,286 infections. For a country with only 9.65 million people, that’s a lot. So much, in fact, that at 340 cases per million people, they are actually ahead of the United States. (What a relief: America is not number one.)

And wait! Before you jump to the conclusion that Mr. Orban’s illiberal populism is to blame, look at France. In the past 24 hours, they produced a staggering 49,215 new infections. Granted, that’s less than half the number of new cases in the US. But they only have less than one fifth the population! So per capita, their figures translate into a truly whopping 754 new cases per million people.

So perhaps it’s not politics, after all.

None of that excuses Mr. Trump as he mocks experts and holds “super spreader” campaign events. Perhaps 306 is less than 340 or 754, but it is still a lot of people. And as a result, around a thousand Americans die every day who could otherwise have lived. Clearly, the country could do a better job.

Canada, too. Perhaps our statistics look better than American statistics, but there is no room for complacency. This second wave is hitting us hard, much harder than the spring outbreak, and there is no sign of it ending anytime soon. On the national level, the rate of new infections is below 100 per million people, but it’s much higher in hotspots. Today’s breaking news: The province of Manitoba registered 350 cases per million, exceeding the US average.

A vaccine may or may not be coming soon. Even if it does, it will likely be imperfect, offering limited immunity. And it will take months for a mass vaccination program to reach the requisite level for vaccine-induced “herd immunity”. Long story short, the end is not yet in sight. This is likely going to get worse, perhaps a lot worse, before it gets better.

But it’s not politics, people. Wear those damn masks. Wash your hands. Keep away from other people. Resist the temptation to visit grandma on her birthday or hold a large Christmas family dinner. For crying out loud, this is not some backdoor to communism. You are not a lesser human, a less manly man if you wear a mask and keep your “social distance”. This is centuries-old science, which is how human society was able to cope with past epidemics. Ignore it and you may be directly responsible for infecting, perhaps crippling, even killing your loved ones.

 Posted by at 9:55 pm
Oct 282020

My revulsion over Trump notwithstanding, every once in a while, when I am confronted with the blatant intolerance of “cancel culture” and the frequent dishonesty of “progressives”, I do feel that the Trumpists have a point.

Case in question: On October 13, 2020, SCOTUS nominee Amy Coney Barrett responded to a question concerning sexual orientation by stating the following: “I have no agenda, and I do want to be clear that I have never discriminated on the basis of sexual preference and would not ever discriminate on the basis of sexual preference. Like racism, I think discrimination is abhorrent.”

Progressive outrage was swift. Sexual “preference”? Sexual orientation is not a preference. You do not choose to be gay, queer, or bisexual. True. (Though allow me to observe that pedophiles also do not choose to be sexually attracted to children. No, I absolutely do not equate a loving relationship between consenting adults and the abuse of children. Just making a factual observation, a rhetorical point if you wish, highlighting that “orientation” does not, by itself, make a person’s sexual behavior socially or legally acceptable and that sexual orientation notwithstanding, a person can choose, or prefer, to refrain from committing unlawful acts. Besides, if sexuality was just a matter of preference, would that make persecution acceptable? Is it okay to persecute on the basis of religion, which is obviously a matter of preference? Which is why, I think, the “consenting adults” standard is far more appropriate than any distinction between orientation vs. preference when we define what is legal, socially acceptable, and protected as a basic human right. But, I digress.)

So here is the thing. Here is how Webster’s online dictionary defined the word “preference” as late as September 28, 2020, according to the Wayback Machine:

And here is how the definition changed on or before October 14 (when the Wayback Machine next captured the page) and what it says today:

Can you spot the difference?

Yes, somehow magically, overnight maybe, the word “preference” acquired an offensive meaning that was previously unknown to the editors of Merriam-Webster. The explanatory paragraph states that “The term preference as used to refer to sexual orientation is widely considered offensive in its implied suggestion that a person can choose who they are sexually or romantically attracted to.”

