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Friday, February 28, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: Mandolin Orange, by JD

Mandolin Orange is an Americana/folk duo based out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The group was formed in 2009 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and consists of the group's songwriter Andrew Marlin (vocals, mandolin, guitar, banjo) and Emily Frantz (vocals, violin, guitar).

"Mandolin Orange’s music radiates a mysterious warmth —their songs feel like whispered secrets, one hand cupped to your ear. The North Carolina duo have built a steady and growing fanbase with this kind of intimacy, and on Tides of A Teardrop, due out February 1, it is more potent than ever. By all accounts, it is the duo’s fullest, richest, and most personal effort. You can hear the air between them—the taut space of shared understanding, as palpable as a magnetic field, that makes their music sound like two halves of an endlessly completing thought. Singer-songwriter Andrew Marlin and multi-instrumentalist Emily Frantz have honed this lamp glow intimacy for years."

There was a comment beneath one of their videos which compared them to Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris and that is high praise indeed: Listen to Parsons/Harris singing 'Love Hurts' to understand why.

... Tim O'Brien's was the first version of Pretty Maid that I heard and its origin is 17th century and has changed over the years, as ancient folk songs often do -

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Covid-19: die another day

The following is a riposte to some commenters at The Conservative Woman, where a version of yesterday's post was published
Covid-19 a scare story? Pace a number of commenters on the last piece: no. You will recall that Professor Ferguson was quoted as saying the risk of infection in the UK could be 60% and the fatality rate 1%, meaning (given the size of our population) a possible 400,000 victims.
That is simply logic. If the coronavirus spreads easily and nobody does anything, many people will catch it. The point is to change our behaviour to reduce the risk. Some of those changes can be a matter of individual choice, some collective.
The wrong collective action may result in worse outcomes. The ‘Diamond Princess’ cruise ship had some 3,700 souls on board when ten passengers were diagnosed with the illness . In quarantine, the number of cases has risen to 691 (as of 26 Feb 12:25 GMT ). That is about 18 per cent of passengers and crew, not the 60 per cent that the Professor speculated; on the other hand, these were frightened people keeping in their quarters, trying very hard not to be the next patients. Sadly, the ship’s ventilation system could have helped spread the virus , in a way similar to Legionnaire’s Disease .
Of those infected, only four (less than one per cent) have died so far; but the passengers on a luxury sea voyage will be well-nourished, well-cared-for people, and the seriously ill were taken to Japanese hospitals, presumably among the best in the world. Globally (but so far, overwhelmingly in China), 3.4 per cent of cases have resulted in death, 37 percent have recovered and 59 per cent are still fighting the illness; so it is too early to say what the true ratios will finally turn out to be.
However, let’s say for the sake of argument everybody decides to ignore all risks and precautions and the Professor’s estimate is exactly correct. Result: 0.6 per cent of the UK population dies; but by the same token, that means 99.4 per cent will not die of Covid-19 (though many may suffer a period of unpleasant illness.)
What we need is neither panic nor blasé complacency; we need perspective. In 2017 the UK population was (officially) 65.6 million , and 607,172 people died from all causes – less than one in a hundred. In fact, the average person’s risk of dying in the next twelve months stays below one per cent until they hit their late fifties . You have to be in your mid-eighties before the chance of meeting the Grim Reaper gets higher than ten per cent – good odds!
Why all the fuss then? you may ask. The issue is avoidability: the Office for National Statistics estimates that almost a quarter of those 2017 deaths – i.e. over 140,000 fatalities – could have been avoided, either by ‘timely and effective healthcare’ or ‘public health interventions’ (and there are three big things we can do personally to improve our chances of a long life .) A laissez-faire approach to Covid-19 could add up to 400,000 unnecessary deaths to the total – quadrupling the toll.
We can’t leave everything to our chronically inept government. Apart from anything else, we have to think what we would do if, say, some lockdown was imposed and shop shelves were cleared in panic buying, as has happened in Italy – our worst enemy could be other people’s behaviour. It’s no good waiting till then: as the ancient Greek saying goes, there is no borrowing a sword in time of war.
Not only are there practical things we can do to protect ourselves, we have a good idea who is most at risk so we can give them extra help. For example, we can ensure that an elderly or infirm relative has enough goods in the house not to have to go out if the virus has come nearby; and that visitors, carers and medical staff are firmly reminded to check who they’ve been in contact with recently and to sanitise their hands frequently. Alternatively, if you’re impatient for Granny’s worldly goods, take her out for a bus ride daily at schools chucking-out time; or a cruise.
We all have to go sometime, but if we plan the right course of action it is likely we will die another day, not today; that should provide us with a quantum of solace.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Covid-19: be prepared

Things are moving fast in this outbreak. On February 22 I said there were five cases of Covid-19 in Iran, two of whom had died; now (25 Feb 16:50 GMT) the Johns Hopkins tracker
 records 95 cases and sixteen deaths. In Italy, seven have died (none, a few days ago) out of 283 cases so far; the government has imposed travel restrictions on a dozen northern cities.

