"Everything worth saying about life has long been said – but nobody has said them my way"
A COMPUTER-LIKE MODEL OF THE HUMAN MIND April 10, 2023
The clue lurked right there on a bumper sticker in a parking lot. It pronounced that man created God in his own image – brashly mocking Genesis 1:27, “So God created mankind in his own image…”. What struck me was not the contradiction but an agreement between the two parties that the essence of the creator is reflected in his creation.
The problem relates to the nature of the human mind. I became aware of the problem a few years ago when, after being separated for almost two decades, I reconnected with my high school classmates. I realized that some of them behaved differently than what I had expected. This was not earth-shattering. But I was taken aback nevertheless, because we had known each other during six of our most formative years in a tightly knit residential high school. Then there was a second observation several years later. It was during the Covid pandemic. The way most people behaved during the pandemic completely surprised me.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. The mind of another person is an impenetrable fortress. Each of us creates this individual fortress based on our own realities. As the Russian futurist artist, musician, and theorist Nikolai Kublin had said: “The self does not know anything except its own feelings, and while projecting these feelings it creates its own world”. How can anyone truly understand, let alone rationalize, another person’s behavior?
But the bumper sticker suggested that there could indeed be a pathway to the interior of the fortress - even if an imperfect one. That pathway goes through one of man’s own creations – which is a computer. That’s how the model was born.
Here I should mention that I have no professional credentials to write about the human mind or his behavior. I am a retired polymer scientist, with the distinction of never having taken a single liberal arts course after high school. I did have the opportunity to take a course in Marxism/Leninism in my undergrad years. Fortunately (or unfortunately), it was not compulsory for foreign students like me. That was in the former East Germany. Being young and inexperienced, I took the easy way out.
The good news is that I am only writing about a model. I take courage in knowing that “all models are wrong” – as the famed British statistician George P. Box had said long ago. But he had also added that “some models are useful”. I fully except this model to have some of the former, but hopefully plenty of the latter as well.
The model explains human behavior in terms of hardware, software and data. These are the three parameters that determine the performance (behavior, so to speak) of any computer, be it for word processing, video gaming, calculating your finances, or whatever. Of course, human beings are not computers. Therefore, these parameters need some explanation.
This model assumes that a person’s inborn intellectual capabilities are his hardware. It is not to be equated with a person’s IQ. Rather its quality is reflected in a person's overall achievements during the early years (when his software and data are still in a rudimentary stage). A person’s hardware can be honed and optimized but, unlike computer hardware, cannot be replaced or updated. In most people it remains underutilized.
A hardware analogy for the human mind is not novel. In The Language Instinct, linguist Steven Pinker has proposed that human beings are hardwired to learn language. That’s why, he argues, it is so easy (for children) to learn a language. Supposedly, a typical 3-year-old can outperform a supercomputer in language skills. Pinker corroborates his hypothesis by pointing out that other species are hardwired in their own ways. Bats for example, are hardwired to navigate by using echolocation, and birds by using the earth’s magnetic field.
In that sense, inborn instincts are part of a person’s hardware, for example, reflex for survival, and urge for companionship, independence, inquisitiveness, etc. The extent of such instincts is different in different people – within certain ranges.
Software is the algorithm for making decisions and drawing conclusions. A person’s early software package is shaped by his upbringing and exposure to cultural norms, values, morality, etc. The package grows over time through updates of existing programs, as well as acquisition of new ones. This growth is triggered by life’s experience, exposure to new environments, education, etc.
Data of a person is everything that one has read, heard, seen, sensed, felt, etc. In this information age, data also includes any information that one can access from any source. A person’s data too, grows with life’s experience and exposure to new environments.
Interdependency of the Parameters
A feature of this model is “interdependency” of the three parameters. For example,
The type of software one acquires later in life depends on (without being dictated by) certain inborn hardware dispositions. Parents of multiple children are aware of the inborn differences among their offspring in terms of their desire for compassion, inquisitiveness, adventure, etc.
On the other hand, existing software can enhance or moderate inborn instincts. In fact, a measure of a person’s maturity, true education, and enlightenment is reflected in his software’s ability to recognize when such modulation is called for. And wisdom is the ability to pull it through.
Similarly, the growth of a person’s data depends on his hardware because it influences both the quality and the quantity of data he is capable of absorbing. And if multiple sources of data are available then his software influences which sources he seeks out and which ones he ignores.
This model makes no assumptions about any similarities between the human brain and a computer in terms of their mode of action. Rather it simply presumes that there is a similarity between how these three parameters affect human behavior, and how they affect the performance (behavior, so to speak) of a computer.
What is it Good for?
A model is only as good as its ability to help explain the complex reality it represents. Here are five such examples for this model.
Ex 1) The model cautions us not to overrate intelligence when predicting a person’s actions. It does so by framing decisions and actions in terms of all three parameters (hardware, software, and data). This doesn’t mean that intelligence is not important. Rather it reminds us that intelligence, of whatever kind, is only a tool. What a person does with this tool depends also on the other two parameters.
One extreme example is Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. He was a highly intelligent person with an IQ of 189. He had graduated in mathematics from Harvard at 20, was widely read in humanities, and spoke multiple languages. More common examples are bosses of organized crime syndicates, Wall Street bankers, most politicians, former Nazi leadership, etc. There will be another, personal example in the next section.
Ex 2) Similarly, experience is important. But, here too, its role should not be overemphasized. As suggested earlier, two people, when exposed to the same experience, can end up acquiring different data. And that is due to differences in their hardware and software. A trivial example is that of a group of students who, after having read the same books, end up absorbing information (data) that is different from person to person – both qualitatively and quantitatively. Furthermore, given software differences, decisions and actions of two people can deviate even further, even after having gone through the same experience. A dramatic example is that of someone having experienced child abuse. As an adult, that person can repeat the same crime, or become active to prevent such abuse, or just live on without doing either. Experience is not deterministic.
Ex 3) Returning to the case of my classmates, the explanation is easy. We knew each other at an age when our actions were dominated by hardware. It is only later in life that our software and data developed and diverged. This is nothing unusual, but the effect was probably magnified because changes in our software and hardware had developed in separated countries, cultures, and systems.
The upshot of my confusion is that I started thinking about this model. And when, a few years later, an even more perplexing enigma came along, I had a good tool at hand to make sense of it. That enigma was the Covid pandemic.
Ex 4) I don’t know your stand on the Covid pandemic, but glaring inconsistencies and irrationalities were obvious right from the beginning – both in the narrative and the pandemic measures. These include the use of PCR (which is not a diagnostic test), together with the neglect of demography as a parameter, and the use of shoddy modeling to project inflated danger; the absence of any risk/benefit analysis for pandemic measures; neglect, if not criminalization, of early treatment; censorship of legitime scientific discussions; the lack of scientific data to support vaccine safety and efficacy claims; a moving goalpost for claimed vaccine benefits; etc. (See TO VAX OR NOT TO VAX THAT IS THE VEXING QUESTION and a later piece in Global Research).