If your conservative friends respond with “what the [expletive]!”, I think they have every right to be upset. This kind of altered reality smells like the work of the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984, or the altered photographs of the Stalin era with their vanishing commissars. In any case… “widely considered” by whom? (Expressions like this are actively discouraged by Wikipedia as weasel words, expressions of anonymous authority that should be avoided in encyclopedic definitions.)

It is one thing to condemn bigotry and racism. It is another thing to actively search for opportunities to be offended, even altering reality if that’s what it takes. This is not tolerance. This is virtue signaling. This is phony outrage, cheap political theater. The fact that the “progressive left” sinks this low, feels justified to sink this low (because, you know, Trump!) is sickening.

Of course there is a charitable explanation: Perhaps Webster’s simply responded to the “facts on the ground”, the criticism of Judge Barrett serving as a reminder to check, and update, this dictionary entry. But even if that were the case, shouldn’t such an update be based on more than a single instance of a political firestorm in the final weeks of a hotly contested US election cycle? Was it really necessary to make this change with such urgency? Given the fact that the entry directly relates to an unfolding, current political event, didn’t that deserve at least a footnote? Or perhaps just wait two weeks until the (badly rushed) confirmation process is over?

Bah. Who cares about such niceties, when there is such a wonderful opportunity to engage in righteous shaming.

NB: The screen captures above are mine. They are slightly altered (I removed commercial banners and information related to my personal privacy.) Their content was not manipulated.

 Posted by at 1:24 pm
Oct 192020

Since when is listening to the scientists a bad thing?

Now as to the claim that if he listened to the scientists, he’d have tanked the economy… here is what Mr. Trump’s pandemic response accomplished with respect to the US economy:

Compare this against China, where the totalitarian government, to their credit, actually listened to the scientists:

Even Canada, with a much less spectacular pre-pandemic economic performance than the United States, fared much better than our southern neighbor on which much of our economy depends:

So I suppose, Mr. Trump, you just gave millions of thinking Americans another reason to vote for Mr. Biden. I’d laugh but… neither the state of the US economy nor the number of dead, rapidly approaching a quarter million, qualify as laughing matter. Not to mention the seemingly inevitable march towards an increasingly illiberal, increasingly authoritarian America, driven by structural causes that go back decades and which a Biden Administration is just as unlikely to address as preceding administrations.

 Posted by at 1:21 pm
Oct 082020

I’ve not blogged in a while as I’ve been insane busy.

But tonight… tonight I feel more strongly than ever that we are all extras in some galactic entertainment show.

Remember the Breaking Bad episode that was about a fly landing in Walter White’s meth lab?

Well, here we are, with the US vice presidential debate, and the Internet is abuzz… about a bleeping fly that landed in Mike Pence’s head. Not the substance of the debate. Not its (reasonably pleasant) tone. But the bleeping fly.

I wonder if they saw the fly in China. One thing they didn’t see was certain comments about China. The censors of the Middle Kingdom were swift to protect their great nation from undesirable thoughts:

What a world we live in.

What November will bring, I don’t know. The worst possible outcome: A disputed election. Even a Trump landslide is preferable. And of course a Biden victory will do nothing to resolve the systemic issues that led to Trump’s presidency four years ago in the first place.

What fresh madness does 2020 still have for us? I hope none. But in light of the fly tonight, I just don’t know anymore. Perhaps we are indeed extras in a scripted show that is created by a deranged group of writers.

 Posted by at 1:18 am
Sep 242020

Reading about Trump’s refusal to commit to the peaceful transfer of power, I suddenly felt the urge to read up on the history of our Canadian provinces during the US Civil War.

As it turns out, Canadian provinces did well economically. And some of Canada’s enduring institutions, seemingly undemocratic yet serving as effective guarantees of political stability and safeguards against excessive partisanship, such as the appointed Senate, were born in the wake of the lessons of that conflict.

Even so, I worry about the future. US elections this November will be unlike any other in living memory, I fear.