Why should the UK (13 cases, no deaths to date) escape the scourge? Or rather, how?

We are only two months into the crisis and aside from frantic research to find a vaccine (that may take a very long time), teams are trying to estimate the likely spread of the disease. The standard model uses an analysis known as ‘SEIR’: what proportion of the population is Susceptible to catching it, how many of those will be Exposed to it, how many Infected, how many will Recover.

There are only two of those categories that are amenable to intervention: giving prompt, good medical treatment (but as we have seen, even high-quality hospitals cannot always save the elderly and infirm); and better still, preventing contagion. As to the latter, a Hungarian study published on February 19 looks at how the  international spread of Covid-19 could be limited, and concludes that countries with less frequent connections to China should focus on entry screening or travel restrictions, whereas those (like the UK) that have a high level of such connections should focus on further measures to control infection after arrival.

The bad news from that paper (see Figure 4, right hand graph)  is that for us, even if numbers of visitors from China are halved and the rate of exposure to others once they are here is cut significantly, the probability of a major outbreak in the UK rises above 50 per cent as total cases in China (outside Hubei province) exceed 600,000. The authors’ graph implies that we are more at risk even than Germany, France and Italy.

In a world that is economically interconnected, the authorities are conflicted, trying to balance safety precautions with the need to keep the trading show on the road. We saw the World Health Organisation first argue against travel restrictions and then warn us that the virus was a ‘serious and imminent threat’ ; now it is telling us that the epidemic has peaked in China  , despite the culture of secrecy there that means we might not know the whole truth.

In the UK, the government attempts a similar compromise: its advice to transport workers assures them that they ‘are not considered to be at a heightened risk of contracting coronavirus as a result of their work’ and that ‘staff are not recommended to wear respiratory masks. They do not provide protection from respiratory viruses.’ Passengers arriving via direct flights from specified areas will be given ‘health announcements [… and] a general declaration 60 minutes before landing on any passenger health issues or suspected cases’; and so on. The latest advice for arrivals from northern Italy is that they should self-isolate .

The British approach may seem too soft-handed, but the alternative strategy of grasping the nettle tightly could be doomed. Although Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, was officially locked down on January 23, this Twitter user says cellphone data shows that nearly 140,000 people escaped the city in the first two weeks of February alone. MedPage Today says that it is possible for the illness to be transmitted by carriers who show no symptoms themselves; they describe a case of a young Chinese woman who inadvertently infected five members of her family. A report from Imperial College, London says that two-thirds of Covid-19 cases that have left China may have gone undetected. In Europe, others may also choose to break quarantines, like that set on northern Italian towns - for example, just across the border in Hohenturn, Austria, a brothel services hundreds of visiting Italians every weekend (htp: ‘Raedwald’ ) and, it seems, Austrian law does not permit the State to impose Italian-type cordons sanitaires. New Scientist magazine says that battle may already be lost .

How bad could it get? On 12 February Professor Neil Ferguson told Radio 4’s Today programme that if the disease got out of control in the UK, potentially 60 per cent of the population could be infected and if the fatality rate is one per cent the toll could run into hundreds of thousands. The latter may well be an under-estimate; outside mainland China it’s over 1.5 per cent (42 deaths out of 2,690 cases, and many of those still sick have yet to recover) and on the Chinese mainland it’s about 3.5 per cent (2,705 deaths from 77,660 cases.)

As with flu generally, old people with underlying health problems are most at risk, but that does not mean the rest of us can be sanguine. Imagine a country where 60 percent of teachers, medical and emergency staff, port workers, passenger transport staff, delivery drivers etc are off sick, even if only on a rolling basis of infection (and possibly even re-infection) over months. The disruption to the economy could be far greater – and far closer to home - than temporary swoons on the stockmarkets . The modern system of just-in-time resupply could become too-late, please-wait.

