Sunday, 24 May 2020

TO MASK, OR NOT TO MASK ...


Even if the Corona virus continues to create havoc across the globe, isolating yourself at home becomes more and more cumbersome. Of course, only in your mind, less so in reality. What you can endure for a month or two, gets irky thereafter, in particular since the authorities see no end to it.

But this blog is not about complaining about self-isolation. Far from it! We have to look the grim reaper squarely in the eye and deflect the scythe he is swinging at us. Instead, let me spend som moments on the plague strategy exercised by the Swedish authorities, in particular, to what extent it is helping us elderly to avoid the death stroke.

The reason I am writing about this at all, is, of course, that many a foreign friend has contacted me about the subject, wanting to know more about our ways of dealing with the plague, at the same time informing me about the status of research in their own countries and querying me about progress in that regard here in the land of the all-knowing.

Sorry to say, my answer to them is, at present, that the Swedish authorities seem to be committed to a specific conception of the plague, which they reached early on in their actions and which they have been clinging to, without blinking, ever since. This conception is based on the vision, that this plague is being spred in analogy to the recurring invasions of influenca virus, with a virulent beginning and a relatively timely end, once a sufficient rate of the population has been through the ordeal and has developed anti-bodies. And indeed, in the case of influenca so called "herd immunity" will be reached eventually, which will greatly slow down and ultimately stop the disease.

Although the Swedish Public Health Authority denies that it relies on a timely reaching of herd immunity in enacting its strategy, this idea is still permeating the authority, shutting down its eyes to alternative findings from research abroad, which would oblige it to change its messages to the general public. To find a reason for this, look no further than to Professor Johan Giesecke, the former Chief State Epidemiologist, who acts as adviser to the authority. In contrast to the present State Epidemiologist and his colleagues, he is rather outspoken about the above mentioned vision inspiring the Swedish strategy. With his mature age and a certain self-imposed authority he has no qualms about speaking out what the agency is holding close to its chest. Why not listen to him in person in the video below:



I am no medical or epidemiologic scientist, but let me put forward an alternative vision of the spread of this virus. You may not be aware of it, but humanity has lived with a special sort of Corona virus since ages past. It is one of the viruses behind the "Common Cold", "Schnupfen" in German and "Snuva" in Swedish. Scientists without Sweden are increasingly looking at the properties of this illness to try to understand how the present plague is spreading and what could constitute its eventual demise. With the common cold, humans apparently do not develop anti-bodies against the virus involved; the general immune system deflects it within a short time period. This is of course no long-term remedy, you will get it again next year!

Compared to this, the present Corona virus is developing anti-bodies in some of the cases, mostly the more severe cases of illness, whereas probably a majority of the infected recovers without developing anti-bodies, many of them without even experiencing any symptoms – but still spreading the virus. This means that, increasingly, scientists abroad question the possibility of developing herd immunity against the disease; we may have to reckon with, on the one hand, a drawn-out first wave of the sickness and, on the other, recurring waves of new infection. Developing a vaccine against the virus becomes adamant in getting rid of the virus.

Seen in this light, it seems to me that the Swedish authorities have completely overlooked one major and all-important difference between its strategy and that in our Nordic neighbours and, indeed, the rest of the world: the obligation to wear a mask in confined quarters, such as, shops, restaurants and service centers implying close contact between people. By now, there is a lot of research showing that a mask diminishes the outflow of virus-laden mucus by up to 50 %, drastically lowering the infection rate in close quarters. For me, not prescribing the use of masks in Sweden accounts for most of the difference in the death rate between us and the other Nordic countries.

We have to realise that a simple recommendation to wear a mask in close quarters would not be enough to get the Swedes to actually do it. The simple reason is that a mask does not prevent you from getting infected, it only prevents you from spreading the disease if you are infected, so there are no incentives to do as the state recommends. This means that it takes a legal obligation to get everyone to wear a mask indoors in close quarters to reach an appropriate mitigation of the disease.