 Posted by at 2:06 am
Sep 102020

We live in a blessed country. That doesn’t mean that it is a flawless country, not by any means. And we also have occasional cases of political corruption, such as when a leading politician uses his position for partisan advantage.


Here is this news item from The Globe and Mail‘s evening e-mail newsletter that caught my attention:

Morneau breached election laws by using ministerial role to promote Liberal candidates, watchdog says

Commissioner of Canada Elections Yves Côté has found former finance minister Bill Morneau violated federal election laws ahead of the 2019 election by using his government role to promote Liberal candidates.

The decision points to two examples in which Morneau visited Ontario ridings in his capacity as Minister of Finance, but used each visit to promote the local Liberal candidate.

The report determined that the “known quantifiable costs” associated with these events have a commercial value of $1,661. That amount has since been paid back to the government.

So here we have, ladies and gentlemen, a national political scandal, Canada style: it cost Canadian taxpayers the princely sum of $1,661, which has since been paid back to the government.

No, there is no need to remind me that there other, (much) bigger scandals afoot, WE charity and other things, but I still find it encouraging that an ethics lapse amounting to $1,661 is sufficient to rise to the level of national scandal in this country. It reflects a certain degree of innocence that, I hope, will remain a characteristic of Canada for many years to come.

 Posted by at 5:41 pm
Aug 132020

There is a new, popular meme on the Interwebs showing how supporters of the Republican Party twist and distort the political positions of Democrats. The meme is not wrong. In fact, on many of the issues it is spot on. Nonetheless, as a friend of mine to whom I forwarded it pointed out, it is rather one-sided.

My friend has a point. It is not a false equivalency. Positions that Republicans hold dear are distorted just as often by their political opponents. Here is my version of the original meme along with my attempt to create its “mirror universe” variant:

My point with this is not that one side is superior to the other. Not even that a moral equivalency exists between the two. It is simply to stress how badly American politics embraced the tactic of demonization and how, from either side’s perspective, their political opponents now represent a greater threat to life, liberty and the American way of life than Kim from North Korea, the ayatollahs of Iran, Daesh, Putin’s Russia, Xi’s China and the COVID-19 pandemic combined.

Which, of course, is nonsense. People can be patriots and hold different political opinions, both in the United States and elsewhere.

 Posted by at 12:50 pm
Aug 062020

I know, I know, the idea is far from original, and I feel compelled to apologize for turning tragedies into a form of dark humor but still, this calendar that I made last night accurately sums up how I feel about this glorious year of 2020:

And I didn’t even include everything (e.g., BLM protests and accompanying riots). But then, there are nearly five more months to go… plenty of time for more stuff to happen, even without aliens or killer asteroids. Or a massive second wave of COVID-19 infections.

Yes, let’s just say, I am mildly concerned.

 Posted by at 5:29 pm
Aug 052020

A tragedy took place in Beirut yesterday.

The actual power of the massive explosion is yet to be estimated accurately (probably not quite as large as the largest non-nuclear, accidental explosion that took place in Halifax, Nova Scotia 103 years ago though it comes close), but the images and videos are horrifying.

Reportedly, windows were shattered as far as 25 kilometers away from the epicenter.

The audio on one of the many videos showing the moment of the explosion accurately captures the event: “What the actual fuck?” asks a woman’s voice incredulously.

In light of the scope of the disaster, I expect that the final death toll will far exceed the 78 deceased that we know about for now.

It now appears that it was an industrial accident: welding work setting off a fire that in turn spread to a warehouse where thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate was stored.

Naturally, it didn’t prevent America’s “stable genius” from talking about an “attack”. When asked, he even referred to his “generals” who, according to him, told him that it was likely an attack.

