Bob Schwartz

Month: July, 2020

Perfect pandemic movie for you and your family: The Princess Bride

I’ve scoured the streaming services and my own collection for a movie that would serve as medicine for the pandemic.

I don’t just want to be distracted, though that is helpful. I want to be lightened and leavened, as if lifted in a hot air balloon on a sunny day, floating over pleasing and fascinating lands and seas.

That’s why I am watching The Princess Bride (1987), as I have dozens of times before. It is a fairy tale for children and adults, written by William Goldman from his novel and directed by Rob Reiner.

Maybe no movie has every contained such a right measure of engaging plot, wit and charm that so appeals to viewers of all ages. Need pandemic medicine? Watch The Princess Bride.

Support Wikipedia Today

Raise your hands if you’ve ever used Wikipedia. Okay, put them down.

Raise your hands if you use Wikipedia regularly. Okay.

Raise your hands if you’ve ever donated to keep Wikipedia, a non-profit service, up and running. Uh-huh.

A few times a year, Wikipedia pops up a request for donations. This time around, they suggest $2.75, or more if you can. Only 2% of Wikipedia users donate. 2%.

The nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation provides the essential infrastructure for free knowledge. We host Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, created, edited, and verified by volunteers around the world, as well as many other vital community projects. All of which is made possible thanks to donations from individuals like you. We welcome anyone who shares our vision to join us in collecting and sharing knowledge that fully represents human diversity.

Those of us who consider ourselves serious researchers acknowledge that Wikipedia should only be a starting point for research (though many people don’t recognize that). Those of us who consider ourselves serious researchers also acknowledge that lots of times, it is precisely where we do start. We can imagine a world without Wikipedia, but we agree it would be a less informative and entertaining one.

Please donate to Wikipedia today.

We can make the new ways work: Transferring our pandemic optimism from the ways things were to the ways things are and will be.

One thing now obvious is that brave and aggressive plans to resume conventional life—in business, schools, sports and other institutions—are going to be waiting a while longer. The profound impact of these delays can’t be minimized.

Like it or not, new and often unfamiliar ways are being forced upon us. The good news is that there are plenty of creative and adaptable people to help fashion these new ways. Lots of the options may not be comfortable or familiar, but we’ve got what we’ve got.

As these ways are being fitted to our lives (or our lives fitted to them), we should keep up our spirit of optimism. But we should place that precious optimism carefully. For the moment, some loud or fanatical hopes for immediate institutional normality are just wasted whistling in the dark. Instead, that optimism should be transferred to whatever we do now and to the ways things will be when we emerge from this moment.

We can make this work. We can make this work.

COVID19 in America: An October Plan

If you are a regular viewer of TV news about the pandemic, you have watched the expertise of Dr. Peter Hotez. Peter Hotez MD PhD is Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology & Microbiology, and Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine where he is also Co-Director of the Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development.

He has just published COVID19 in America: An October Plan. It is hopeful, remarkable in its simplicity, but not necessarily easy:

We have an option. Through federal leadership and guidance, we could bring our entire nation towards a level of containment sufficient to safely open schools, colleges, and even host sporting events. We could return Americans safely to the workplace….

Implementing the October 1 plan will force America to make some difficult choices, but none as devastating as the mounting deaths if we choose to simply stay the course.

COVID19 in America: An October Plan

Within a few weeks, we will reach the awful milestone of 100,000 new COVID19 cases per day, next 225,000 deaths by October 30, and possibly 300,000 deaths by the end of 2020. However, it is not too late to chart a different course. By October 1, we could safely reopen our schools, colleges, and businesses. Potentially we could even launch a college football season or the NFL?

Our homeland security threat

COVID19 has gone beyond dangerous levels in America. We just surpassed 65,000 new cases per day, and I estimate that currently one-quarter of all the world’s COVID19 cases now occur in the Southern US. Soon we will reach Dr. Anthony Fauci’s projected apocalyptic benchmark of 100,000 new cases per day ( In addition, we are experiencing dramatic increases in hospitalizations and ICU admissions across the southern half of the United States, and as predicted, the number of deaths has spiked. The University of Washington just estimated that 225,000 Americans will die by October 30 (, and potentially that number could reach close to 300,000 by the end of 2020. To place that number in perspective the terrible 1918 influenza pandemic that lasted until 2020 (or some say 2022) caused 675,000 deaths in the US ( This COVID19 public health impact does not include the many “recovered” patients with long-lasting disabilities resulting from virus injury to their lungs, vascular system, and heart, as well as potentially long-term neurologic and cognitive deficits.

