At the tail end of 2019, we left Asia ahead of a typhoon and an eruption of a volcano, little knowing that something was on the assent in China and would be called Covid-19. Who could have predicted that the price of garlic would skyrocket in Indonesia as Chinese consumers bought up the folk cure with the threat of the Coronavirus. Little could we have known that SARS and the Chinese Chernobyl would be displaced by the Chinese virus or Covid-19.
Step by step the virus invaded almost every organ of man’s body taking first his breath away; older lungs failed, then it troubled the blood then its radar swept lower age brackets. It captured the obsessive coverage of the media, jeopardized trust in the World Health Organization, stimulated The Great Barrington Declaration that questions lockdown and is a cause for crumbling science. The impact of Covid-19 is far stronger than expected, and has already precipitated more global social imbalance and will have a long-term impact on the inequality of millions of people.
Covid’s moving finger wrote, moved on and may move back and write again. Nothing of its dreadful passing can be cancelled out. Tears shed can’t be washed away but we can be better prepared. Taiwan has had significant experience with SARS was ready. I fear that overworked health professionals while serving humanity beyond the call of duty may be blamed by irrational claims that they justify unpopular lockdowns until vaccine conferred immunity is a reality. Until then we have to help contain the virus. In one small Covid free clinic, my wife anxiously chattered with a warrior doctor who told her let's get you home, safe and sound... some of us will not be so lucky. He was intensely worried about his wife and children. Two doctors had fallen that week. Greece may be entering more stormy weather with a significant portion of the people still vulnerable to Covid. Health care workers are exhausted, and the sickest coronavirus patients may not receive the kind of care that separates life from death. Internal and non-constructive political conflicts are showing and not all the political world is supportive of public health. The best Christmas box for Greece would be an immediate strengthening of its NHS, a revitalization of the abandoned historical school of public health and social behavior in support of health professionals. The Athens School (1929-2019) was once described as a post-World War I imposed necessity based on the conviction that first among all things, Greeks must live and develop under healthy conditions.
So once again, to Greece I say, do not unlock stay put, Lay low, protect the loved ones that you know, while in the words of a Nobel, noble poet, just a little more and we shall see almond trees in blossom, marbles shining in the sun. Don’t frit away again the glory there, coronavirus is not fair.
The government says Russian philosopher, Igor Kondrashin, is ill-prepared to deal with either Covid or any existential threat. He chides the international community (UN Security Council, UN itself, UNESCO and the WHO, world leaders (G7, G20) and Academia and National Scientific Academies for their garbled response to Covid. He contends that it is easier to understand where existential issues come from than to find solutions, which is compromised by national – sovereign states managed by a political cortex of less refinement than the human higher cortex. His way forward is that scholastic philosophy should give way to classical Greek philosophy. Give philosophy a chance! What I will add is that the G7 and G20 have displaced the United Nations and dampened its voice while the recent virtual meeting of the G20 in Saudi Arabia ignored the need for global funding to deal with the post-Covid crisis.
In January 2020 no one could have known Covid’s future course of spread, or its then unknown and unfolding properties or the global health and economic damage it would provoke. What seemed obvious was its threat, which like a forest fire as the wind changes or firefighters reduce one front’s fury it suddenly takes off in a new direction. And so the waves and spikes or a new wave-spike dualism. Some and especially the young feel at lower risk than others. Even when stricken, some deny it. When the agent comes home to roost, it can be tragic.
My international year got off with a planning trip to Belgrade; the quietest visit, the calm before the storm. Then came Lockdown, now it’s lockdown-lite. In Covid’s fury, all plans and my plans and all programmed activities for the year fell like dominoes. Lockdown and self-isolating are now dictionary listings. Already listed nuclear warheads await the production of medium-range missiles and with design specifications for installation in Europe.
2020, was an incredible, unbelievable year. Christmas will be different and smiles will have to go further than presents. Christmas shopping will be restricted but hopefully not the laughter of children; in Santa’s sack a full freezer of effective vaccines. Yes, Santa and his reindeers have all been vaccinated according to north pole protocol; no-flake news.
It was Christmas last when we saw Alex last. He spent Christmas Eve with us for years; it was a tradition. He was a doctor of the people and remained so, well into retirement; highly knowledgeable, a brilliant diagnostician and a significant medical researcher. His command of languages was exceptional. We knew him for half a century first in Chicago, when we were young. He appointed himself the godfather of our second daughter while she was still in the womb. Chicago was burning, Martin Luther King had been assassinated and mother to be had to see her doctor, urgently, but he was tied down in his hospital in the ghetto. The police warned about approaching it and would provide no escort. Alekos drove her. I was at home taking care of our 3-year-old.