I have no doubt that he made it all up on the spot. But his pronouncement had predictable consequences. It was like pouring oil on the fire, as it gave an excuse for every closet antisemite to come out and spread the conspiracy theory that it was an attack by Israel. Twitter accounts spreading this inflammatory nonsense include a Robert de Niro parody account; for a brief moment, I thought it was the real Robert de Niro, which would have been terribly disappointing.

Wildfires in Australia, locusts in Africa, a global pandemic, widespread racial riots in the United States, “murder hornets” spreading in North America… The Internet was already full of joke calendars for this year with disaster memes, as well as speculation that perhaps that infamous Mayan calendar was misinterpreted, as it referred to 2020, not 2012. In light of this catastrophe in Beirut, I am inclined to ask, what next? Alien invasion? The Yellowstone caldera? Global thermonuclear war? Giant asteroid impact? I won’t even try to guess, just note that we still have nearly five months left of this year.

 Posted by at 1:30 am
Jul 112020

Today’s editorial cartoon in the Toronto Star perfectly captures how many Canadians, myself included, feel about the Canada-US border:

What can I say. Things are not looking good in Trumpia. In fact, things are looking so bad that after months of denial, even the narcissist-in-chief decided to wear a bleeping mask today while visiting a hospital.

I have been trying to remember why the American attitudes towards COVID-19 felt vaguely but strangely familiar. It just hit me. It was the 1970s oil crisis, and the general attitude by leaders in the former Soviet Bloc. This was a crisis of the decadent capitalist West, they told us. The pandemic of fuel shortages, mile long lines at gas stations, high energy prices would not reach us, they told us. Well… they were wrong. Just like those Americans who refuse to wear masks, who refuse to take precautions, who refuse to accept the need to shut down nonessential businesses, because, you know, it’s just like a bad case of the flu…

 Posted by at 11:49 pm
Jul 082020

I am with Margaret Atwood, Noam Chomsky, David Frum, Francis Fukuyama, Michael Ignatieff, Garry Kasparov, J.K. Rowling, Salman Rushdie and Fareed Zakaria (just a few of the names that I readily recognize) on this one.

“Cancel culture” is wrong. Seeking to find offense where no offense was intended is stupid. It fosters conflict, not understanding. It divides, it doesn’t unite us.

In short, “cancel culture” is not what intelligent people do. It is what mobs do.

And a mob, even when it acts in the name of the highest of ideals, is still a mob.

Ultimately, cancel culture does exactly that: It cancels culture.

The very culture that is our best defense against division. Against prejudice. Against populism.

 Posted by at 6:12 pm
Jul 082020

I grew up in a country with closed borders. I despise closed borders. I find the right to travel, unimpeded, almost as fundamental as the right to breathe.

Yet… For the time being, I support fully the closure of the US-Canada border. As a matter of fact, I wish it was kept even more tightly closed.

Here is why.

What Americans are doing to themselves is unfathomable. That they have an narcissist idiot, an incompetent imbecile running the White House is one thing. But all the other idiots, from state governors to individual citizens, who ignore the threat, cheer as their nation abandons the World Health Organization, even condemn their immunocompromised children to death?

When you live next to a lunatic asylum, you do want to keep your front door under lock and key.

 Posted by at 1:48 am
Jun 252020

Here are the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases per day, here in the province of Ontario:

In the whole of Canada:

In the great United States:

And in the entire world:

The plots tell the story. I don’t think that there is anything that I can add.

 Posted by at 10:26 pm
Jun 162020

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Parliament of Hungary granted Viktor Orban’s government extraordinary powers to rule by decree. Opponents likened this to the infamous “enabling act” that marked the end of the Weimar Republic in 1933.

In response, Mr. Orban and his supporters argued that the government has no intention of abusing these powers, and that Mr. Orban should be judged by how he relinquishes these extraordinary powers once the crisis is over.

So here it is: Parliament just voted to end the state of emergency and requested the government to take the necessary steps to return to normalcy. So far so good. The corresponding act of Parliament is short and sweet, and to the point. The legal part of the text is only four terse clauses. In my translation:

1. The Legislature requests the government to end, in accordance with section 54, paragraph 3 of the Constitution, the state of emergency that was declared in government decree 40/2020 (March 11) (henceforth: the state of emergency).

