Year of the Ox, Day 75. In a post-truth world, how can we relate to each other when we suffer from a lack of trust?
The year of the Ox, Day 75. The ox, in Chinese culture, is a hardworking zodiac sign. It often signifies movement, but some astrological gurus say that this year, the metal ox, we should hold fast. Having a good methodology, a good plan, and getting up to do the hard work every day are key to success in 2021, and so that’s what I’m working on making changes to optimize. When I moved to China in 2014, I was one tour away from retirement as a DJ/Producer and over the musical excesses of (promiscuous) sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but my transition from hedonist nightlife ninja that toured the world blowing fireballs on stages and doing standup comedy between burlesque gigs to the stoic bearded philosopher, wise and enlightened on his mountain is still a work in progress. So far this year, I’ve got a running tally of vices I’m cutting back on. I’ve quit arguing on the internet, even deleted some social apps from my phone, and I’m really cutting down the time I spend online. As creative writing guru Stephen Pressfield said in “Going Pro,” ‘professionals write, while amateurs tweet.’ It’s changed my outlook a lot, and I spend most of my day where I am, in my home, classroom, or out for a stroll, or relaxing with my wife watching a fun movie or TV series. After binging on some Russel Brand Under the Skin podcasts and taking him “On Recovery” book to heart, I’ve done soul searching to find anything that can be addictive and tried to control it or get rid of it altogether. I haven’t had coffee in a month. I quit impulse shopping and porn, as both can and do wire the mind into selfish and undesirable ways that make it harder to connect with real people we care about. But the mind is malleable; now more than ever, experts recognize the ability for neuroplasticity, what was once set, is now in flux, and we can change ourselves into whatever we want to be. I’m working on controlling negative thoughts, complaining, and cycles of overthinking and anxiety. Like a good person-in-recovery, I’m just taking it all, one day at a time, but I am much happier, healthier, and gearing up to have my most productive year yet, because I’m ready to get out of my way and do what I am here for: to live, to love and to write.
Beltane is coming, May 1st, halfway between Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. It’s a time when spirits and fairies are believed to be extra active, the veil between earthly and fairy realms are the thinnest, and magic springs forth when dreams can be answered. At least that’s what my Gaelic and Celt ancestors believed, and so I will be hoping for good omens and good luck as we struggle for the resilience to endure the rest of the pandemic and the integrity to channel all of this reflection into changing our course before the climate collapses and steals our children’s very futures away from them.
This year for Earth Day on April 22, Greta Thunberg released a video reminding us not to accept the good wishes and platitudes of our leaders; when they talk about “ambitious targets” but omit critical industries like agriculture and aviation, we must hold them accountable for the sake of our lives, our kids and our future. I’m excited to hear what sounds like a real progressive change from many leaders, but we must keep an eye on the details. We have less than a decade to turn the world around and change the game, or COVID-19 will seem like a minor inconvenience compared to the future pandemics, environmental catastrophes, mass migrations, and food shortages of the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. We need to become comfortable paying more for less and making do with less. Convenience culture was burning our planet. Now we have to work hard and be satisfied with slow progress. Life is hard, but it can also be good.
I snuck away with Xiaolin recently, having had a couple of days off when my students were taking exams. We flew to the ocean, ate BBQ fish with lime juice and coconut drinks, and drove a scooter around sandy beaches. It was amazing to fly after spending more than 16 months without leaving my city and 20 months without a travel vacation. It’s amazing how safe China is, I actually took my mask off to eat on the flight, my first since 2019, but still, we kept it quiet, not wanting to make our friends or family nervous.
People these days are squirrely. Although there is some good news, people in many countries distrust their government’s COVID response or the media’s spin, and sometimes with good reason. Objectivity seems to be thrown out the window. Goodbye balanced evening news that our parents watched over dinner, hello hit pieces on politically convenient opponents to shield those allied with the networks. At least that’s what it feels like, from my misty mountain on a hill in SW China. I am still looking out of our bubble at the world, and it’s teetering on the verge of something awful. I haven’t given up; I’m just resting a little for the fight to come.