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst: prudent citizens may have to do more than just wash their hands.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

ART: Interference Paints, by JD

A few more paintings:

Looking for something in the untidiness of my cupboards I found something else, as often happens, which diverted me and now I have forgotten what I was looking for in the first place!

But that something else was a few tubes and jars of 'interference' paints, paints which give a tint to a colour depending on the source of the light.

So I decided to play around with them and see what effects could be achieved. These are all acrylic paintings on 2" x 2" canvas. The half dozen here are the result.

The first canvas, top left, was covered completely with interference gold and then the scene was painted over loosely with bright normal colours and the underpainting shows through in places. Below is an enlarged portion of it; not sure if it can be seen clearly in the image. It shows partially in the tree and on the shore line next to the figures.

A few more with varying success. The dervish is painted with interference copper effect and I think it shows more clearly than the others (I'm not entirely satisfied with the figure so I'll have another try some time.)

The sky behind the line of trees is painted with a fluorescent blue over a yellow background and is very striking in reality, not sure about in the screen image. The ground around the trees is purple mixed with yellow. I might change the shadows at a later date (or not.)

The third image is one of several similar which I did before Christmas, the others given to friends as Xmas presents!

I think I have done about two dozen of these minis over the past two weeks but when I was in Poundland the other day I couldn't see any more. Perhaps they no longer sell them and in fact their art materials are now sparse compared to last year. Perhaps I should 'upgrade' - painting teacher No3 told me ages ago I should be painting 'big' pictures. She is right but I would need a bigger house! I shall continue painting, whatever the size, because...... well, because I can't and do not want to stop. As noted previously, when I am 100 I might be getting the hang of it!

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Covid-19 outside mainland China: update

... while passing on the disease, of course:

According to the Johns Hopkins tracker the total number of confirmed cases now approaches 78,000 of which over 600 are outside the Chinese mainland. . Of the latter, only 12 have died so far.

However, it is clear that the virus is lethal to more than East Asians. Two days ago, a couple of Iranians succumbed; and it seems they had not travelled outside their country. They died in Qom (90 miles from the capital, Tehran), and two other patients have been diagnosed there since, plus one in Arak (who happens to be a doctor from Qom), bringing the total cases to five.

Qom is a magnet for pilgrims, so there is some question as to whether piety may outweigh prudence. 20 million visitors (both domestic and foreign) come annually because it is not only a holy city but ‘the largest centre for Shiʿa scholarship in the world’. Conversely, millions of Shi’ite pilgrims travel from Iran to Iraq each year to see the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala; Iraq has now taken the precautions of suspending flights to Iran and closing their mutual border but we shall see how effective and sustained these measures will be.

And today we hear of a fatality in Italy (see below).

Here is the toll to date, in sequence, for the world outside mainland China:

(1) 02 February: a 44-year-old Chinese tourist from Wuhan, Hubei province died in hospital in Manila, the Philippines; he was ‘thought to have had other pre-existing health conditions.’

(2) 04 February: a 39-year-old Hong Kong man dies there of heart failure, having been diagnosed on 31 January with the virus. He is said to have had a ‘long-term illness.’

(3) 13 February: a woman in her eighties died in a Japanese hospital where she had been kept since February 1; her son-in law is a taxi driver and has also been confirmed infected.

(4) 15 February: an 80-year-old Chinese tourist from Hubei province died in Paris, France after weeks in hospital.

(5) 15 February: a 61-year-old male taxi driver from central Taiwan died in hospital there from Covid-19-related pneumonia and sepsis; he had a history of Hepatitis B and diabetes. Many of his fares had come from China, Macau and Hong Kong. 

(6, 7) 19 February: two Iranian citizens died in Qom, northern Iran; both were elderly and with underlying health conditions. They ‘were not known to have left Iran’ but as said above, Qom is a major religious destination for pilgrims and scholars.

(8) 19 February: a second Hong Kong victim dies there – a 70-year-old man with ‘underlying illnesses.’ He had previously visited mainland China on 22 January via the island’s border checkpoint at Lok Ma Chau.

(9) 19 February: a 63-year-old local man died in a hospital in South Korea and was diagnosed posthumously with the virus. Many new cases have been registered in the South Korean city of Daegu, where a South Korean woman is thought to have infected the congregation of a Christian sect; she is said to be in her early 60s and with no recent record of overseas travel.