2. The act of Parliament concerning measures against the coronavirus, Bill 12 (2020), is no longer in force.

3. (1) The present act – with the exceptions defined in paragraph (2) – shall be considered in force the day after it is proclaimed.

(2) Clauses 2 and 4 shall be considered in force when the state of emergency ends.

(3) The calendar day when clauses 2 and 4 shall be considered in force will be decided by the Prime Minister as soon as the date is known, by immediately proclaiming the date in the Hungarian Gazette.

4. Clause 2 of this bill, in accordance with section 29, paragraph 3; section 2, paragraph 1; section 24, paragraph 9, section 31, paragraphy 3; section 35, paragrapha 1; and section 54, paragraph 4, is considered fundamental.

All looks kosher, right?

But just in case you are still paying attention… there was also a second bill on the table. It has an unassuming title: “About the rules of transition concerning the end of the state of emergency and health preparedness”. Seems eminently reasonable, since under the state of emergency, the government has taken many steps, all of which must be reconciled with the system of laws and regulations.

And there is a lot. This supplementary bill is not four pages. It is 247 (two hundred forty seven) pages in PDF form. Yikes!

And on page 135, we read clause 97:

97. Changes to Bill 128 of 2011 concerning emergency preparedness and modifications of related laws

§339 Section 5 of Bill 128 of 2011 concerning emergency preparedness and modifications of related laws will be amended by the following subclause 24/A:

“24/A Emergency acts of government in case of a state of emergency concerning a human epidemic causing mass rates of infection”

§51/A. (1) The Government, in order to prevent, or mitigate the consequences of, a human epidemic that causes mass rates of infection, threatening lives and property, in order to protect the health and life of citizens of Hungary in a declared state of emergency – in addition to the emergency measures and rules described in subclauses 21-24 – in order to guarantee the lives, health, personal security, security of property, and legal protection of citizens and the stability of the national economy, may, by decree, suspend certain laws, deviate from existing laws and make other extraordinary decisions.

(2) The Government may practice the authority prescribed in paragraph (1) – to the necessary extent, in proportion with the desired outcome – in order to prevent, deal with, and eliminate an epidemic, and furthermore, to prevent or avoid such an outbreak.

There you have it. There are many other clauses concerning other laws, and most seem quite reasonable and appropriate considering the circumstances. But this one?

I highlighted the problem text in red. The law gives the government extraordinary powers. But, though the words seem reassuring on the surface, it offers no checks and balances concerning any justification of invoking these powers and the extent to which they are practiced. In the right hands, these are powers that can be used wisely in case of another pandemic or a resurgence of COVID-19, and I am sure Mr. Orban’s supporters believe that this is precisely how the government will use these powers (if at all). But opponents of Mr. Orban are concerned, not without grounds, about the lack of checks and balances and the very real possibility that these powers can go unchecked in the wrong hands.

In short, this is precisely what many feared: That though the state of emergency is lifted, a backdoor remains, a means for Mr. Orban’s government to have its cake and eat it, too, relinquish its extraordinary powers yet keeping them at the same time.

In the end, it of course all depends on how the law is put into practice. But for now, my conclusion is that the concerns of Mr. Orban’s opposition are not unfounded.

 Posted by at 6:19 pm
Jun 122020

I just happened upon this 30-year old John Cleese sketch, where else? On John Cleese’s own Twitter feed, of course.

What can I say? Just perfect. As appropriate today as it was three decades ago, perhaps even more so.

 Posted by at 5:37 pm
Jun 032020

Amidst all the tension that has been unleashed in the United States, there is this small ray of hope.

A black flight attendant on a Southwest flight initiated a conversation with a white passenger, who was reading the book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Robin DiAngelo.