Soon, practically every American will personally know someone who has gotten very sick or hospitalized with COVID19.

Still another aspect is my concern that low-income neighborhoods across the South – where social distancing is often more difficult and essential workers must physically be in their place of employment – are now being decimated. COVID19 is a health disparity, and LatinX, African American, and Native American people are pouring into emergency rooms, hospitals, and ICUs. For me this is the most heart-wrenching aspect of COVID19 and a reason I speak out.

It is more than public health

Beyond the dire public health impact of the 2020 COVID19 epidemic in America are the socioeconomic effects. The impact on jobs and the economy has been well-reported, but equally important is the fact that now millions of Americans feel unsafe. Many of us are fearful of leaving our homes or having our children in school. It is also impossible to imagine how schools can be considered safe in areas of the country where virus transmission is accelerating. Within a few weeks of opening schools in the South, teachers, staff, bus drivers, parents will become ill, and require hospitalization. School staffs will become demoralized, and schools will again close. In time, a collective feeling of futility and hopelessness will become pervasive. Our nation will be left vulnerable due to internal unrest, cybersecurity attacks, and more, as COVID19 transitions to a homeland security threat.

We do not have to live this way

Adding to America’s frustration is the knowledge that many European and other nations are now returning to normalcy in the aftermath of their springtime COVID19 epidemic. Transmission is way down, allowing schools and colleges to reopen safely, while people return to work and enjoy cafes (, and restaurants.

What went so terribly wrong?

Why did Europe successfully emerge from its COVID19 epidemic while America still struggles and even faces a much larger threat in the coming weeks and months?

The successful nations implemented a national plan and roadmap with a target date and target goals of reaching defined levels of virus containment.

There are different metrics used to define containment. For some it means, one prevalent COVID19 infection per million residents ( For others, one new case per million residents per day. Under these circumstances, public health measures, including testing, contact tracing, syndromic surveillance, and effective public health communication can would prevent a resurgence.

In contrast, the US never really had a federal plan and roadmap. There was no federal directive or visible champion for implementing a national strategy. In its place, our federal government ceded control to the states. It forced the states to make its own decisions, while the US government provided important FEMA and other support, including ventilators, protective equipment, and supply chain management.

This approach was doomed to fail from the beginning:

  • Many states did not have the epidemiologic knowledge and models to make informed decisions about when it is safe to loosen social distancing and other measures.
  • States lacked detailed information about the impact of selected measures on the projected number of cases, ICU admissions and deaths.
  • Back in April (and still today) Governors were under intense political pressures to make decisions that go against public health recommendations.
  • They needed the cover of the federal government, especially the CDC, to say to lawmakers, “look I hear what you are saying, but the CDC tells me if I don’t do this or that, thousands of people will die in our state”. I believe those conversations rarely happened.

The result was predictable: A fragmented, arbitrary, and broken COVID19 response.

The consequence: The US is the epicenter of the global COVID19 pandemic, and we will maintain this status in the future.

In the current trajectory, COVID19 will only get much worse as we head into the fall and winter. Compounding our epidemic is the likelihood that season influenza will soon return, and we could see another measles resurgence given the decline in vaccination rates (

The default is that we might soon endure the greatest public health catastrophe in the history of the United States over the last hundred years.

The Fix: A New National Plan

We have an option. Through federal leadership and guidance, we could bring our entire nation towards a level of containment sufficient to safely open schools, colleges, and even host sporting events. We could return Americans safely to the workplace.

To do this by October 1 we now need to do the following:

  • Shape a national plan with an objective of a national level of containment.
  • Some experts benchmark containment as one case per million residents per day, but we might select less strict criteria.
  • Upon achieving this level, it would be possible to reopen schools, colleges, and businesses safely, provided a full and functioning health system is in place.
  • With containment, contact tracing actually becomes feasible, whereas this is not the case currently across most of the nation.
  • Each state would either agree or be required to meet that containment benchmark.
  • Some of these states, such as those in northern New England (NH VT ME) might already be close to that level. Others, such as FL TX AZ may require aggressive stay-at-home measures.
  • Starting October 1, we could begin a national re-opening for schools, colleges, and even outdoor high school (“Friday Night Lights”), collegiate and professional sports.

We have few choices

Doing nothing or continuing a strategy based on states in the lead will only invite further tragedy. By late in the fall every American will personally know someone who is severely ill or hospitalized with COVID19. Hospitals across America will be overrun, hospital personnel will become sick in droves, and we might experience 300,000 deaths by the end of 2020. Moreover, we won’t have a safe and effective COVID19 vaccine anytime soon. My earliest timetable is the middle of 2021, and even then, that timeframe would be a world land speed record.

