Covid-19 Update: Poop Gets Real

All right, y’all, the time for this to be contained — always a longshot — is officially over. Wherever it is you live, sooner or later, you may be impacted by this, and it’s time to get ready.

What does “get ready” mean?

Here’s a great post that will calmly and rationally guide you through some preparedness ideas by Virology Down Under.

Additional Thoughts:

Food and Supplies — Italy went from “no problem” to “OMG LOCKDOWN!!!” in a matter of days. There was a run on the shops. So, over the next few days and weeks, start stockpiling so you have enough food, etc. to survive a few weeks stuck in your home. Basically, prepare as if a hurricane / blizzard were coming, plus a few more days at least.

Medications — A lot of meds are manufactured in China. Supply chains are already starting to be impacted. So if you take regular medications — and especially if you have a severe medical condition — try to get an extra 2-3 month supply now. Today.

Financial — Have some extra cash on hand in your home if possible. On 9/11 I withdrew my rent money just in case. When the crisis passed I re-deposited it in time for my October rent.

Mental / Emotional — Poop’s gonna get real. The problem with this disease is that there’s up to a 30 day incubation period. So one way this is playing out in countries is that everything’s fine…fine…fine…HOLY SHIT! So, just, be aware. It’s going to be disorienting. I read recently that there is an “OMG” stage for these kinds of things, and you have to go through the OMG stage. One thing that can help make it easier is doing your preparedness shopping / organizing.

Mental, Part II — You’re about to find out just how shittily our government is functioning right now. Remember Katrina? Remember Maria? Well, we’re all about to face that level of gross neglect and incompetence. Trump has already stated — with his outside voice — that he doesn’t want folks to know about Covid19 cases because it might tank the stock market / his re-election plans. He already fired most of the people in pandemic prevention positions, like 2 years ago. This means you can expect the following:

  • Lack of transparency about new cases / locations of cases
  • “Everything is Just Fine” levels of denial to save his One True Love — the Stock Market
  • Underprepared, underfunded, understaffed and undersupplied disaster response
  • We will have to save ourselves. Look to your family, your community, your town. The feds are not equipped to deal with this. If they ever were, they sure as hell aren’t now.

Look, it’s not all doom and gloom. We have Netflix these days, and there have been no reports of water / power outages in China, so that’s hopeful for a long period of self isolation.

But, like, Get some extra toilet paper this week and stock up on supplies and get your meds refilled.

Love to all.



Covid-19: China’s Cooking the Books; Smoking May Contribute to Mortality; All Eyes on Singapore

Today’s installment of Sofi’s Armchair Epidemiology is all about ignorance. Specifically, our ignorance about China’s real numbers.

A few days ago, China made an announcement that they were changing how they counted COVID-19 cases. Previously, they were counting only the cases that were confirmed with a positive test. Since the tests they use have a lot of false negatives, and since hospitals were clearly too overwhelmed to test everybody, it was already clear that cases were being undercounted.

The new criteria they announced was that they would start counting both positive tests and positive symptoms — “ground glass” pneumonia showing up on scans, etc. And so, suddenly the number of positive cases jumped.

They made another announcement at the same time, though not as well-publicized. They have started dropping some patients from the count, specifically, patients who test positive but are asymptomatic. This is, of course, bullshit. We now know that asymptomatic carriers can still infect lots of people around them, so thinking that they “don’t count” is completely bonkers (that’s the scientific term for it). No doubt by dropping asymptomatic carriers from the rolls, the new total case number will look less alarming. There is no other reason to drop potentially infectious patients from the rolls.

Similarly confusing, the number of deaths doubled from what was expected in one day — theoretically due to these new inclusion criteria — but then the next day, 100 people vanished from the tally (“we realized we had double counted 100 people”). Considering how chaotic things are in Wuhan, the likelihood that they have an overcount is almost zero. Also, are deaths now being counted according to the old criteria (positive test) or the new criteria (positive test OR positive symptoms)? And what about people who die at home before they can be tested? Are they being counted towards the official tally?

Clearly China is massaging the numbers to to avoid a panic and financial meltdown. That is…not great. It also means that, without accurate numbers, the rest of the world can’t make informed decisions.

This leaves Singapore, because unfortunately, there is now an outbreak in Singapore as well.

Unlike China, Singapore has been doing an excellent job at transparently releasing information about their COVID-19 patients:

spore virus

Moreover, experts say Singapore’s been doing a good job at proper public health measures. So my take on things is that the next 2-4 weeks will give us real, actionable data, and also our best shot at seeing a country nip this in the bud. Singapore is highly regarded as one of the most technologically sophisticated countries in the world, which gives us the sense that if anybody can get this under control, it’s Singapore.