And yet, almost everyone I knew – regular folks, highly intelligent people, successful professionals, experts - went along blindly and without questioning. Worse still, anyone who expressed doubt was ridiculed and vilified, to put it mildly. Only now are some mainstream media outlets starting to acknowledge mistakes. (If you still trust the mainstream media then see The Atlantic, Newsweek, Newsweek, and New York Times. However, if you have been getting information from reliable alternative sources, then you already know a great deal more.) Even today, most people I know refuse to acknowledge their mistake. How could it be? This model sees the phenomena through the lens of all three parameters.
Hardware impacted people’s behavior in two ways. First, the hardware of most people was overwhelmed by a message of inflated danger. As a result, (hardwired) instincts of fear and survival kicked in, shutting down any rational software that would otherwise make people pause and think. At the same time, a software was triggered that promotes a lock-step behavior. More on this later under software.
Second, the hardware of many people did not have the necessary bandwidth and/or sophistication to deal with the deluge of complex information – especially in an environment of fear. We must not forget that a large segment of the population is already stressed-out coping with day-to-day survival. Not surprisingly, lock-step software took over.
Software played an across-the-board role with some interesting demographic variations. The most common type of software was that of tribal behavior. This type of software is triggered by instincts of fear and survival. It prompts people to show blind obedience and subservience to a savior authority, seek safety in a like-minded tribe, and be hostile to anyone who disagreed. The tribe feared both the virus and anyone who dared to question. The dissenters were ridiculed, vilified, excluded, threatened, and prosecuted. Choice labels conferred upon the dissenters included selfish, right-winger, Trump supporter, racist, anti vaxxer, etc., and all the way to Nazi, and antisemitic.
But it was surprising to see that even people with good bandwidth and sophistication of their hardware went along with tribal behavior. There was a multitude of reasons. In some cases, their software was not mature enough to know when a modulation of hardware instincts was called for. In other cases, they feared being outside the protection of a tribe. In others still, their software leaned too much and unwholesomely towards “pragmatism”. After all, one must earn a living, pay the mortgage, save for children’s education, make a career, etc. – right? An unusual subgroup had technical expertise in related fields. But their rational behavior was outmaneuvered by a software that was biased towards an uncritical enthusiasm for scientific progress. I know a few of them personally.
And finally, there was a smaller but pivotal group. They had excellent hardware but were infected with malware. This malware drove them to unquestioningly strive for power, control, money, and greed. They formed their own separate tribe.
Apropos software – the pandemic exposed a severe scarcity of a type of software that regulates two behavior patterns which, if they were more prevalent, could have promoted a more sensible behavior in the society. These are common sense and critical thinking. I don’t know if they are different things or just two aspects of the same entity. But they have one thing in common. Both are randomly distributed among all demography, and cannot be explained in terms of intelligence, level of education, professional success, age, life’s experience, affluence, etc.
Here are two interesting examples to make the point. Midway through the pandemic, my longtime barber asked me if I found it curious that the authorities were claiming Covid-19 to be the most dangerous disease in recent times but, at the same time, they were ignoring its early treatment. (In fact, they were criminalizing such attempts). She had no higher education or technical expertise but had common sense. Contrast that with the odd case of my classmates excluding me from a reunion because they were vaccinated, and I was not (adequately) so. Here “the protected (meaning my classmates) were trying to protect the protected (themselves) by forcing the unprotected (me) to take a protection (the vaccine) that did not protect the protected (them)”. My classmates are highly successful, intelligent professionals. But intelligence, of whatever kind, should not be overrated.
Data: Thanks to manipulation of their software, most people voluntarily limited their source of data to a few (official) sources, while ignoring valuable data elsewhere. While determining credibility of data requires some technical expertise, in many cases the use of common sense and critical thinking could have served the same purpose. As a result, most peoples’ data (on the pandemic) remained biased. No wonder, even people with sophisticated hardware and software made faulty, if not wrong, decisions.
Multiple external factors had a decisive influence on all three parameters. Take for example, lack of “available” hardware bandwidth. This is (partly) a reflection of a society where a big segment of the population is already struggling for day-to-day survival. Bandwidth blockage is also manipulated by (external) messaging. It was uncanny to see a massive and sudden use of phrases like “shelter in place” (danger, danger!), “be safe” as a form of greeting (danger, danger!), “social distancing” instead of physical distancing (it’s dangerous to communicate with each other). Just a coincidence?
Similarly, a lack of hardware sophistication relates to inadequate “honing and optimization” of hardware. This in turn, can come from a lack of good, basic education, which is driven by external factors.
Software too, can be manipulated externally, and that rather effectively. Mask mandate is a great example., whose implementation (btw, without any scientific basis) fostered tribal behavior by promoting fear and forcing people to demonstrate tribal affiliation.
It is very similar with data. External factors (such as cancel culture, de-platforming, censorship, intimidation, etc.) were very effective in manipulating both the quality and quantity of data that people ended up having to use for making decisions.
Ex 5) The final example is that of mass delusions that periodically sweep through our societies. Charles Mackay, in his 1841 book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowd, had examined a multitude of such events, including the Mississippi Scheme and the Tulip Mania in the Netherlands. He concluded: “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one".
His assessment is relevant in two ways for this model. First, human beings are predisposed to act spontaneously in herds. This is a relic of their long evolutionary journey for survival as a species. This behavioral code is common and is imprinted in peoples’ hardware widely. Therefore, they act similarly and in unison. Second, the process of awakening is individual (and therefore slow) because it requires the use of software which is different f. from individual to individual.
And One More Thing….
If you have made it so far then both thanks and congratulations. Thanks for caring to read something written by a non-expert. And congratulations because you recognize that it is not a good idea to listen exclusively to experts. An odd statement coming from a professional expert (in certain other fields).
While putting these thoughts together, I realized that human beings are essentially herd animals. This may have helped humans survive as a species. But unfortunately, this trait also makes humans easy targets for mass manipulation and propaganda. Evidence abounds throughout human history, including in recent times.
Many scholars have written about the how’s and why’s of herd psychology. Mattias Desmet is one of them with his mass formation hypothesis. I wonder if the model I have described here can help bridge the gap between external factors that initiate a mass process and how these factors play out at the individual level.
With all that said, I won’t be surprised if you found inadequacies in this model. But remembering George P. Box’s comment on models, hopefully you have found some usefulness as well. If nothing else, maybe it was an enjoyable exercise in outside the box thinking.
PS: Finally, some off the cuff remarks on theories vs. models. I believe that there is a difference between theories and models. Both are meant to predict events in a complex system, but the former tries to explain the process as well. As a result, a theory needs a mechanism of action (which is built upon certain cause-effect relationships). The success of a theory depends not only on its ability to predict events, but also on how well the proposed mechanism of action, as well as the associated cause-effect relationships can be experimentally verified.
In contrast, a model only predicts events without attempting to explain how the process works. It is based on a set of logical and consistent assumptions without being bound by a specific mechanism of action. A model may make use of some cause-effect relationships that are expected only to be statistically verifiable for the given model, without saying anything about the mechanism of action in play. My intent was to write about a model. Not sure if it ended up becoming hybrid!
I have a hunch that this model could be used to elucidate certain human behaviors (pragmatism, leadership, etc.), as well as the essence of education. Maybe some other day if I feel like doing so.