The white passenger’s remark, “It’s our fault. We have to start these conversations,” caught her by surprise. A short conversation followed. Then the big revelation: The unassuming gentleman happened to be Doug Parker, CEO of American Airlines.

I can already hear some of my friends objecting: “It’s not our fault!” Do not misconstrue Parker’s words (perhaps they weren’t even quoted verbatim.) He of course didn’t mean, I am sure, that every white person must bear personal responsibility for every vile act of racism that happens in America or elsewhere.

Rather, what I read into those words is an acknowledgement of a simple reality: In an unequal relationship, the dominant party has the power to make change for the better. In America, this means whites.

The fact that the CEO of a company as large as American Airlines recognizes this is, well, a ray of hope. As is the fact that he traveled, unassumingly, as an ordinary economy passenger on a competitor’s flight. As rising inequality between the super-wealthy and the stagnating middle class plagues Western societies, the US in particular, as disadvantaged minorities fall even further behind, it is nice to know that at least some folks in positions of power recognize that their wealth and status also come with a huge responsibility. Especially if the nice thoughts are also followed by deeds.

 Posted by at 11:44 am
Apr 152020

Just as things are beginning to look ever so slightly hopeful with infection rates at least stabilizing, conspiracy theorists are now having a field day.

In case you are wondering, we “know” that SARS-CoV-2 was manufactured (or at least released) by that Wuhan “bioweapons” lab, as its intended purpose was to weaken China’s strategic opponents, in particular the US military, so that they can mess with Taiwan. And even more blatantly, they did so using in part funding from the United States, according to information that was “just revealed”. And all in the service of some demonic Chinese plot to achieve some nefarious goal, such as the subjugation of the renegade province of Taiwan.

Like all good conspiracy theories, this nonsense is also based on a carefully picked set of selected facts. So much so that it reminds me of those old Soviet-era Radio Yerevan jokes.

Meanwhile in the real world…

  1. We know that SARS-CoV-2 is “not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus”. [Andersen, K.G., Rambaut, A., Lipkin, W.I. et al. The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2. Nat Med 26, 450–452 (2020).]
  2. The funding provided in part by the NIH was never a secret in the first place. The funding source is explicitly listed in research published by scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. And while the research was indeed about SARS-related coronaviruses, its aim was (and remains) to help prevent or mitigate the illness, not cause it. In fact, some of the recipients of this grant went so far as to warn us that their “work provides new insights into the origin and evolution of SARS-CoV and highlights the necessity of preparedness for future emergence of SARS-like diseases.” [Hu B, Zeng L-P, Yang X-L, Ge X-Y, Zhang W, Li B, et al. (2017) Discovery of a rich gene pool of bat SARS-related coronaviruses provides new insights into the origin of SARS coronavirus. PLoS Pathog 13(11): e1006698.]
  3. Yes, the two nuclear powered US aircraft carriers usually patrolling the Pacific are presently in port because of COVID-19 cases on board. Yes, China is parading their toy carrier in the region. But an amphibious assault ship, the USS America, is also in the region, and in case “amphibious assault ship” sounds less impressive than “aircraft carrier”, it may help to note that the USS America is similar in size to China’s Lianoning and unlike its Chinese counterpart, it is a modern warship commissioned in 2012, not something built upon the hull of an unfinished 1980s Soviet carrier that was once sold for scrap.

None of this matters to conspiracy theorists, of course. If they want to believe that it was all some evil Chinese plot, they will do so, damn the evidence. (Sadly, I think it is a safe bet that they get at least some help from Russian troll farms. Unfortunately Putin’s regime has not stopped spreading disinformation about health care, epidemics, pandemics, vaccines and now, the origins of COVID-19.)

So to all the conspiracy theory fans out there, please keep this in mind: Conspiracy theories serve a single purpose. They turn us: individuals or entire nations, against each other. They are the means to sow discord. Just when the world has to act in unison more than ever, they pull us apart. Conspiracy theories are weapons: dangerous in the wrong hands even when used unintentionally, but deadly if used purposefully.