To me it seems, that the Swedish authorities are paying lip service when they claim that their main goal is to protect the elderly from the disease. By stating that wearing a mask has no great preventive effect, as is being repeated by them at regular intervalls, they may be directly responsible for the premature demise of maybe thousands of elderly in Sweden to date. And the number is rising by the day. Shame on you, you Swedish Bureaucrats!

Friday, 8 May 2020

THE "BRANDSCHATZUNG" OF GLEISDORF

Another "Brandschatzung"
Valdemar Atterdag brandskattar Visby (pillages and plunders Visby)
Source: Nationalmuseum      Artist: Carl Gustaf Hellquist

The word "Brandschatzung" exists only in German and in Swedish. There is no English counterpart to it, thereof the title. It means that a conquering army leaves a city open for pillaging and plundering. Such an event is as terrible to the population as the word itself. So why do I bother to write about it this sunny day of May 8. It so happens that I lived through such an orgy of violence exactly 75 years ago.

It was in the last trembling vestiges of WWII. Just the day before, the German Army had capitulated and the war was over. But before that, In Winter and early Spring 1945, the army still nursed hopes of a last defence against the Soviet onslaught, hovering behind a rashly raised Südostwall, a series of helter-skelter barricades ranging from Bratislava South all the way to the river Drava, along the border between the former Empire of Austria and the Kingdom of Hungary. I was born in a small village (Neudau) just West of the Wall, on 23 December 1944. The four following months were a terrible ordeal for my mother Maria, who was only 22 years old.

At the end of April, the Eastern sky went red and the terrible thunder of bombardments came closer and closer to our village. My mother feared the worst, took me on her back and fled westward over the hills and through the forests, until she finally, after several days' ordeal, reached the town of Gleisdorf, where her parents lived.

This did not help her much. Just after her arrival in what she believed a safe haven, the Soviets caught up with her, having broken through the Wall in a matter of just a day or two. Since the armistice was already in place, the inhabitants took care to arrange a peaceful welcome. In all haste, a red flag was fabricated (without the Swastika!), and Members of the resistance entrusted with the task to welcome the invaders. All appeared well and it promised to be a relatively calm occupation and hopefully quick pass-through by the Soviets.

Gleisdorf, not yet "gebrandschatzt"

Unfortunately, a few fanatic SS soldiers had taken a last stance in the church tower. As the Soviet platoon was marching by the main square, they started shooting, trying to kill off the commander. To no avail, and the attackers were quickly annihilated. But, in reaction to this last defence, in fact a breach of the armistice, the commander declared the town open to "Brandschatzung" and let his soldiers pillage and plunder at will for the whole of two days. These days rested forever burnt into the memory of the victims, although none of them ever cared to talk about it.

As a child, I gathered only small bits and pieces of the event. My grandfather once told me an uncanny story: two soldiers had entered their apartment. In the living room they found me alone, playing on the floor. One of them raised me up and was about to throw me against the wall, when grandpa entered, having collected all the watches the family possessed and offering them to the marauders. They of course went immediately for the watches and released me to fall on the floor (without any harm, I am glad to say). Nothing more was said about this. What happened to my mother and grandmother in the mean-time I don't want to even think about.

Maria, and Child Emil happily unaware of "Brandschatzung"

I had suppressed this story for many years; Grandpa had told it when I was only maybe six or seven years old. It came back to me, though, when, at the ripe age of sixty, I happened upon a witness report from the event in a book about my homeland, really a catalogue of architecture and types of settlement. The witness described the story as I summarised it above, which gave me the background needed to let resurface and understand the tale of miraculous salvation by two watches.

Ever since, whenever someone wishes to entangle me into philosophic discourses about the value of life, I am able to provide him with a firm and definitive answer. A life, at least mine, is worth exactly two watches.


Some eye-witnesses, rather circumspect about the event

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

TWO PRONGED PERDITION


























In these days of subdued social contact, when many an hour is spent in splendid isolation, and daily reports abound about the progress of the new plague, it is far too easy to fall into the trap of depressive despair.