BECAUSE THE SUN ALSO RISES (or Outsights of a Conspecific) APRIL 3, 2023 (originally written in 2013)
My wife insists that an idle mind is a devil’s workshop. So, she finally convinced me to try my hand at writing. But I had underestimated the complications.
First came my inner self. “So, you want to write?” mocked the voice. “Hasn’t everything worth writing already been written? What else can you add?” I was afraid it would come to this. After all, billions of people have indeed been writing for hundreds of years now. To be precise, as of 2010 exactly 129,864,880 unique books have been written - says Google the omniscient. And just think about the tsunami of literary work being composed every day in the social media – all the way from the banal (“drinking the best mango margarita in the world”) to the profound (“today is Tuesday”). But I was not impressed. Human ingenuity has always been underestimated. Wasn’t it Charles Holland Duell, the Commissioner of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, who had said in 1901 that “everything that can be invented has been invented?”. And didn’t Julius Sextus Frontinus, a highly regarded engineer in Rome in the 1st century say “inventions have long since reached their limit, and I see no hope for further development”?
But that was the easy question – not unlike a star prosecutor’s deceptive softball question to lull the unsuspecting witness into a false sense of security. Then came the punch. “And what qualifies you to write?” What can I say? I am just a scientist, by profession and by training. When I did my undergrad in the then East Germany, the only humanities course offered was Marxism and Leninism. It was compulsory for my East German fellow students, but not for me. Now I wish I had taken the class – just to breathe some fresh air into my right brain. And later, when I did my Ph.D. in the then West Germany, no luck either. It was at one of those universities where the entire course starts and ends with independent research – no course work, no exams, except for the final defense. In other words, I could be the proverbial Fachidiot (it is a compound German word comprising Fach, meaning subject matter, and Idiot)
But it gets even worse. After having studied and lived in Germany for almost two decades, and then immigrating to the US, I have continued to speak German on a daily basis - with my wife and children. Of course my mother tongue is Bengali. I am not sure if English is my second or third language. But I was not about to be defeated. I demoted my inner self to Mini-Me. Mini-Me remained unimpressed, asking, “And what’s the point of your writing?” B-e-c-a-u-s-e …. I said slowly, gaining time, to sort through my thoughts. Not that it is difficult to come up with a reason; rather there are just too many to count. "Because the sun also rises" I blurted out. That did it. It took Mini-Me completely off guard; and I realized that this is as good a reason as I or anyone else needs to write.
Even without Mini-Me the question that continues to nag me is why I want to write. Is it to write something for others to enjoy? Fictional writing comes to mind – but that is not my métier. Memoir? I am not sure I am ready to share much of my personal life with people I do not know. Besides, every other aspiring writer already has a memoir under his or her arm, just waiting to be famous. No, I don’t do rat race – anymore. Autobiography? Well, I’ll have to get more famous first. Then how about writing to clear my head? Just between you and me, my wife is clearly mistaken here. My mind is anything but idle - it crawls with ideas and stuff - and writing might just be the therapy to bring some rest. In that case maybe I am writing just for me; and if anybody finds them interesting then so be it. But for Mini-Me and officially, I write because the sun also rises.
What is it all about Outsight in the subtitle? I just made it up to contrast with the word Insight. Insights come from observant insiders. In the same vein, what observant outsiders perceive ought to be outsights. Both are valuable, but the latter can be especially valuable and unique when an outsider is able to cross the boundary between outside and inside. That’s because he may be able to perceive things that neither the insider, nor the outsider, can do easily for obvious reasons. I fancy that most of my life I have been an Outsider gradually becoming an Insider.
Artgenosse? Conspecific? No, I am not trying to impress you. Really. Blame it on selective memory, a trait that all of us have. For reasons unexplained, fractured pieces of our memory sometimes cling to us forever. Take for example, an image from my very early childhood. Me playing tag with neighborhood kids on a late summer evening on the front lawn of our home. I can almost smell the grass and feel the dusk descending, reminding me that the fun will soon be over. But I have no recollection whatsoever of who those kids were, what we did before or after the game, or even if we played such games often. Then there is another image of me sitting at the corner of a room in my maternal grand parents’ home, with a book in my hand, while several of my mother’s sisters are gossiping. It was a chilly and downcast day outside, but I have no idea which of my eight aunts were there, what they were talking about or what book I was reading. But that image will never fade from my memory.
Similarly, about three decades ago I, again, held a book in my hands with the captivating title Innenansichten eines Artgenossen (Insights of a Conspecific) by Hoimar von Ditfurth. I did not read the book, rather had a cursory glance at the cover only. And yet the title has stuck with me. A conspecific, the English word for Artgenosse, and which I confess to having to look up, is a member belonging to the same species. There is something immensely fascinating about the concept of someone putting down his thoughts in order to share them with other members belonging to the same species - not to teach, not to lecture, but just to share. This hits rather close to what goes through my mind as I sort through possible motivations for my own writing.
As I think through all these, I realize that selective memory may not be the honest explanation. Could it be that the evocative book title had hit a nerve in me that, three decades ago, I didn’t know exists?
A LETTER TO MY CLASSMATES Sept. 14, 2021
Attached is a letter that I have recently sent to my high school classmates. This is a group with a shared experience spanning more than 50 years. We know each other since our adolescence - all having attended an elite residential school for six years. Ever since, contacts have been maintained with and within the group.
I sent the letter after realizing that they have excluded me from the next reunion, the decision having been taken behind my back. Historically I have rarely participated in such events. But this time, I have been expressing my interest to attend – primary because the planned reunion location is close to where my mother lives.
I have edited the original version of the letter a bit to provide some context for readers outside of the original recipient group. I have also added a few reference links.
At this stage in my life, time is precious, and life is good. Why then bother with such unpleasant matter? For two reasons. First, this incidence is a microcosm of what is happening in the larger society. It reveals how our entire social fabric is being torn apart. And the second one is the memory of pastor Martin Niemöller.
Today, a significant majority of Americans consider any questioning of the narrative coming from the government and the legacy media as heresy, even if the questioning is supported by factual arguments. What happens next is generally as follows
instead of trying to understand the questions, or having a civil discussion, the majority immediately assigns certain labels to the questioner – conspiracy theorist, XYZ-denier, Trump supporter, Querdenker, etc.
If the questioning is done on social media, then those questions are censored, ultimately leading to deplatforming of the questioner
If it is done within a physical social group (friends, neighbors, colleagues, or even family) then, here too, there is rarely a factual discussion, and the outcome is the same. But the process is different. It all starts rather innocuously enough. There is a quick exchange of glances, a faint smile or subtle turn of the eyes shared among the other members of the group, acknowledging that something is not quite right with the questioner. If the questioner persists, it only goes downhill from there .... all the way to an exclusion from the group.
In my specific case, it all begun about 9 months ago, when I had started raising questions about inconsistency and illogic of many things about the Covid-19 pandemic that were being told by the government, health authorities and the legacy media. I did so within a closed WhatsApp group for our classmates only. I have no social media presence. I also put up a blog on my personal website listing the inconsistencies. Back then, at the earlier stage of the pandemic, I was mostly guided by gut feel, coupled with scientific rationale, and some initial scientific data. BTW, when I review the earlier post today, I am amazed how correct my gut feel was!
