9 May 2020 – Saturday – #55

I was in a bit of a funk last night. I got a taste of socialization during my walks this week and now I’m realizing how much I’m over FaceTime and how much I crave face-to-face time. It’s strange figuring out appropriate physical behavior, though. And complicated. It’s not just my feelings here. I have to think about other people. Geez. I’m a little out of practice on that.

For instance, masks. I’ve had an instructive Facebook debate with Janet about masks. She is in a precarious situation health-wise and understandably advocates for everyone to wear a mask. As I wrote here earlier in the week, I’m in sync with WHO’s mask recommendations rather than CDC’s.

It occurred to me that Janet and I may see masks differently not because of science, but because of politics. The US federal government’s Covid-19 response is so poor, masks have become yet another thing to politicize there. In the US, masks are now de rigueur, giving people a sense that there is something they can do despite the whooshing sound of the leadership vacuum. I saw a friend up in arms because Senator Feinstein addressed the Senate without a mask, as though she’s a serial killer. Mask polarization is a little crazy right now in the US.

In Barcelona, my informal survey of mask use last night counted about 1/3 of people wearing masks outside while exercising. European countries have turned the corner without mandatory mask use. It’s not a political issue here. It’s really not that much of an issue at all.

For the record, here is one of the most useful articles I’ve found about Covid-19 transmission. It spells out transmission in terms of proximity, duration, and mode (breathing, speaking, coughing, sneezing, flushing, etc.). What’s important to note is that social distancing doesn’t work in closed environments over a long period of time. That means hospitals, restaurants, offices, theaters, churches—basically wherever people congregate for hours. It’s not clear that paper masks work in these environments, either.

Anyway, the lesson from the friendly debate with Janet about masks is that social time will be a negotiation, not so different from the negotiations about sex I had during the AIDS crisis, but possibly more political and presumably more frequent. Contrary to the rumors my P.R. firm has been spreading, I’m not sex addict promiscuous.

Speaking of negotiations, Vlad is sending telegrams to Don and Boris. Not Valentine’s Day telegrams, but Victory Day telegrams. Today is the 75th anniversary of the unconditional surrender of the Nazis, but traditional Russian celebrations have petered out due to, you guessed it, Covid-19.

Putin’s overture was the latest in a series of contacts with Washington with which Moscow is keen to rebuild relations frayed over everything from election hacking allegations to Syria. Ties with London remain badly strained over the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in England.

The World, “Fiona Hill: Putin has become ‘wild card’ for Russia’s political system,” 8 May 2020

My friend Gail alerted me last month to Covid-19 tips she was hearing from Russian colleagues. The Russians reported to Gail surprisingly high incidents of “pneumonia” at the same time the Kremlin was in full Covid-19 denial mode. Everyone knew what “pneumonia” meant, but the Kremlin stuck to its line that strict border policies were working.

Well, of course, the Kremlin finally acknowledged the reality. Partly. If you look at its per capita Covid-19 mortality rate versus the US and the UK, Russia has had a Covid-19 miracle.

Covid-19 per capita mortality, Russia versus US and UK, 8 May 2020.

With a Covid-19 response this good, I’m pretty sure Putin continues to classify many Covid-19 cases as “pneumonia.” Russia has run into pretty much all the same obstacles in its Covid-19 response as the UK and the US, so it’s hard to find another explanation for its flawless statistics. I can say this, but if you’re a Russian doctor who says this, you should learn to keep your mouth shut or stay away from windows.

Parenthetically, it seems Florida Governor De Santis has embraced fully Putin’s reporting sleight-of-hand. Unfortunately, I suspect Trump will attempt the same.

Anyway, Covid-19 is very inconvenient for Vlad, coming as it has on the heels of his oil war with Saudi Arabia.

Russia’s economy is currently suffering from two simultaneous, partly interdependent crises. Since 2014, Russia has been prepared for one of them: an oil market shock for which it is partly to blame. However, Russia is only partially prepared for the simultaneous spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. Overcoming this crisis is becoming a systemic issue. More cooperation at the international level is desirable in the short term.

Gunter Deuber, “Two Economic Crises at the Same Time—Too Much Even for Russia,” Russian Analytical Digest No. 251, 20 April 2020

So, it’s becoming clear why Vlad sent VD telegrams to his pals Don and Boris. Given Russia’s interference in the 2016 US elections and in the UK Brexit campaign, everyone should be suspicious of Putin. He may have dirt on Don and Boris that gives Russia the upper hand as countries work out their Covid-19 economic problems.

Finally today, Anne asked if I’d take the ten hour drive down to Marbella to check out this Freddie Mercury character. Right now, I’d take a ten hour drive almost anywhere. But, yeah, let’s all take a drive to Marbella!

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