Here in Stockholm, the authorities estimate that about one third of the population is already infected, and the death count is speedily surpassing 1500. By end of May, about half of us will have been smitten and the death toll approached the three thousands. I am sorry to say that the risk of being infected is at its maximum at the moment, forcing me to all kinds of evasive manoeuvre to keep my two meters' distance on the sidewalks and in the shops. Only us elderly seem to understand what this means in terms of keeping abreast of each other, the rest of the loiterers being happily unaware of the distance needed to avoid calamity.

So how to keep a serene attitude towards the catastrophe, in particular since one's existence is at stake? After all, the odds of me dying before the end of the year could well amount to one in twenty, a sizeable risk of a sad ending! How can I avoid getting bogged down in a spiral of negative thoughts, forever wallowing in despair? Yesterday, it occurred to me, that it may help to determinedly "fight fire with fire", so to speak. If I could imagine a catastrophe far worse than the one experienced at present, this might well liberate the mind of its wallowing and the body of its getting stressed.

It so happens that we do not have to look far to find a candidate. The scientists' word for it is "Global Dimming". This expression describes the fact that burning of fossile fuels sends up particles in the atmosphere, which in turn shelter the globe from part of the sun's heating rays.

This phenomenon has not received a lot of attention in the popular debate on climate change. If you would like a short survey of the issues involved, I invite you to have a glance at the video below. Suffice it to say, that global dimming is usually neglected when describing the effect of various climate strategies aiming to keep down the amount of carbon dioxide in the air.



That notwithstanding, its influence on global warming could be underestimated. Some natural scientists apprise the resulting tapering down of the greenhouse effect as high as 1° Celsius! Even if the jury is still out on this number, permit me to use it as a basis for my private deliberations.

As an aside, the Corona plague has provided us with valuable indices for this tapering down. Since the use of fossile fuels certainly has diminished by at least 25% in the last three months, it may be useful to study the concurrent change in temperature on the globe, in particular in Eurasia, North America and the Arctic; these being the areas directly affected by the clearing of the skies. It so happens that the first three months of the year were characterised by warmer-than-average conditions across the globe. In particular, record-warm temperature departures (from the average) were present across Europe and Asia, where temperatures were the highest in the 111-year record (NOAA).

Moreover, consider the diagram below. It shows the seasonal melt-off of the Arctic ice shelf. This spring, the melt-off is particularly pronounced, compared to the average rate of diminishing ice. Of course, all this evidence is far from conclusive, but at least does not contradict a possibly large mitigating effect from global dimming.


Now back to my catastrophe scenario, with Global Dimming diminishing the greenhouse effect by 1°C. Let's say that humanity were to succeed in a strategy of abolishing all use of fossile fuels within the next twenty years. Alas, since this would end Global Dimming, the resulting warming of the globe would surely hoist us above ICC's permissible 2° limit of global warming, putting an end to human civilisation as we know it.

I trust you understand that human civilisation would be doomed under all circumstances with such a high dimming effect. I simply cannot envisage any climate strategy under this assumption, which will allow humanity to escape this morbid outcome. To underpin this, let us outline another strategy. This one would consist of maintaining the present level of fossile burning, but prohibiting further increases. Such a programme would maintain the present amount of Global Dimming, but at the same time continue to augment the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This would also lead to surpassing the 2° limit of global warming, even if it would take longer, say thirty years instead of twenty.

Now back to reality: a host of scientific articles in natural science attempt to estimate the tapering effects of Global Dimming. The results vary widely from 1° C and even higher down to the almost negligible. Surely, the IPCC must have found it probably to lie on the lower side. Why otherwise would the organisation ordain to reduce global carbon dioxide emission?

Me, I just prefer a large tapering effect in my personal "war game", just to keep my imagination off the present plague issues. Compared to the end of civilisation within a few decades, the Corona crisis appears like a small breeze in springtime. Thus, miraculously, my Corona concerns are evaporating. I clearly can have worse things to worry about than a few million deaths by a new virus. So why not make the best of the years left to us and, for instance, spend a few enjoyable moments listening to a young and spritely group of musicians, who lets us dream of a past far more promising than the future?