This will become one of the most unstable times in the history in the United States.

Implementing the October 1 plan will force America to make some difficult choices, but none as devastating as the mounting deaths if we choose to simply stay the course.

Peter Hotez MD PhD is Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology & Microbiology, and Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine where he is also Co-Director of the Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development.

Pandemic Angel Gear: So many putting their brains in neutral

Do you know what angel gear is?

Angel gear
the neutral gear in a motor vehicle, especially when used to coast downhill

You may have figured out that it is called “angel gear” because when you coast down a long steep hill really fast, there is a good chance you will end up as an angel.

There are thousands of examples of people—some pretty smart—putting their brains in neutral as they plan pandemic strategies.

Some of these plans make me chuckle, because crying has to alternate with something.

Some in college football, for just one of many examples, still believe they can proceed with a fall season provided they follow stringent practices. One practice is that any player who tests positive will be out for 10 days and that any players who come in contact with him—including other players—will quarantine for 14 days. Any contact.

As some have pointed out, this could have just one infected player causing the quarantine of most of his own team and much of an opposing team.

In a related “strategy,” some teams have suspended pre-season contact practices so that at least the team itself will not be immediately decimated by discovering an infected player. That way, the team will at least get to start the season, though of course it will be a season with contact. It is after all football.

It is completely understandable that people and enterprises want to find ways to continue functioning, for so many practical and life-affirming reasons. But that can’t come with abandoning reason and putting brains in neutral. That downhill is still too steep and deadly.

If this is a war on COVID-19 in America, why doesn’t it feel like it?

Even those who minimize the pandemic choose to call this a war on the virus. It appears that in a few months, the deaths from this war will exceed 200,000.

During World War I, 116,516 Americans were killed. During World War II, 407,316 were killed. Because of the lives in peril—and ultimately sacrificed—newspapers and radio of the time led with the latest developments, the victories and defeats, everything else taking a distant second place.

Right now, of course, there is plenty of coverage and discussion of the pandemic. But it seems there is not an urgent visceral sense of how many people, some close to us, are in danger of being killed or wounded. The sense that this is a do or die war. Even more confounding, those lives are not being lost in Europe or Asia. The war is here at home, as close our neighborhood.

The people of Europe and Asia have an advantage in fighting this war. Unlike America, where the last major war fought on the homeland was about 160 years ago, almost every one of the countries that has done better has seen, in living memory, the horror of war on their soil. They seem to understand sacrifice and temporary dislocation better than we do.

If this pandemic is a war—and it is—we are, like it or not, going to learn a little more about what that means.

What the I Ching says about college football this fall

The structure of the gua is Mountain above, Earth below. It symbolizes the falling away (landslide) of a mountain. The nature of a mountain is to stand high above the Earth. Here it lies on the ground, having fallen.

The question of whether there will be college football this fall is something being written and talked about daily.

For those who don’t keep up, there were high hopes and brave plans this spring. Then team workouts began in June, with a small number of players testing positive, and some workouts cancelled. Then the Ivy League conference announced that fall athletics were cancelled, a development dismissed by some because the rich Ivies didn’t need the football money anyway (and, unspoken, it was just one more example of effete East Coast intellectuals out of touch with real America). Then the Patriot League, which includes Army and Navy, announced cancellation of fall football, but gave Army and Navy a pass on the decision, saying they had special circumstances (that is, they play for owner Donald Trump). Then the PAC-12 and Big Ten, two of the Power Five conferences, announced they were shrinking their schedule to conference-only games, a half-way measure that allowed them to start playing a few weeks later than planned, hoping that by mid-September things would be magically better. And the same day of the PAC-12 announcement, the PAC-12 commissioner disclosed that he had tested positive for COVID-19.

It is my humble view, and the growing view of many more expert than me, that there will not be college football this fall. As regular readers know, in times of uncertainty, I turn to a trusted insight tool used for thousands of years: the I Ching, the Book of Change.

This is what the I Ching had to say about college football this fall.

From the Complete I Ching by Taoist Master Alfred Huang

Hexagram 23
Bo • Falling Away


Wilhelm translates Bo as Splitting Apart, and Blofeld translates it as Peeling off. Here I adopt Falling Away. In Chinese, when the character is pronounced bao, it means shelling or peeling—for instance, shelling peas or peeling bananas. When it is pronounced bo, it means decaying, corroding, or falling away. Applied to a mountain, it signifies a landslide.

The structure of the gua is Mountain above, Earth below. It symbolizes the falling away (landslide) of a mountain. The nature of a mountain is to stand high above the Earth. Here it lies on the ground, having fallen.