Anyway, back then I had concluded that considering the incomplete nature of the available safety and efficacy data, and my risk profile, it would be wiser for me to wait with vaccination until confirmed data become available. Although my conclusion included a clear proviso that what is right for me may not be right for everyone, my conclusion did not sit well with my classmates. Remember, at that time, vaccine promotion by the government, the health authorities, and the legacy media was already in full swing. On further questioning on my part, I was accused of “confirmation bias" but was provided no examples. At that point I left the WhatsApp group but kept in touch with them by other means.
Then came the preparation for a reunion. That is the genesis of the letter to my classmates ….
I found out that I have been excluded from the upcoming reunion. Fine - I haven't attended many of them anyway. Annually wallowing in memories of adolescent mischiefs is not my cup of tea anyway. But as the subgroup was making the decision behind my back, (yes, there always is such a subgroup), I wish that at least one person from that subgroup had the decency to inform me. There goes six years of education at our elite high school down the drain….
I assume that I was excluded from the event to protect other attendees from Covid-19. What stupidity! Obviously you continue to uncritically consume misinformation, half-truths and lies spread by the government and the legacy media. I know you are shocked by my strong statement. After all, none of them have ever lied, right?
If you were not blinded by the propaganda, then you'd realize that your greatest risk of getting infected with SARS-Cov-2 comes not from an unvaccinated person but from a symptomatic person – irrespective of that person’s vaccination status (see here and here). Interestingly, a recent study finds that some “vaccinated” persons can carry a delta variant viral load that is more than 200 times higher (than that of an unvaccinated person) before becoming symptomatic. If that is true, then maybe you should keep your distance from “vaccinated” persons instead?
Or is it that you are trying to protect me? That, of course, is none of your business. As long I don’t endanger others (see last paragraph), then please leave it up to me to decide what risks I take in life. This holds true for every adult. But if you are still in the business of protecting responsible adults (on their behalf), then how about excluding those with multiple comorbidities and/or a weakened immune system?
If you could think clearly, then the proper plan at the reunion would be to (a) primarily do outdoor activities, (b) have good ventilation by opening doors and windows, when you have indoor activities, (c) check everyone’s symptoms regularly, (d) wash hands frequently, etc.
BTW, I have been jabbed once, which is obviously not good enough. Just curious what your requirement will be for the next group event. 1 booster or 2? And for the subsequent one? 3 or 4 boosters? Or will it be an IV drip constantly pumping the "vaccine" in your body? When something doesn’t work as promised, do you always double down on it? Do you really think that the more the better, especially for an experimental drug based on an unproven technology?
But I am not so naïve to think that protecting me/you was the primary reason for my exclusion. If that were so, then at least one of the powerful decision-makers would have asked me about my vaccination status, and possibly asked about my willingness to take a second one. No, my crime was much more serious – that of Thought Crime. I question the truthfulness of government and legacy media. I also do not blindly trust unsubstantiated claims by big pharma, like Pfizer, which was recently fined almost $3B for fraudulent claims. Such crimes are inexcusable.
Now let’s consider a few examples that demonstrate your immense capacity to be gullible. Despite what you are told ….
Strictly speaking, the jabs are not vaccines - these are experimental gene therapies made with experimental technologies. That's why the quotation marks around these "vaccines". The relevant technologies were developed for cancer treatment but were abandoned due to clinical failure. None of the "vaccines" have completed clinical study. Pfizer will be the first one to complete it in 2023! All of them have skipped animal study and therefore, none of them have toxicokinetic data.
The "vaccines” have questionable efficacy. The originally claimed 90+% referred to relative efficacy and not the more relevant absolute efficacy. Besides, proper efficacy could not have been determined anyway because of the extremely shortened study protocol. See how they have now moved the goal post to claim “reduced severity of symptoms”? Reduced symptoms is not a bad thing – but what else are they making up as they go along? A lot, which you’d recognize if you did not have blinders on.
Covid-19 is not an exceptionally fatal disease. Its infection fatality rate in most countries is between 0.1% and 0.5% (the higher number applies to the elderly, institutionalized patients). Neither is it an untreatable disease - provided you don't follow FDA guideline to wait at home until it gets so bad that you have to go the the ER. Long Covid is also not a unique Covid-19 phenomena. Other viral infections have similar issues.
None of the current “vaccines” can stop the infection chain because none provides sterile immunity. Neither do they provide immunity (from getting sick). The only immunity that is iron clad is that of the "vaccine" manufacturers from getting sued for any harm caused by their experimental gene therapy products.
Dangerous mutants are more likely to be caused by those who have taken the current “vaccines“ vs. by the unvaccinated. You can understand this by drawing an analogy with antibiotics resistant bacteria. They emerge when incomplete and uncontrolled use of antibiotics leave behind some of the bacteria alive. These then become resistant to antibiotics (remember, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger). Similarly, the current “vaccines“ kill only some of the viruses but leave others alive. These surviving viruses mutate to more resistant strains. There is a scientific term for this phenomenon - escape mutation (That's why a golden rule of epidemiology is to vaccinate before, instead of during a pandemic). Just as it is laughable to blame antibiotics resistant bacteria on those who have never used antibiotics, it is laughable to blame the more resistant Covid mutations on those who have not been “vaccinated“. This doesn’t change even if Fauci says otherwise. He used to be a scientist but has long turned into a politician.
The Pfizer “vaccine” has not been recently approved by the FDA. Instead, FDA has issued two simultaneous letters – in one of them the EUA of the current Pfizer vaccine was extended, and in the other, a vaccine called “Comirnaty” was approved. Both are from BioNTech, and are manufactured and marketed by Pfizer. The approved “vaccine” Comirnaty is not yet available in the USA.
Naturally obtained immunity is much stronger and longer lasting than one obtained by getting one of the currently available “vaccines”. That’s because the former relies on additional mechanisms than just antibodies.
The PCR test can determine neither infection, nor infectiousness. The test method has neither been standardized, nor validated. It certainly cannot determine a “Covid case” because it has never been approved as a diagnostic device, and because only a clinician can determine a “case” (with the help of some diagnostic test, if needed). And yet, PCR test positives are being misrepresented as “cases” - primarily to scare people with large "case" numbers to justify unjustifiable and harmful blunt pandemic measures.
I could go on with more examples but will stop here. I had considered most of you to be smart enough to recognize so many inconsistencies, even without my help. But either I was wrong about you, or Mark Twain was right when he said, “It is easier to fool people than to make them concede that they have been fooled” .
But I digress. In case your mind is drifting towards the response I typically on similar discussions, then here are a few hints: I am not a Trump supporter, I am not a Covid denier, and I am not an antivaxxer. Just last month I got my Pneumovax 23 against pneumonia.
Going back to our health authorities, do you know that about 80% of both FDA and WHO budgets come from private entities directly or indirectly linked to big pharma? Do you know that several years ago WHO had changed the definition of a pandemic to exclude mortality as a criterion? Do you know that late 2020, WHO had changed its statement on herd immunity to remove the role of natural immunity (version from June 2020 vs. version from Dec. 2020)? Do you know that pharma and health products groups together are by far the largest lobby group in the USA.? Unfortunately, many peer reviewed medical journals are increasingly financially dependent on big pharma as well because preprints make a huge chunk of their revenue. These are not direct evidence of collusion – but let us not be naïve about human nature.