Over 3 million recorded deaths from COVID later, the latest wave with the predicted variants of concern affecting younger, healthier people is the worst to date. It is heartbreaking to watch Brazil and India both experiencing the utter collapse of their health systems, as hospitals refuse patients due to lack of beds, oxygen, and supplies, leaving people to die in ambulances or their cars in the parking lot. Although the reported daily death toll of 2500 a day in India is tragic, mainstream media reports that experts on the ground say it is many times more, possibly even higher than 10,000 a day. It’s not a wave, they say; it’s a tsunami. The Indian lockdown has been extended, but with a million officially diagnosed cases in the last three days, it will lead to a future spike in deaths in the weeks to come. The government will have to balance the lockdown with the needs of the people because, with so much of the population employed as day workers, India can not support several months of extended lockdown without mass starvation. Many blame PM Modi’s mass superspreader rallies and the opening of religious and cultural festivals in the past two months for this COVID tsunami, going so far as to call for his resignation. It was indeed incredibly irresponsible and poor leadership, and he has blood on his hands. But he is not alone. Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s PM, has been called a Donald Trump-like character, and swept to power in a similar campaign of social media manipulation, using targeted ads to discredit his more qualified opponent and once in charge, has disregarded the needs of his Aboriginal population, engaging in a campaign of systemic genocide against the Amazonian rainforest people as he also burns the Amazon, the lungs of the planet that he has been elected guardian of, for some quick corporate cash. It’s a tragedy and a travesty, and under his watch and pandemic denial, he is decimating many of his most at-risk people, unique tribes that have lived for thousands of years in the heart of the rainforest and small surrounding villages. If that’s not a war crime, I’m not sure what is.
In the West, CNN and BBC report that America and Europe are scrambling to send aid and supplies to India to make vaccines; Brazil has refused any help, despite their desperate need. In China, Xiaolin sees a random video on TikTok’s native DouYin app, showing the widespread panic and deaths in India, people lying dead on the streets reminiscent of the first panicked days of the Wuhan outbreak, only much worse, with bodies being burned in parking lots because all the crematoriums are backed up, and there’s nowhere else for the dead to go. It gives me a shiver to think of what China could have been like had we not been so vigilant. She watches the footage while text scrolls informing her that China is sending aid, while the USA is not, and the USA and India are joining together to undermine Chinese interests (possibly a reference to their gang of 4, with Japan and Australia). The underlying message in both the official Western news and from this anonymous video in China is that we should believe our own country is doing heroic things while other competing nations are doing nothing or actively hindering us. It ferments both nationalism and a lack of trust in others. I think it’s part of the problem. I think people, all people are inherently good. If governments can find ways to work together for mutual benefit rather than trying to simply squeeze the planet and each other for maximum profit, we will find a way to make it to 2100 and beyond. If you can’t or won’t, it’s going to be a pretty rough century. It’s hot already in Chongqing, maybe 35 and sunny, it’s so hot, and it’s going to be hot for 8 months, I think, so I put all my pants and long sleeve shirts away and prepare to survive the furnace of China for another year.