Falling Away.
Unfavorable to have somewhere to go.


Falling Away is decaying.
The yielding want to change the firm.
Unfavorable to have somewhere to go
Little fellows are growing and extending.
Act in accordance with the situation and keep still.


This gua displays the principle of the waxing and waning of yin and yang. While the influence of the yin grows, that of the yang declines. When evil runs rampant, it is sure to affect what is good and correct. In the course of history many great empires have decayed and fallen away.

Message to governors standing by Trump: There is a bus waiting for you to be thrown under

It is astonishing how many Republican politicians—governors, Senators, etc.—are still taking their marching orders from Trump, even in the midst of the worst American crisis in decades.

One of the many important lessons that should have been learned by those who stand by Trump is that he has no sense of loyalty. None. Or sense of responsibility during the pandemic. None. The value of any person is exactly how much good they can do for him—not for the country—right now. If that good is in any way at any time in question, their value drops to zero. When that happens, they are certain to be thrown immediately under the next passing bus.

Those buses are rolling by for the Republican governors of Florida, Arizona and Texas, who will soon be joined by others as Republican-led states are pinned down by COVID-19. As those governors contemplate making hard choices and taking action, they will get no help from Trump. Only scorn. And a quick heave-ho.

Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro says Dr. Fauci has been “wrong about everything.” This is what economists think about Navarro (“a charlatan”)

I don’t know how Peter Navarro got his PhD at Harvard.
Daniel J. Ikenson, Cato Institute

This interpretation does not explain Mr Navarro’s oddest views, like his opinion of the trade deficit. After China joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001, the trade deficit exploded at the same time as millions of manufacturing jobs vanished. Mr Navarro claims that, as a matter of arithmetic, unbalanced trade is responsible for a slowdown in growth since 2000. Mr Trump spouts similar lines, talking about the trade deficit as if it were simply lost American wealth.

This is dodgy economics. A deconstruction of spending in the economy shows exports as a positive and imports as a negative. But the same accounting exercise also shows government spending as a component of GDP. Few economists—and certainly few Republicans—would say that the bigger the government, the richer the economy in the long-term. The equation shows how resources are used, not produced.

The Economist

The economic illiteracy that animates Navarro’s policy prescriptions is startling. In a white paper published before the election describing some of candidate Trump’s economic policies, Navarro (and co‐​author, Wilbur Ross, Commerce Secretary‐​designate) revealed the central misconception that lies at the core of his global economic worldview….

He says imports deduct from output, and he calls that accounting identity the ‘economic growth formula’. He thinks that for every dollar we import, our GDP is reduced by a dollar. I don’t know how he got his PhD at Harvard.

Daniel J. Ikenson, Cato Institute

Tyler Cowen, an economics professor at George Mason University, said Mr. Navarro’s broad protectionist ideas — like Mr. Trump, he urges slapping huge tariffs on Chinese goods to reduce the trade deficit — are out of step with generally accepted economic theories. “There are plenty of economists who defend some form of protectionism,” said Mr. Cowen, to help a growing economy or to bolster selective industries. But “close to no one,” he said, agrees with Mr. Navarro’s idea that a trade deficit is bad on its face.

It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) by R.E.M.

Time I had some time alone.

This track by R.E.M. is old (1987), cryptic, frantic, a cascade of consciousness. Also tuneful and upbeat. Like life.

What did you think the end of the world was going to sound like anyway?

It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

That’s great, it starts with an earthquake
Birds and snakes, and aeroplanes
And Lenny Bruce is not afraid

Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn
World serves its own needs
Don’t mis-serve your own needs
Speed it up a notch, speed, grunt, no, strength
The ladder starts to clatter
With a fear of height, down, height
Wire in a fire, represent the seven games
And a government for hire and a combat site
Left her, wasn’t coming in a hurry
With the Furies breathing down your neck

Team by team, reporters baffled, trumped, tethered, cropped
Look at that low plane, fine, then
Uh oh, overflow, population, common group
But it’ll do, save yourself, serve yourself
World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed
Tell me with the Rapture and the reverent in the right, right
You vitriolic, patriotic, slam fight, bright light
Feeling pretty psyched

Six o’clock, T.V. hour, don’t get caught in foreign tower
Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn
Lock him in uniform, book burning, bloodletting
Every motive escalate, automotive incinerate
Light a candle, light a motive, step down, step down
Watch your heel crush, crush, uh oh
This means no fear, cavalier, renegade and steering clear
A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies
Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline

It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine

It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)