Then there is the issue of medical experimentation on humans. Administration of an experimental drug (which all three “vaccines” are) without Informed Consent violates both Nuremberg Code (1947) and the Declaration of Helsinki (1964). Both were instituted to prevent horrors committed by the Nazi regime on prisoners - think Dr. Mengele. When you got your shot, did any doctor tell you that clinical studies for the vaccine are not complete yet? Did he explain the known and possible adverse effects? If not, then you have been subjects of human experimentation!
I am not a legal expert. But I have many years of professional experience in developing medical products and devices that required clinical studies. In every case, we had to strictly abide by the above two conventions - even for the simplest, and apparently most benign, human clinical studies.
BTW, If Covid-19 is such a dangerous disease, don’t you find it odd that even after 18 months, the health authorities haven’t come up with any early treatment or prophylaxis recommendations? Does resting at home, drinking a lot of water, taking aspirin as needed, checking temperature, etc., and going to the ER if symptoms become severe look like sound advice to you for such a dangerous disease? And while many clinicians are claiming that they can reduce Covid-19 complications and hospitalization by 80+% by using existing safe medications, FDA ia doing everything in its power to shut such voices down.
I am not partial to any individual early treatment medication for Covid-19 because any severe disease requires a regimen of therapeutics. But I will give an example with Ivermectin to show FDA's shameful and deceptive, if not criminal, behavior. FDA’s website suggests that dumb people are overdosing themselves with a horse medicine, thanks to misinformation from some clinicians. First of all, Ivermectin, like many many other human medicines, is also produced for animal treatment. Ivermectin has been in use for almost 40 years to treat humans - in fact, so successfully that two of its inventors were awarded the Medicine Nobel Prize in 2015. A medicine Nobel prize for a horse medicine, right? Not a single proponent of Ivermectin has ever suggested that anyone takes the animal version of the medication. So, what FDA is spreading on its website is a perfect example of someone pointing finger at another person while three fingers are pointed at himself! Then the only reason why some people are overdosing themselves with an animal version of Ivermectin is that FDA has made it extremely difficult for physicians to prescribe, and pharmacies to sell Ivermectin. BTW, Ivermectin is one of the safest medicines, based on a track record of almost 4 billion doses prescribed.
On its website FDA also mentions that it has not yet reviewed clinical data that many clinician groups have been providing for review since more than a year now. Why not? I'll provide you with some additional dots beyond the ones I have already mentioned earlier: emergency use authorization (EUA) for the "vaccines" would not have been possible if there were any treatment available for the disease; Pfizer’s revenue from its Covid-19 “vaccine” already exceeds $30B+; all vaccine companies have been given complete immunity from any lawsuit concerning harms from these “vaccines”; etc. Now you may choose to connect the dots or not.
Do you remember how within months of the pandemic we were told that we can go back to normal only after sufficient number of the population will be vaccinated - with a vaccine that was not even available? Do you know that until then it took 8-10 years for any vaccine to be developed? From the very beginning, the pandemic measures have in reality been vaccination measures. There is a big difference between the two. As a result, there has been no overall cost benefit analysis. - as if huge costs related to the economy, collateral health and psychological damages, disruption of the civil society, children’s education, etc. simply do not exist. Our friend Khand**r’s health situation is just one example.
Yes, there may be benefits of taking these “vaccines” - for some. I made sure that my mother gets one of the "vaccines". But there is absolutely no medical, rational, ethical, and legal ground either for vaccine mandate or vaccine pass.
Just a few more things. Have you noticed how in 18 months, a two-week lockdown (to flatten the curve) has morphed into “show your papers”? Today F**k Checkers of unknown credential and technical competence decide what eminent scientific and clinical experts, including Nobel laureates, are allowed to share in the public. This is akin to killing science. Science, especially in a developing area, never has one single answer. Asking questions, proposing alternative hypotheses, creating and sharing new data to support or refute the hypotheses are the ways science advances – not by any edict from the Ministry of Truth. Yet, that’s exactly what is happening. The Ministry of Truth has outsourced the job to private media corporations. Therefore, good science is one of many victims of this pandemic. If you question the official narrative then you get censored, banned, deplatformed or excluded from a reunion.
It is amazing how otherwise intelligent people are not only fine with all these irrational and harmful measures and policies, but they are even clamoring for more. As if they want to prove both Sheldon Wolin right on his prediction of Inverted Totalitarianism, and George Orwell's vision of the future: “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever”.
Life is too short and enjoyable to dwell much on such unpleasant experience. But I had to pen this because my exclusion reminded me of Martin Niemöller, “First they came for the communists….”
Wake the f**k up!
Couple of friends found this blogpost so compelling that they wanted to publicize it broadly. Since I was reluctant to do so on my own website, they took it upon themselves to publish it on two other websites.
TO VAX OR NOT TO VAX, THAT IS THE VEXING QUESTION December 2020 (updated Apr 4, 2021)
As the wonderful 2020 nears its end, I bet that Covid pandemic and vaccines are on your mind. That’s not different for Christine and me either. Both of us have been thinking about writing down our thoughts on our websites.
Christine has had a long and successful scientific career (associate professor with expertise in biochemistry, biophysics, protein synthesis, etc., with 50+ peer reviewed articles, including in Nature). She has always been fascinated by science. Her entry explores technologies being used to develop the vaccines. Here is her blog.
I too, have had a long scientific career working with synthetic polymers, adhesives, dental materials, antimicrobials, wound healing materials, etc., with 50+ patents in these fields. For me, science is a tool. My attention is not needed for the advancement of science and technology - they are inevitable. But how they are being used and will be used are not inevitable. Coming from that perspective, my piece deals with the conundrum of whether or not to get vaccinated.
This is not a scientific paper. It is a layman's discourse. I am not a virologist nor an epidemiologist, nor a physician, nor a public health expert. To make matters worse, my trust in the press, responsible authorities, and our politicians, is at an all-time low. Many observations I have made while researching for this piece (and listed in Section F), have only strengthened this view - which was expressed long ago by my favorite American author Mark Twain: "If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you're un-informed". Just replace newspaper with media of all sorts and color!
So what is a layman like me (and probably you) to do to make such a serious decision as taking the Covid-19 vaccine or not? I know, I am going to hire a team of trusted specialists of the kind listed above, and ask for their recommendation. I am of course joking. In reality, I have to make my decision based on incomplete, and possibly biased information, further tainted by biases and perceptions of my own. In such situations, I have found it useful not to dig too deep in the unending and innumerable tunnels of individual technical fields, and thereby totally lose sight of the task at hand. Instead, I try to get a bird's eye view of the reality, make use of analogies to understand what's happening and then trust my judgment. That's what I am going to do here as well.
Accordingly, my decision will be entirely personal, with no expectation of being valid for others. Moreover, unless asked to, or unless it directly impacts me, I feel no obligation to change others' opinion. I have no "save the world" gene in me. How selfish of me!