Both the severity of the outbreaks in Brazil and India and the utter mismanagement of Canada’s Ontario and Alberta outbreaks due to their weak leadership and disregard for science, undermining and underplaying the seriousness of the pandemic and giving people the clear signals to go and socialize en masse. The Vaccination race will try to match it, but it will be a race to the finish. An interesting and certainly actionable, treatable statistic is that vitamin D deficiency is prevalent in India, ranging in studies from 40–90%, with most studies reporting 80–90% prevalence of this deficiency. I’ve been quoting studies for a year now, such as JAMA and Sofia Reigna U, to show that this is the single biggest predeterminer of bad covid, that ICU and serious illness are twice as likely if you are deficient and the deficiency creates more ACE2 receptors and allows the virus to replicate quickly. Although exact stats are not available, there has been shown a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in both men and women in Brazil. Also, vitamin D deficiency of less than 30 ng/ml inhibits the uptake of calcium and can lead to obesity, another of the strongest indicators for bad COVID outcomes globally. It has become increasingly evident that the vitamin D endocrine system is related to obesity in adults. Obesity has been found to be associated with lower levels of serum 25-OH Vit D and higher levels of serum PTH. A low vitamin D intake was associated with increased body mass index (BMI). Some experts in India are calling upon the immediate fortification of vitamin D in staple foods as that would by far be the easiest way to reduce COVID deaths globally, and I hope this gets traction around the world.
Many children are now infected and sick in Brazil. As both the P1 variant from Brazil and the double mutant strain from India start to spread in Canada, several provinces already teeter on the verge of their own health care system collapses. Ontario and Alberta ICUs are stuffed, and their parking lots have tent hospitals ready to try to tackle overflow. People are already being flown around the provinces to find available beds, at considerable risk and cost, while supplies last. Nova Scotia, previously relatively COVID free, is now reeling from an outbreak that is growing rapidly by the day, so they are locking down to try to contain and treat it before the Atlantic bubble shatters. A 13-year-old girl in Brampton, Ontario, died at home. Canada has sent in the military to help overwhelmed doctors and nurses.
Pfizer is testing a pill that could become an at-home cure, a protease inhibitor that attacks the spine of SARSCOV-2 to stop viral replication in the nose and mouth. There is some interesting or potentially good news on the horizon. The prestigious UChicago, my uncle Dr. Larry Wood’s former stomping grounds where he was dean of medicine until he retired, has designed ‘nanotraps’ to catch and clear coronavirus from human tissue. The possible COVID-19 treatment combines nanoparticles with the immune system to ‘search and destroy’ the SARSCOV2 virus. They mimic the target cells the virus infects, and when SARSCOV2 binds to the nanotraps, they sequester the virus from other cells and target it for destruction. It’s incredibly clever. But it’s on the horizon. Today, international aid is coming for India. Their crisis is a crisis for the world, not just for brewing new variants but as the world’s largest vaccine maker, 100 countries are now left high and dry, as India uses its 90 million doses a month production internally to battle its apocalyptic COVID tsunami. While 1 in 4 people have had at least one shot of a vaccine in the world’s richest countries, that number is 1 in 500 people in most of the developing world, and the WHO warns that the pandemic is worse than ever globally. So far, the hotspots are still few enough that international aid mustering seems viable and the morally right thing to do but the vastness of India’s bucket feels insurmountable. Their huge population combined with an exponential countrywide outbreak mean even a huge gathering of aid might only scratch the surface, leaving other nations depleted if their own precarious situations get out of control.
Vaccination is chugging along, in many countries racing their next wave. Certain places, like Israel, also seem to be doing it right: lockdowns and low rates of infection and quick vaccination create a seemingly sustainable bubble where inside, they sit in cafes sighing in appreciation, feeling the tension drain from their bodies as they look out from the other side, but still, they must stay vigilant. Soon they will start tourism, PCR test negative, and vaccinated tourists. This is the post-pandemic new normal for those countries that appreciate good health over free movement. The alternative is the UK considering COVID as an endemic problem, just part of the new social fabric. But those on the other side of the walls in Palestine still struggle for vaccines, and many criticize Israel for not assisting those whom they wall off in the name of their own security for not doing more.
That muscly menace in Canada, ‘Chris Sky,’ the violent anti-masker who traveled to Europe and back around Canada speaking moistly at anti lockdown rallies, was arrested again in Thunder Bay, Ontario, for breaching his previous quarantine charges and probation and other offenses. I’m glad to see a little law and order for the plague spreaders.
Continued in Part 2
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