Here’s what the next 2-4 weeks should let us know in terms of data:

  • What is the actual Case Fatality Rate in a best-case scenario, i.e. a country with excellent health care that is not totally overwhelmed?
  • What is the reproducibility rate of the disease with proper containment protocols in place? (Note: the reproducibility rate is called the R0, pronounced “R-nought.”)
  • What’s the breakdown between mild/moderate/critical cases that test positive? (There will probably also be mild cases that don’t ever get tested, but it will be a start)
  • Will COVID-19 be less dangerous / will the male death rate be less skewed in a country with a lower smoking rate?

Which brings us to Item #3: Smoking. In China, the number of serious cases skews slightly male, but the male death rate is much higher than the female death rate. Some folks have theorized that this could be due to innate immune differences between men and women, but others are saying it’s due to smoking:

  • COVID-19 targets the ACE2 receptor
  • Tobacco use appears to affect ACE2 gene expression. From a new study: “We observed significantly higher ACE2 gene expression in smoker samples compared to non-smoker samples. This indicates the smokers may be more susceptible to 2019-nCov and thus smoking history should be considered in identifying susceptible population and standardizing treatment regimen.”
  • The male population of China has about a 49% smoking rate; the female population in China has about a 2% smoking rate.
  • By contrast, in Singapore the rate is about 18% men / 6.3% women.

Hopefully, Singapore’s advanced health system and lower rate of smoking will keep infections, critical cases, and deaths to a minimum. That is the best case scenario.

If Singapore can’t stop it, though, then…that’s not a good sign for the rest of the world. So let’s hope for the best case scenario and keep our fingers crossed.

My Prediction: Bloomberg will the Dem Nominee

“Why,” you might ask, “are you, Sofia, calling Bloomberg this early in the race?”

I have my reasons.

1. I was living in NYC when he ran for mayor. At first, people viewed his candidacy as a joke. Then he won.

2. He is ruthless about obtaining, using, and keeping power and money. He’s done some shady stuff like “golden handcuffs” charitable giving to consolidate power in NYC. He gave money to left-leaning organizations directly, and then they would endorse him when the time came. That’s how he got rid of term limits.

3. The political establishment do not want Sanders/Warren redistribution of wealth. They want a status quo candidate that protects their millions. But they’re also *slightly* uncomfortable with Nazis. So they’ll throw their support behind the strongest status quo candidate, which is Bloomberg.

4. Bloomberg has so f’ing much money that he’ll be able to win a lot of delegates just because other people will drop out due to lack of funds.

Now, do I think this is a good thing? It’s not….great, but it’s not the worst thing ever.

Pros of a Bloomberg Dem. Candidacy:

1. He has shit-tons of money, and he owns a tech company. The federal government is doing nothing to secure elections from hacking, because by now “doing nothing” = “ensuring another Trump win.” If anybody can fund and build a one-man election security committee, it’s Mr. 60 billion dollars.

2. Similarly, you know some super shady shit is going to go down on election day, from voter intimidation campaigns to broken voting machines to voters who are suddenly told they’re not registered. If anyone can afford to have boots-on-the-ground teams of rabid lawyers in all 50 states, it’s Bloomberg.

3. As Anand G. says, “Plutes gonna plute.” Rich people like Trump Because Money, but they don’t like him Because Fiery Nuclear Inferno. If all the Money people have a “safe” plutocratic thief to choose, they’ll definitely back Bloomberg.

4. Because of 1-3, we Might Just Beat Trump/Putin Maybe.

5. Bloomberg seems to genuinely give a shit about bad things that might affect him or his descendants, such as gun violence and climate change, and will probably be willing to put some big programs into effect to work on them.

Cons of a Bloomberg Candidacy:

1. He seems to be a shitty human being. He once found out an employee was pregnant and he said “Kill it.” (!?!?!?!?) His policies such as stop and frisk are widely regarded to be Super Racist.

2. He has been a Republican, an Independent, and now a Democrat. He has no ideology other than himself.

3. We’re not going to get a fairer tax system or affordable health care or real structural change under him.

Long story short: Bloomberg is a natural born killer whose greed and cunning might just make him the “he’s an asshole, but he’s Our Asshole” candidate we need right now. But after he wins, those of us who are poor or sick or whatever will be just as likely to die in a ditch as before. However, he is 1000% less likely to start World War III because his tummy is upset that day, and in this miserable time, I’ll take “avoiding the end of humanity” and be grateful I can die in a ditch in peace, un-irradiated.

Now, who would be his running mate? He’s going to want to appeal to more liberal voters and show that’s he’s not just a collection of stock portfolios in a suit. But there’s no way he’d actually pair w/ Bernie or, even scarier, somebody who really understands complex financial instruments and how they should be reformed — Elizabeth Warren.