With that, let's clarify two things. First, I am afraid of Covid-19. It is a dangerous and nasty disease, potentially with severe long-term consequences. And since I live in the USA, my likelihood of dying from Covid-19 is much, much higher than in many other countries! More on this in Section F. Therefore, I take precautions not to get infected. I have stopped playing indoor tennis or going to the gym. We don't attend parties or throw any. I avoid crowded indoor spaces, wash hands frequently, and wear a mask (indoors, not outdoors). Second, I take vaccination seriously. I get the flu shot every year and keep all traditional vaccines updated.
A. It's All About Comparing the Risks (Easier said than done)
Should I get vaccinated against Covid-19? This is a matter of comparing two risks - the risks from Covid-19 vs. the risks from the vaccine, as shown below:
Risk from Covid-19 > risk from the vaccine …… get vaccinated
Risk from Covid-19 < risk from the vaccine …… DON’T get vaccinated
Any risk has two components - an objective risk, and a subjective perception of the risk. Both are important. Two people facing an identical (objective) risk will make different decisions if their (subjective) perception of the risk are different. Things are not as simple as I am trying to make out - even for the supposedly "objective" part of the risk, unless you have a team of trusted specialists to advise you :-)
A risk assessment should always include a risk-benefit analysis. If the benefits of doing something are high, then a higher risk is acceptable. Even though it was my original intent, I never got to doing a proper risk-benefit analysis. That's because once I started the project, I was stunned by the misinformation being peddled by the media, authorities, and politicians, and even the lack of scientific understanding of some "professionals". Therefore, debunking these misinformation became more important than a rigorous risk/benefit analysis.
With that said, let’s look at the two risks – from Covod-19 and from a vaccine. Here I’ll focus on the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine made with mRNA technology, but the assessment would not be much different for the Moderna or the AstraZeneca vaccine.
B. Objective Risks From Covid-19
The risk from Covid-19 can be simplified as a tug of war between the left side and the right side as shown below. The more the left side wins, the greater the trouble; and the more the right side wins, the safer it is.
Virus Virulence & Level of Exposure (Dose) <----> Age, Comobidities & Strength of Immune System
The above is vastly simplified because there is another, external cascade that adds to the risk, as described in Section F. But for now, on the left hand side is virus virulence, which is what it is. But we can limit the level of exposure by practicing physical distancing, using protective equipment, etc.
On the right side is our age, which too is what it is. But we can avoid/reduce our comorbidities and enhance our immune system by having a healthy lifestyle (exercise, fresh air, sunlight, reduced stress, healthy nutrition, possibly taking immune boosters, etc.).
It is too early to pin down Covid-19's objective danger. Just ask a few friends, and the answers will be very different. That's because excess death, the suitable metric, will take a while to be calculated. There is also a lot of disagreement on Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) because the true number of infections are still imprecise, and because assigning death to a single cause, like Covid-19, can be problematic. The IRF value for non-institutionalized vary between 0.15 - 1.7 (Wiley Online Library, Annals of Internal Medicine). Others claim a higher IFR, sometimes confusing IFR with CFR. The variation can also depend on the age group, which increases significantly with age. To me, this value is not excessively high.
One should remember that Covid-19 mortality increases significantly with age. This is different than other pandemics (see chart). For me that means that Covid-19's higher mortality with age is actually due to "higher comrobidities" and "lower immune strength".
The assessment would not be complete without looking at the benefits of getting Covid-19 :-) Yes, there is one - that of becoming immune to the virus. That would allow you to lead a freer life. But it is not clear how long the immunity lasts.
If I consider my individual case, I am 64 years old and have no major comorbidities. I also have a healthy lifestyle (plenty of outdoor activities in all seasons, healthy diet, etc.). Besides, being retired, I have a lot of leeway in deciding whom, when and how I come in contact with, thereby minimizing exposure.
Considering all these, I conclude that my objective risk from Covid-19 is moderate.
C. Subjective Perception of Risks from Covid-19
My subjective perception of risk from Covid-19 is lower than that of most people, and that for the following reasons.
C1) Many, if not most, people think that the “number of Covid cases” in the news are all severely ill Covid-19 patients. That's not true. In reality, these are the people who got a positive result in a PCR test. This test cannot, and does not, diagnose a disease called Covid-19. A diagnosis can only be made by a clinician. In the vast majority of ases, a routine PCR test does not include a consultation with a clinician.
C2) A positive result in a PCR test only means that live, dead or fragments of the SARS-COV-2 virus have been found in the sample. The test is run in cycles, where the target protein is doubled in each cycle. Therefore, if too many cycles are run, then it it can identify viruses and their fragments even in such small quantities, that would not pose any danger, even if they were live viruses. See here and here. Cycles are typically run 25-45 times, whereby after 40 cycles, the initial concentration is multiplied 1.1 trillion-fold! More importantly, if the same sample is tested in one lab that runs 25 cycles vs. in a second lab that runs 45 cycles, then the difference in the signal between the two labs will be million-fold!
Here, two anecdotal examples may be helpful. Each of us harbors (in our microbiom) several trillion bacteria and viruses. Most of them are beneficial, but not all. If the mere presence of a pathogen were to mean being sick then each and every one of us would be considered sick. Whether one is sick depends on the load/lethality of the pathogen vs. the strength of the immune system of the host.
Then, about 30% of humans harbor the tuberculosis bacterium. But only a tiny fraction of them become sick because of the relationship shown under section B. Have you ever seen a headline about 2,300 million TB cases in the world? I haven’t.
What this means is that a very small fraction of the reported number of people will get the disease. From those, a very small fraction will need medical intervention. From those, a very small fraction will have serious conditions. And from those, a very small fraction will die. So, the numbers vastly exaggerate the danger.
C3) Even the use of the reported “number of Covid cases” to make decisions on lockdowns is problematic. That’s because, as astounding as it seems, the PCR test method is not standardized! See here, here, and here. Different labs run it differently, especially the number of cycles can vary between 25 to 45. To make matters worse, the labs and the kit manufacturers consider the test parameters to be proprietary information. For example, the 180 different labs, that run PCR tests in Germany, do not share this information with Robert Koch Institut (German equivalent of CDC). See at 40:00 minutes in this video. I doubt it is different in other countries.
C4) It is also strange that the number of PCR positives are being reported as the number of “cases”. Traditionally, the term "case" has been used to mean incidences when a medical intervention was needed. In epidemiology, two different terms are used to mean two different things - Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) and Case Fatality Rate (CFR). But the media's and the authorities' (mis)use and confusion of these two metrics have led to a biased perception of the danger.
This video gives a good summary of many issues raised above. BTW, the PCR is an amazing tool for basic research, but not for routine testing - especially if it is not standardized, and in the hands of operators of questionable skills.
Some of the concerns listed above were recently addressed by a Portuguese court. A second one is in progress in Germany (**).
Based on the above considerations, my subjective perception of the risk of Covid-19 is much lower than that of the general public.
At this point you may rightfully ask, if the reporting exaggerates the real danger, then why are so many people dying and why are hospitals having capacity issues. These are very good questions, which I’ll address in Section F.
D. Objective Risks From Vaccines
The biggest objective risk of Covid-19 vaccines comes from being developed with new technologies. One of the new technologies is mRNA, which is being used for Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Curevac vaccines. Another technology is virus vector, which is being used for the AstraZeneca/Oxford/Vexitech and the Russian Sputnik vaccines. mRNA technology have been around for more than 15 years, and has focussed on AIDS treatment, but without much success. Its lack of long term human safety data has prevented its use in human vaccines - until Covid-19 was made out to be such a big hazard.
