A special Saturday post

I normally post a book snippet on Saturday mornings.  However, today, in the light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, I’m going to put up a podcast instead.  I’m obliged to reader Robert R. for sending me the link to the video below.  It’s Joe Rogan interviewing Dr. Michael Osterholm, who is “an American public-health scientist and a biosecurity and infectious-disease expert.  Osterholm is the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota and a Regents Professor, the McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Public Health, a Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Division of Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health, a professor in the Technological Leadership Institute, College of Science and Engineering, and an adjunct professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School, all at the University of Minnesota.”  That’s a heck of a resumé!

Dr. Osterholm has written a book on the subject:  “Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Deadly Germs“.

I’ve bought a copy, and I’m reading it at present.  I may post a snippet from it in future.  It’s a very authoritative reference about the nastier side of Mother Nature.

Here’s the podcast.  It’s a long one, so if you have limited time, I strongly recommend watching the first 21 minutes, although the whole thing is interesting and very useful.

Another reader, Gerald F., sent me this e-mail, which I entirely endorse.

It’s now clear that COVID-19 is a deadly serious global pandemic, and all necessary precautions should be taken. Still, C. S. Lewis’s words—written 72 years ago—ring with some relevance for us. Just replace “atomic bomb” with “coronavirus.”

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

— “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays.

As I wrote a few days ago:

Besides, in the end, no-one gets out of this life alive.  I could be hit by a car when I run errands later this morning, or drop a kitchen knife on my foot and get blood poisoning from the resulting injury, or have another heart attack (I’ve had two already), or . . . the list is endless.  Yes, the coronavirus could kill me.  That’s a risk I can’t completely eliminate.  So are all the other risks I mentioned earlier.  I’d rather it didn’t happen, but since I can’t control that, I may as well get used to the idea.  I’ll do what I can to protect myself against it, but the rest is in God’s hands, as far as I’m concerned.  (If you don’t believe in God, well, I guess you’re on your own!)  As St. Padre Pio put it in a simple prayer:  “My past to Your mercy;  my present to Your love;  my future to Your providence.”  In the end, for people of faith, that’s all there is.

In short, in anything and everything to do with the coronavirus epidemic, let’s make the Serenity Prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr our own:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

No matter how many preparations we make, no matter how careful we are, in the end, that’s the basic reality.  Let’s live accordingly.



  1. Hey Peter;

    Like LL Said, and I like the St Padre Pio Prayer. I already knew the "Serenity" prayer, if you can't change it, then you through Gods Grace accept it.

  2. @Ned2: I don't know, and I don't care. This isn't about politics, but about the facts of the coronavirus epidemic; and Rogan's guest is about as highly qualified as one can get to provide those facts. That's all I need to know.

  3. Reasonable precautions, like what we all took in the days of TB, Polio and Spanish Influenza, will stop the spread.

    Don't cough without covering your mouth.

    Don't spit on the sidewalk.

    Keep your hands and face clean.

    Don't congregate in places where sick people are.

    Air out your house and clothes.

    Wash surfaces down and keep your place clean.

    These are all precautions in pre-antibiotic days that were instituted by the federal and state governments in order to crack down on TB, Polio, during the Spanish Influenza, during outbreaks of all the old killers like Cholera and such.

    Once antibiotics and other modern treatments knocked all the oldy but deadlies out, people started slacking as to hygiene (thus the return of, literally, medieval diseases amongst hippies in the 60's and 70's) and personal grooming (like how facial fur went from full beards and mutton chops and handlebar mustaches to nothing.)

    Seriously, normal care will stop most of the issues. Common sense will handle it well.

    Just, well, the bug is selecting for those who can't or won't take care of themselves. Sucks if you are in the can't, like old people in nursing homes or in the hospital. Won't? Then, like hard drugs before Narcan, sucks to be you. (Now Narcan and other advanced and expensive treatments are keeping drug over-users alive… until the next time when Narcan can't get there in time and then it's the fault of the government or the system that the poor addict didn't get the un-fix for his or her over-fix.)

    Common sense. Cleanliness. Good personal grooming. All will keep you safer than running around in a face mask.

  4. But a caveat–NOT meant to replace common sense–is issued by ZMan, who observes that 'there's a lot of that there modeling goin' on out there.'

    Models are only as good as their assumptions. Global Warming (and Cooling) come to mind.

  5. Peter,
    why are shipping containers from China allowed to be delivered here to the US? Why wouldn't they be blocked until they get a handle on this virus in China?

    Seems they are still ramping up the capacity to burn bodies in ever greater numbers, and it's been reported they aren't even bothering to wait until they die before shrink-wrapping them and trucking them to a crematory. Desperation seems to be the order of the day, over there.

    Either it's much more dangerous to Chinese, or we aren't getting the full story. Or both, I suppose.

  6. The 3rd verse & chorus of a hymn we have sung many times at church seems appropriate here.
    “Our God, He is alive.”

    Secure is life from mortal mind
    God holds the germ within His hand
    Though men may search they cannot find
    For God alone does understand

    There is a God (There is a God), He is alive (He is alive)
    In Him we live (In Him we live) and we survive (and we survive)
    From dust our God (From dust our God) created man (created man)
    He is our God (He is our God), the great I Am (the great I Am)

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