So, he’ll signal he’s Not a Bad Guy by pairing with someone who is a not-white-man and not from the East Coast. I don’t think Bloomberg will pick a female veep because he’s too sexist. Cory Booker would be a great but New Jersey is too close to New York. So what about Joaquin Castro, a man who’s already worked in one centrist administration and knows how to play ball, plus he’s a LOT more visually appealing than keebler elf Bloomberg.

So that is my prediction: Bloomberg/Castro.

But what ticket would I love? Warren/Castro. Raise a glass, because the most qualified person BY FAR is a woman (again) and she’s not going to win (again).

Some Interesting Tools for Depression

Elsewhere on this blog, I’ve written/drawn about my mental and other health problems, and in particular about how I found out, 15 years into treatment, that I had a B-12 deficiency. What was so frustrating to me about this discovery was that:

  • B-12 deficiency has been a known cause of depression for 70 years
  • The test is simple
  • The treatment is simple, cheap, and has no side effects — it’s a water-soluble vitamin

and in particular,

  • NO ONE tested me for this over the course of 15 years!

And now, having experienced B-12 deficiency for a long time, I find I need massive amounts of B-12 shots just to get me back up to “normal.” **

In Applied Grace, I suggested a simple protocol that all mental health providers should use to Rule Out the Simple Stuff. But if your health care isn’t up to par, what then?

Enter: 23andMe.

There are a million different potential causes for mental health issues. BUT, a LOT of mental health issues have a genetic component.

Right now, you can get a test on 23andMe, and download the zip file with raw data. You can then upload that data to Promethease, Genetic Genie, and Found My Fitness (among others). They’ll tell you things like whether your body is bad at methylation and needs more B-12 and methylfolate. Whether you don’t absorb or process Vitamin D very well. And other useful stuff!

When I did these tests, I think I spent a total of about $30 after my 23andMe testing, and it was very useful. Some of the results even indicate things like, “probably responds poorly to __________ SSRI.” Wouldn’t that be great to know, before trying to take that SSRI!?!? Seems like the kind of thing it would be useful to know before going on medication, amirite?

So, this is what I recommend to all people struggling with mental health issues. Worst case scenario, you find out something else that’s useful, like a tendency towards diabetes or celiac. Best case, you’ve equipped yourself with the tools for a real change in how you feel.

Should actual “doctors” being doing this for everyone these days? Yes. Are they? Hell no.

So do it yourself, you’ll be happy you did.


** Pretty much the same exact story in non-cartoon form is told in a Wall Street Journal article this year. Long story short: chronic B-12 deficiency makes certain functions in your body deteriorate, which makes you need even more B-12. After a lifetime of deficiency you’ll end up in catch-up mode.

Lead and Fate

There’s an interesting article in Mother Jones, or more accurately a meta-article, which discusses the research that’s been done linking the decline in childhood lead exposure in the 1970’s and onwards to the decline in crime rates in the 1990’s, when those kids would have hit adulthood. It’s sobering reading.

I was born in Europe, which banned lead paint far before America, and I was past the whole eating-paint-chips phase of life by the time I moved here. So, by an accident of birth, I got to spend my most vulnerable brain development years safe from lead paint, while my age cohort peers in the US did not. This is especially true for kids in my age range who lived in substandard housing.

I was a smart kid. All the adults praised me and complimented me for being smart, as if it was an accomplishment, rather than an accident of birth. But now I see that, in addition to winning the genetic lottery for math ability, I also won a “right time and place” lottery for avoidance of lead. All these things I had literally nothing to do with, helped me to excel in school and get whatever success I’ve had in life.

America is a country with a strong mythos. It’s a fairy tale made by corporate backers, and then spun into the fabric of our society until its origins are obscured in the mists of time. The fairy tale says, You are more than just your circumstances, You can accomplish anything you set your mind to, Random misfortune is not going to defeat You, You can overcome anything with Pure Grit.

We’re fed these stories ad infinitum.

But if the quintessentially American truth – or should I say “truth” – is  about excelling in spite of adversity and not being defined by circumstance, the quintessential truth  keep coming back to is the opposite: how much of one’s life is circumscribed by random chance. How things that happened decades ago, in childhood, over which we had no control, can still limit our lives right now, today.

The can-do Americanism holds within it a darkness, which is the seed of judgement and rejection. If anyone can overcome anything, then your failure to overcome must be a character flaw. And if you’re just making bad decisions, then I don’t have any responsibilities to help you, as a fellow human being.

But being aware that random circumstances can have profound after effects creates the opposite feeling. There but for the grace of God go I. And with that feeling comes the responsibility to help our fellow humans, in whatever circumstance.






Got Student Loans? You Should be on REPAYE

I’m on REPAYE. One of the best things about REPAYE is that, depending on your income, the government might subsidize part of your repayment. This is important because, in a world where you still can’t refinance student loan interest rates, it’s the only “official” way to make your effective interest rate go down.