Until now it has always taken 8-10 years to develop a new vaccine. But the new Covid-19 vaccines are being developed in just 1-2 years. Two of the approaches used to accomplish this are: a reduction in safety testing requirements, and telescoping the clinical studies (running them somewhat parallel, which entails taking risks). Additionally, the definition of
It is especially troubling because although the mRNA technology has been around for a while, its use in human vaccines have not been allowed because of well-founded concerns. So far, mRNA technology has been used in livestock vaccines only. Unfortunately, data from livestock use are useless. Firstly, livestock are not meant to live long – and therefore, cannot provide long term safety data. More importantly, it is universally recognized that animal safety data is only an indicator and can not predict safety in humans.
There are a lot of concerns about potential safety of the new vaccines. For example, the danger of adverse auto-immune disorder when a vaccinated person is confronted with the real "wild" virus (the new technologies, as opposed to the older ones, do not expose the body to a real, albeit weakened, virus). Such auto-immune disorder was observed in an animal study with the vector vaccine from AstraZeneca/Oxford. Other concerns include ADE (antibody-dependent amplification), immune reaction against syncytin-1, side reactions of the nano lipid carrier, etc. And in this video, Dr. Sherri Tenpenny lists 7 possible adverse effects (talk starts at 26:05 minutes) that can be triggered by a vaccine based on mRNA technology. The burden of proof that the vaccine does not cause these adverse effects is on the vaccine manufacturers, but they have failed to provide them. Such evidence takes time. There is a reason, why vaccine development has taken 8-10 years (except for a single case where it took 4.5 years).
What are the benefits of the vaccine? From what I can tell (Chapter 8, Pfizer clinical study protocol), they have defined efficacy as a reduction in symptoms, and not as immunity (e.g. protection from getting the disease), or sterile immunity (e.g. preventing spread through a sick person). Maybe, the vaccines will provide immunity - but the studies have not been designed to capture this. That's probably because that would have taken significantly more time. But without immunity and sterile immunity, the vaccines will not contribute to herd immunity. A recent opinion piece published in the British Medical Journal has a detailed list of concerns about the credibility of Pfizer's and Moderna's efficacy claims.
Another British Medical Journal article states that "None of the trials currently under way are designed to detect a reduction in any serious outcome such as hospital admissions, use of intensive care, or deaths. Nor are the vaccines being studied to determine whether they can interrupt transmission of the virus."
There is already one iron-clad immunity though. And that is the total immunity of the pharmaceutical companies from any liabilities stemming from adverse effects caused by their vaccines that lack long term safety data. Details of this outrageous deal is explained by Prof. Mary Holland in this video (starting at 15:45 minutes). Ain't life sweet for Big Pharma!
I wonder how many people who are getting the Pfizer vaccine realize that the vaccine's clinical study is expected to be concluded in January 2023. Thant means they are all participating in a post marketing clinical study!
Considering the above, the objective risk from the Covid vaccine is high (while providing moderate benefits).
E. Subjective Perception of Risks From Vaccines
There are several additional issues that make me uncomfortable about Covid vaccines. They belong rightfully in the subjective perception category.
E1) Almost all previous vaccines needed 8-10 years to be developed. And in one case (AIDS virus) scientists have not found a vaccine even after 30+ years. How is it then, that right at the beginning of the pandemic, governments in several countries had stated that we’ll get back to normal only after there will be a vaccine against Covid-19? What did they know that we do not know?
E2) Why is the public being led to believe that the mere presence of even fragments of a dead virus, identified with a test method that is neither standardized, nor approved for diagnosis, is the same thing as having the disease?
E3) Why have all Covid death projections been higher by a factor of 100 – 1,000 than what actually ended up happening?
E4) Why did, several years ago, WHO remove “mortality” as one of the criteria from the definition of a pandemic?
E5) Why has WHO recently modified the definition of Herd Immunity by removing "immunity developed through previous infection" as one of two ways of getting there, and retained vaccination as the only pathway? (see WHO definition from June 9, 2020 vs. now)
Here, some might be thinking of the C-word. But what I am doing is listing some verifiable observations and asking questions (call them “yarns”). What cloth you, dear reader, weave or not weave out of these strands is up to you.
Considering the above, is it any wonder that my subjective perception of risk from Covid-19 vaccines is high?
F. Why Are So many People Dying From Covid?
When I share the above thoughts, I am usually asked two questions; both are very valid. If the perception of danger from Covid-19 is exaggerated, then why are so many people dying? And isn’t Covid-19 putting our hospitals under immense stress?
The number of deaths ascribed to Covid-19 is indeed huge – 1,635,600 worldwide, of which 309,101 in the USA (as of December 15, 2020, according to Worldometer). But the death is not equally distributed. Before explaining what I mean, I’ll make the provocative statement that viruses do not kill people – rather it initiates a cascade of events that can (but must not) ultimately kill a person. For example, the AIDS virus compromises the immune system of the patient. But the patient usually dies from physiological malfunction which can come from many other sources.
Going back to the cascade of events, one leg of the cascade is determined by the patient himself (age, comorbidities, immune system, etc.). The other leg is influenced by external factors (type and time of medical interventions, etc.). Both legs can, and do, determine whether a patient will die. The possible magnitude of impact of external factors dawned on me when I compared Covid-19 death rates in different countries, which are available on the Worldometer website.
It was my intention to make it a layman's piece, and not include too much technical info and data. But I find the following data so stunning that I am making an exception. That's because simple sloppiness of data, which is a very valid concern with this pandemic, cannot explain away these differences.
According to the data (e.g., deaths per million population) the Covid-19 death rate in the USA is 4.4 times higher than the world average. And if compared with some individual countries then the US rate is
3 times higher (vs. Germany)
77 times higher (vs. Cuba)
310 times higher (vs. China)
2,327 times higher (vs. Vietnam)
3,100 times higher (vs. Taiwan)
This spread is astounding! If it makes you feel better, there are several other countries whose mortality rate is even higher than that of USA. Prominent among them are Belgium, Italy, Spain, etc. You can check them out on the Worldometer website.
I understand that the number of reported Covid-19 deaths are not very accurate, and that for a variety of reasons. But that alone cannot explain a 3,000x spread in death rates. This leads me to suspect that other factors, that are unrelated to the inherent lethality of the SARS-COV-2 virus, are at play. Some of them, in no particular order, could be – access to healthcare, socioeconomic inequalities, population-level clinical risk profile (e.g. lifestyle, exposure to pathogens, etc.), quality of public health, healthcare infrastructure, demography, societal and political norms and structures, rate of institutionalization, etc.
Since viruses do mutate for a living, that could explain part of the mystery. It has been proposed that Europe is dealing with a Spanish strain that is different from the original Wuhan strain (see starting at 26:30 min in this video). Maybe we'll learn more soon, considering that more than 100 scientific papers being published on all aspects of SARS-COV-2 every day (at 1:02:00 in this video).