My wife spoke to Alekos the night before his stroke, about a week before. Our daughters attended his funeral. Covid overruled all other decisions. In that final telephone conversation, we had chatted about one big question of how to convince the unconvinced to take steps to slow Covid’s spread. Summer had not been used well. From the jaws of the lockdown monster; endings, turnings-yearnings and new starts beware of Cupid’s art, avoid sharp Covid’s darts. Another is how to put science back firmly in the hands of those with highly refined cortices and away from similar beings who gave hemlock to Socrates.
From my previous year’s post I said, the Donald seems certain to occupy the White House forever but hoped that 2020 would have a great start as global confidence builds and relations between United States-Russian are placed on a safer footing to avoid a senseless and dangerous return to nuclear brinksmanship. I have recently added verse:
Covid Mother of all Plagues will you ever give way? Donald, the Oh Donald will you not go away? Covid and Donald are both here to stay. One will be vanquished by vaccines we hope, For Donald oh Donald there may be no anti-vote-dote.
This year was a bummer for traditional Thanksgiving but a boon for turkeys.
Standing on the threshold of 2021 as 2020 winds down, the global picture is of 60.5 million coronavirus cases and 1.4 million deaths and we cannot be sure that the Coronavirus pandemic is under control. We can be sure that the virus is not going to be stopped until an effective vaccine has been given to 60-70 of the world’s population. We are also told that the devil coronavirus is no more deadly than the seasonal flu. Only for people over 70 like me, is it more deadly. The public health community is divided, to lock down or not to lockdown, to target herd immunity or not. Neither can we be sure that the system can be repaired. Government has to be convinced to better support public health. Announced goals and unannounced goals hang in the air. Announced goals like our upcoming New Year resolutions are what we often do not do; unannounced goals are done but not said.
At the beginning of the year, I wrote that there are other devils to be dealt with including rumor and panic control. Dissemination of accurate information can hold them in check and conspiracy theories must be nipped in the bud. An optimistic outcome is possible when the preparation of society is optimal and where population vulnerability is minimal. The effective response that will contain Covid will also provide promise, especially to the young and restore faith in the system. In the middle of 2020, I wrote that the response to Covid-19 will come with scholastic vigilance, transparency, no cover-up, the encouragement of global health and support of interdisciplinary public health, health diplomacy and the World Health Organization.
Nothing though can compare to the potential devastation posed by nuclear weapons, instantly and from radiation fallout. In the frenzy of overwhelming Covid news the announcement that Japan will release over a million tons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the sea went unnoticed. The catastrophe in Fukushima was triggered by a Tsunami following an earthquake that struck the northeastern coast of Japan on March 11, 2011, which submerged the power plant to cause the core of three nuclear reactors to melt.
A few things pulled from WSI Magazine: uncertainty and mindlessness characterize a significant portion of our current moment in history; mounting insecurity in man’s forward journey; limited prospects down the road for a better life for many, with little room for maneuverability to avoid an increasingly unstable and hostile future; There are no signs of a halt to the arms race... on the contrary, production of the most modern 5th and 6th generation technological weapons and the most terrifying and lethal weapons continues unabated while a people-centered approach to security is required expressed through equal citizenship rights that serve the majority of people rather than those of the powerful few. Brazil is at an existential crossroads, the magnitude of which we can only begin to imagine. A global security system that emphasizes public health is urgently needed.
My picks of the year include:
Lord Peter Piot was a member of one team of virus hunters that named Ebola after a river. He was hit he says by a bus, number Covid-19. Humorously, he adds, this is revenge. Having made viral life difficult, now they’re getting their own back. He recalled the world of his grandfather in the trenches in World War I, in poppy fields in Flanders Field. The worst part of going home on leave was going back to the front. Piot does not want to go back to a hospital where ventilators do save lives but the chances of survival are about one in three as with Ebola.