Please… listen to the actual science. Don’t believe every piece of garbage you hear.

 Posted by at 12:14 am
Mar 202020

I am reading this article in Mother Jones, worrying about the United States following the fate of the Western Roman Empire, leading to its collapse in 476 AD.

But… Empire?

I think it speaks volumes about America that even a left-wing outlet, like Mother Jones, worries about the end of an Empire… instead of worrying about the end of a Republic.

For these are not the end times for the American Empire. Not even the beginning of the end. It is, to put it plainly, just the beginning. If the analogy with Rome has any validity (and I suspect that it might), what we are witnessing is not the end of an Empire, but its birth.

What we see is not the weakening of the American political entity, quite the contrary. But we do see a transition, as republican values erode, as liberal democracy is abandoned, and the United States inches ever closer to an imperial presidency.

I expressed my concerns about this before. There are certain unmistakable parallels between the history that unfolds in the United States in the present day vs. the history of Rome some 2100 years ago.

The fact that even a Mother Jones commentator misses this point and thinks of his nation as an Empire only reinforces my concerns.

 Posted by at 3:50 pm
Mar 182020

Looking at papers presenting predictions about the COVID-19 outbreak, one thing is evident: Things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. Today, we passed the 200,000 mark for confirmed infections worldwide, and the curve continues its super-exponential rise for the time being. We are quite a long way away from “flattening” the curve, and that means that millions will get infected, health care systems will be overwhelmed even in the most advanced industrialized societies, and some of us who could be saved, will die, because there will not be enough hospital beds, respirators, medication, or health care professionals available to help.

Yet… I cannot help but wonder if this calamity is, perhaps, a blessing in disguise. Here is why.

This is the year 2020, when we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the end of one of the most devastating wars in history. Back when I was a young child, growing up watching the Spaceship Orion (Europe’s answer to Star Trek, with, ahem, slightly inferior production values) on our black-and-white television, I don’t think there was a sensible adult anywhere in Moscow or Washington, Ottawa or Budapest, who was not quite certain that by the year 2000, the world would have lived through an even more devastating world war.

Yet WW3 never happened. Instead, here we are, after 75 years of unprecedented peace and prosperity, a Golden Age that brought benefits to more people than at any time in the history of humanity. It is not unreasonable to worry that this Golden Age would not last forever, that eventually, it would crumble, just as the old world order that characterized Western civilization between 1849 and 1914 crumbled when the “lights went out all over Europe” in August 1914.

But imagine… for one moment, imagine what would have happened if the last global pandemic, the Spanish Flu, hit the world not in 1918 but in 1913. Imagine towns and cities shutting down, borders closed, but also nations helping each other, exchanging medical information, improving their communication, all in an at first haphazard, but later increasingly coordinated effort to overcome this scourge. And eighteen months later, when the last wave of infections subsides, global euphoria: A new fraternity of nations who, using the powers of modern science and working together, overcame this challenge and preserved our shared civilization.

And… no Great War. No collapse of the old world order. Instead, countries that previously seemed incapable of reforming themselves, now willing to take the necessary steps, as Russia, Austria-Hungary and Imperial Germany transition to constitutional monarchies, and a new, modern Europe emerges without the devastation of war, without the horrors of the Holocaust… all because of the pandemic that hit the continent before it had a chance to go berserk on its own.

So perhaps… perhaps COVID-19 is our era’s Spanish Flu and it is hitting us in our equivalent of 1913, before our next Great War, instead of devastating us after years of horrific warfare. Perhaps COVID-19 is what our societies need to preserve the values of our existing world order even as we reform it and ensure its survival for decades to come.

Is this a pipe dream? Perhaps. Then again… just thinking about this possibility made me feel substantially less apprehensive about the coming months, despite all my concerns, despite knowing that the worst is yet to come.

 Posted by at 1:39 pm