For the sake of simple math, let’s say your interest accrues at $300 a month, but based on your income you can afford $100 (they calculate what they think you can afford). The difference between what you can afford and what you accrue is $200. They will pay 50% of that. So every month, you don’t have to pay $100 in interest.

Now, the way they think you’re going to use it is by making your minimum payment, and then the extra $100 nobody paid gets added to your loan balance, and it goes up every year. At the end of 20-25 years, the whole amount gets “forgiven” and you have to pay taxes on that forgiveness.

BUT if your goal is to pay it down, then you could still use this to your benefit. Take advantage of the $100 savings each month, and pay aggressively. Your payments will go further because you’ll be accruing less interest.

One caveat is that their method of getting the subsidy is…odd. I think they send a statement to the government every month, and then the government sends in the subsidy, which gets applied to your account. In other words, you only get the subsidy when you pay $100 a month. If you make a big payment, you don’t get the subsidy that month. (Talk to your student loan servicer to double check this, it’s pretty complicated).

Long story short, you could take advantage of the subsidy most months, then make a few large lump-sum payments throughout the year. You would then be able to pay it down more quickly than you would without REPAYE.

If you apply for REPAYE now, you then have a year until they recalculate your income. If during that year you get a raise, then you could really take advantage of that subsidy. Your payments would only be x, but you could afford 2x or 3x, and make those payments without paying all that interest.

If however your income goes down, you can contact them to recalculate even if a year hasn’t passed yet. So it’s win-win.

One more thing to note: REPAYE is an even better deal if you have subsidized loans. For the first 3 years you’re on REPAYE, the whole “difference” between what you can afford and what you accrue is paid by the US government. So in the example above, you’d be getting a 200$ subsidy every month. If you have a mix of subsidized and unsubsidized loans, you could then put your extra money towards paying down the unsubsidized loan first.

Hope this helps.

Seattle Impressions, 2018

I write this from a hotel in the beautiful, historic, expensive Queen Anne neighborhood, while listening to the shouts of a volatile and possibly unhinged man on the streets below. And that just about sums up my time here in Seattle this year.

When I lived in Seattle 15 years ago, it was a medium-sized city with large city ambitions. It had miserable weather, great coffee, and pathological denial that grunge music actually peaked in 1994. There were computer programmers, and bookstores, and people who traded tips on how to use artificial sun lamps to keep from killing yourself.

Everyone drove a Subaru.

Nowadays, Seattle is not like that. Seattle is where capitalism goes to die. Seattle is the prequel to Blade Runner.* Seattle is hyperfuturistic corporations that create their own magnificent biomes that are closed to the public almost all the time. 

For real. This is “The Spheres” by Amazon:


Google is here. Microsoft is here. Amazon, of course, is here. RealNetworks, Tableau, Zillow, Expedia. And a million, zillion more. Many of these software companies are working on projects so advanced that they legitimately could be viewed as science fiction. But when you leave your job making programmable sentient cupcakes, or whatever, and you step out onto the street . . . the pavement is cracked, the streets are full of potholes, and the homeless are everywhere. We do not have to imagine a dystopia where robots fly next to shanty towns. It is here.

Making matters even more stark, Seattle is a city that prides itself on being “progressive.” Unlike Boise, where movie trailers feature advertisements for shooting ranges, the assumption in Seattle is that we are all Progressive and Inclusive and Care About Human Rights, Not Like Those Other People.

Our hotel, for example, has bathrooms in the lobby with prominently-displayed signs that say “All Gender Bathroom.”

Meanwhile, in this very nice part of town, I passed 3 homeless men in just one block. So they’re progressive about everything in Seattle, except, you know, if it costs them something.

My general impression of Seattle in 2018 is that they’re fine with letting you freeze to death on the street, but they’ll make a big effort to use the right gender pronoun at your funeral.

And they’re not prejudiced — they welcome any type of billionaire, of whatever background…

…and if you do die on the street, they want you to know it’s not because you’re black. It’s because you’re poor.**

They hope you understand how very enlightened this makes them.

Seattle is an entire city full of those smug assholes I knew from college who’d say, “Well actually, I consider myself socially liberal, but fiscally conservative.” ***

Seattle is what happens when a whole bunch of educated upper-income people NIMBY their way into never helping anybody at all, because, you know. Property values. “Moral hazard.” Having low corporate taxes helps us all… somehow or other.

On the plus side, there’s an amazing chocolate factory in Fremont, and if you walk within a 5 block radius of it, the air smells like truffles.

So it’s not all bad.

* And not just because it’s cloudy all the time.

** Or rather, given the rents around here, “not rich.

*** Translation: I used to be part of the Young Republicans, but then I realized I was gay.