Barbara Schwepcke has a talent for bringing poets and people together. She treads lightly in the footsteps of Lady Anne Blunt and Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell (1868–1926). Her interests lie in the music of poetry and its wisdom of expression and like Goethe sees it as a strong contemporary unifying bridge of peace between East and West. Goethe galvanizes her, he is her catalyst. Barbara is the founder of Haus Publishing and of the Gingko Trust where she cultivates conversations between East and West in a contemporary spirit. They bridge two-time intervals, gaps equivalent to a millennium of Persian poetry and two centuries on from Goethe. In a world of spreading hatred and bigotry, fear of the Other, alien or migrant, command our daily reality and exacerbate racism, her work is most significant.
Igor Kondrashin a Russian philosopher, president, World Philosophical Forum (WPF) sees the threat of a thermonuclear war unleashed by reptiloids coming closer, emergent from an incorrectly cultivated consciousness in man’s neo-cortex leading to the growth of social dementia. His key to our future lies in rethinking the core elements of education. He returns us to the systemic philosophical teachings of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, a moderation from the golden mean and the priorities of reason and morality, to make room for global citizenship. Socrates told his Athenian judges and Kondrashin’s reptiloids, an unexamined life is not worth living.
Dato philosopher Dr. Halo-N Badi'uzzaman introduced the world to family vision: “Educated Family and Multimillionaire” based on knowledge and wealth, knowledge ownership and wealth ownership and the belief that the world has two types of poverty, namely, poverty of knowledge and the poverty of life. He promotes a concept of peace inspired and informed by the philosophy of the Quran, which he says is not the absolute right of Muslims but the right of the universe. Religion is our medium for peace and advancement not enmity. Currently and from Malaysia, he directs Euro-Asian Bridges for Peace in collaboration with the University Peace, United Nations, Belgrade and the eradication of world poverty.
Again and happily I received a number of interesting and beautiful messages one being: Reading your words always feels like a ray of sunshine. I deeply admire your optimism in spite of all the darkness that surrounds us. This extremely difficult period seems to be bringing the world together, but making us very much apart at the same time. I would really love to believe that the outcome of this terrifying global tragedy will be cathartic, as you have written, but I must admit that for now, it doesn't look like that. In the last few weeks two people I knew committed suicide and that affected me deeply. One was a plastic surgeon aged 51 years the other and one of the most fascinating persons I ever knew, a stage director, just 31. The most devastating thing is that people are now trying to explain his action as a consequence of disease - depression, but I'm sure that his act was one of sheer rebellion in the purest philosophical sense - an act that he committed in order to show the world its senselessness.
Two unique expressions from 2020 come from the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Lewis respectively; throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet and a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare.
In 2019 I recall catching my breath as I talked to a lady sitting outside her home under the Acropolis and we sipped Turkish coffee as well as telling the world from Manila of my great grandmother’s advice to me when I was about 10, she was 90 plus; wherever you go whomever you meet, old, young, schooled, unschooled, black, white, brown, listen and learn. Drinking coffee under the Acropolis was a fitting comfort to the no show of the two Bill’s to participate in the 10th anniversary of the World Philosophical Forum held in the History Museum, University of Athens. Barbara Schwepcke concentrates on Goethe, and cultural dialogues based on recognition and respect. Dr. Halo-N emphasizes Quranic philosophy for world peace. Both are wellsprings coming from potters with one universal value that we are all made of the same clay. I suggest that there are implications for the use of neurophysiology to moderate human behavior upwards in the direction of refinement and to explain social dementia which pulls it down.
Throughout 2020, I drank strong Turkish coffee in the early morning and concentrated on keeping my breath during the day. Ah the benefits from rhythmic breathing, in and out; oxygen in extending life, carbon dioxide out bringing comfort and relief to make possible a new breath. Other comforts were fun moments with my children and riotous moments with my 14-year-old grandson who always reminded me of mask-wearing to keep you, safe granddad.
In the complex problem space of Covid, my interpretation is that current best evidence suggests that lockdown of some area large or small, mask-wearing, social distancing and general and personal hygiene are the best measures to curb Covid’s spread at least until the coming year brings a bag full of effective vaccines. A lively economic come back will depend on whether we can deaden the virus; my hierarchy of values is health before economics, population health ahead of individual medicine and scientific integrity above politically dominated institutions. We must continue to act in keeping with our best current defense and continue to do so until herd immunity becomes a reality. Let’s let go of 2020. But first, enjoy its ending in creative and unique ways. Until then, stay healthy, stay safe and watch the silent stars go by.
Let me close with the words of Chinese experts on Covid who were visiting Italy:
We are waves from the same sea, leaves from the same tree, flowers from the same garden.