(10, 11) 20 February: two Japanese citizens died in a hospital in Japan, having been taken off the ‘Diamond Princess’ cruise ship (quarantined near Yokohama) the previous week. ‘Both were in their 80s with underlying health conditions.’ The infection may have been spread by a Hong Kong resident who had briefly visited the Chinese mainland prior to boarding the ship at Yokohama on 20 January ; he disembarked at Hong Kong on January 25, reporting to a hospital on the island, where he was diagnosed with coronavirus. The ship’s itinerary from 1 December 2019 on is here: - the latest cruise was to have been 29 days long, starting in Singapore.

(12) 22 February: a 78-year-old man died in Padua, Italy. The first arrival of the virus in the country is traced to China: ‘The "index case" - or patient zero - was reported to be a 38-year-old man from Codogno who is believed to have caught the virus from a friend who had returned from China in January.’

The pattern of lethality is similar to that for ‘ordinary’ flu: Covid-19 hits the old and infirm disproportionately. That said, we also see how easily it seems to spread, and (thanks to modern communications and mass travel) how far – not only across the Far East but the Middle East, Australasia, Europe, North America, India, Egypt… So far, nothing reported from sub-Saharan Africa, or central and southern American states; but we are hardly three months into this outbreak and not all countries may as quick to diagnose cases correctly.

There is no room for complacency, as Charles Hugh Smith explains.

Friday, February 21, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: Caroline Shaw, by JD

Earlier this year on BBC 4 Stewart Copeland host a three part series called Adventures in Music;

These were three exceptionally good documentaries in that they didn't follow the usual formula but asked the question - "How does music work? What exactly is this thing that brings us together, moves us and binds us, communicates stories like no other art form, and which seemingly has transcendental powers?"

Among the various people Copeland spoke to in his search for the 'magic ingredient' was the American composer Caroline shaw. Perhaps a bit too unorthodox for most tastes but I thought her music was excellent!

It was also good to see a couple of very hostile commenters beneath her videos make fools of themselves by declaring their own musical qualifications and pedigree; their professional jealousy in other words!

"How do you capture the tragic, beautiful loneliness of existence, and the complete, ecstatic joy of existence?" asks Caroline Shaw. Shaw was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2013, making her the youngest ever recipient of the award. She explains in this video that music helps her tackle some of life's loftiest questions."

Thursday, February 20, 2020

This just in...

Are we off-air now?

-          Yes.

‘Cause you know what I said was all bollox, don’t you?

-          Sorry?

That stuff about ability to speak English being dog-whistle politics.

-          Yes, but surely Labour is in favour of immigration?

That was just an angle, you know the game we’re playing and you love it. Actually this points system is the best news I’ve heard since I was a kid.

-          Amazing! Why?

Think, for goodness’ sake. What’s going to happen when we can’t bring in loads of poor people to do essential services like elderly care?

-          There’ll be a shortage and old people won’t be looked after.

There’ll be a shortage and care workers’ pay will have to go up, at last. And then there’ll be a recruitment drive, more employment.

-          But healthcare costs will go up, won’t they?

And about time. Our country has been exploiting the labouring classes for far too long. Besides, yes, there might be more taxes to raise, but there’ll be more people earning enough to pay taxes too. And they’ll spend more, and create more profits and employment elsewhere.

-          Excuse me for saying it, but that sounds like right-wing economic thinking.

Right economic thinking, you mean. Why do you think Jeremy and I have always wanted us out of the EU?

-          But that wasn’t Labour policy, was it? You’ve opposed Brexit before and after the Referendum and the last General Election.

I’m surprised you don’t know the difference between policy and strategy. You know we’ve had to ride two horses in the Party, same as the Tories. Half our voters haven’t a clue, they’re teddy-huggers who really do think money grows on trees.

-          Wow, you’re a secret Tory!

Let’s get this straight. You vote Labour, don’t you?

-          Well, at the BBC we maintain impartial-

Just say yes, it’s quicker.

-          Erm…

And what do you think you’re voting for us for? You get, what, a six-figure salary? The person who lifts your poor old nan out of her bed doesn’t get a fifth of your pay, while the heaviest thing you lift is a sticky bun in the BBC canteen.

-         - Tahini wrap, actually

Never mind. Workers take care of your olds, dead cheap, so you can go clubbing and stick happy sherbet up your nose. Is that your idea of socialism?

-          Blimey, if you’re going to be like that I’m voting Tory next time.

So am I, if we can’t change our strategy, ‘cause obviously it’s failed in the North. Meanwhile, let’s stay together for the sake of the viewers, darling, shall we? Let’s do a bit more on racism next time, okay?