Another conclusion from the above data is that, if the USA had the same mortality rate as some other countries, then the total deaths from Covid-19 in the USA, instead of being 309,101, would be
92,000 (at the rate of Germany)
4,000 (at the rate of Cuba)
1,000 (at the rate of China)
132 (at the rate of Vietnam)
100 (at the rate of Taiwan)
So, why this mad rush to vaccines without even trying to identify other causes that could potentially have a much bigger impact on the number of deaths? I understand that some of these factors cannot be changed in this country quickly, and some maybe not at all. Nevertheless, an understanding of what they are, is essential for effectively addressing this pandemic. But that's not happening.
Sometimes it is useful to think in terms of analogy. Imagine that in Country A, the likelihood of dying from a gunshot wound is 3,000x greater than in Country B. Should Country A mandate that everyone in Country A must wear a full body armor made from depleted uranium (without having tested long-term radiological, ergonomic and societal impacts)? Or should Country A first study why there is such a discrepancy in mortality rate? Pushing for vaccination with an experimental product as the solution to Covid-19 is akin to mandating that everyone in country A must wear a full body armor made from depleted uranium!
Another analogy is that of preparing for a road trip to a remote destination. Instead of ensuring an adequate supply of gasoline and checking the engine and the brakes, we are changing tires, made with a new technology, that has no long term safety record. Here too, by mandating experimental vaccines we are changing tires while the problem lies with the engine.
The other question I am asked is about the stress Covid-19 pandemic is putting on our hospital bed capacity. A quick search makes me wonder if that is true. See data from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They publish hospital utilization rates (including hospital beds) nationwide and statewide. The nationwide utilization rates for December 15, 2020, are
Impatient beds occupied (by all patients): 74%
Impatient beds occupied (by Covid-19 patients): 16%
ICU beds occupied (by all patients): 64%
I have no idea if a utilization rate of 65-75% is alarmingly high – maybe it is. But if so, then the main culprit is not Covid-19 patients who use up only 16% of the beds. Rather, the problem is a drastic and continuous reduction in the number of hospital beds that has been going on for many decades. Per capita hospital bed capacity in the USA has supposedly decreased by 60% since 1975 (see video starting at 6:27 minutes). Here again, it looks like we are looking at the wrong causes to solve the problem.
Considering all these, it is long past due to critically review our current pandemic approaches - which are a single-minded focus on (untested) vaccines and blanket lockdowns. Yes, lockdowns are essential to "flatten the curve". But lockdown is not the "tool", rather it creates the time and space for the implementation of the real and effective tools against a pandemic. (See PPS dated April 30 for anecdotal evidence). What are those effective tools? Just go and check with a few countries with the least mortality per million. But anyone proposing such a thing might as well commit professional suicide. Thanks god, I am retired :-)
And then, here is a recently published study in Nature, based on a sample size of almost 10 million Wuhan residents, that concludes that asymptomatic Covid-19 patients DO NOT transmit the disease. See also a JAMA publication (PPS dated April 3, 2021). Accordingly, Covid-19 should be no different than other respiratory tract infectious diseases like influenza, where the scientific consensus is that masking and quarantine is recommended only for symptomatic patients, coupled with frequent hand washing.
All these raise a lot of questions about the justification of blanket lockdown measures, including widespread masking. Shouldn't only the symptomatic patients be under lockdown? I also wonder why this mad rush to vaccines, which are actually experimental gene therapies.
G. To Get Vaccinated Or Not to Get Vaccinated?
Now to the original question. I consider my risks from Covid-19 to be medium. That requires action. But if I take a vaccine then the risks will increase!
Only data, and not mere assurances from pharmaceutical companies, the media, the government, the politicians, and even regulatory authorities will convince me that my concerns are not valid. All of them have long lost their "Just Trust Me" privilege long ago!
Therefore, my mitigation strategy for lowering the risks is to continue to:
avoid crowded indoor spaces
wash hands frequently
get plenty of exercise, especially outdoors, and in the sun
eat a healthy diet and consider taking immune boosters
wear a mask but minimize its use (indoors and only where enforced)
My decision not to get vaccinated is not an easy one. But I do not see any rationale for ignoring risks from the vaccine either. Ask yourself - would you get a cat that does not catch any mice but might give you rabies? ("cat = vaccine", "catching mice = giving immunity and sterile immunity", and "rabies = long term adverse effects"). I am perfectly aware that by acting according to my conclusions, I could get Covid-19, and even die from it. That's because no risk analysis is perfect, and because even the best statistics can have outliers. Call it God's will or kismet, but there is no elixir against becoming an outlier. But to act contrary to my conclusions would be an emotional, rather than a rational decision.
Therefore, I'll wait and see how things develop, especially statistics on excess death, the nature and extent of severe long term complications, and emerging and long-term vaccine safety. In the meantime, I am happy to allow others to generate the missing safety data :-)
- - -
PS: This is not a rigorous risks/benefits analysis for getting vaccinated or not. That's because as I started exploring the issues, I was stunned by the gulf between what most people think the risks and rewards are and the reality. As a result, exploring the root causes of the disconnect became a more interesting endeavor. This disconnect dramatically influences people's decision to get vaccinated or not. But much more importantly, the root causes of this disconnect are frustrating the management of the pandemic with tragic results. Therefore, a more appropriate heading could have been "How to Fail Managing Covid-19". Sounds too harsh? Consider the following:
1) Thanks to our media and authorities, many/most people do not realize that
- PCR, the most important and the most widely used test method (the data from which are used to make the most significant pandemic decisions), is not standardized! See here, here and here. I was stunned at the lack of standardization of the PCR test - it is unheard of. Dr. David Resnik lays out in this video (starts at 1:19:00 minutes) why no standardization was possible.
- the PCR test is not an approved device for diagnosing a disease called Covid-19; rather it identifies a virus called SARS-COV-2
- more accurately, the PCR test identifies proteins that are characteristic of the virus, or its fragments, independent of whether it is alive/active or dead, and even when the level is too low to be of concern (see here)
- the published number of "Covid cases" are not the number of sick people - that's because the term "case" is being misused to equate with "PCR positives"
- therefore, the vaccines are not expected to contribute to herd immunity
- any scientist or engineer worth his mettle knows that data used to make decisions must be generated with a test method that is relevant, standardized and validated. PCR test method fails in all three criteria. It diagnoses neither the disease Covid-19, nor an infection; its most important parameter (count threshold) has not been agreed upon; and it has not been validated for the purpose it is being used. This is simply unbelievable!
2) Several years ago, the definition of a pandemic was changed by WHO to exclude mortality as a criterion, and that without any explanation
3) In the USA, the number of hospital beds per capita has decreased by 60% since 1975
4) The likelihood of an American of dying from Covid-19 is 4.4 times higher than the world average, and much higher than most other countries. It is 3,100 times higher than in Taiwan
5) Even though available data suggest that the dramatically higher Covid-19 mortality rate in the USA could be driven by factors unrelated to the virus’s lethality, there has been no attempts to identify the factors, let alone address them
6) Similarly, even though available data suggest that the dramatically higher Covid-19 mortality rate in the USA could be driven by factors unrelated to the virus’s lethality, there has been a strange and exclusive focus on vaccines from the very beginning
7) Even though previously it took 8-10 years to develop a new vaccine (with one exception), and although a vaccine for the AIDS virus remains elusive even after 30+ years, governments of several countries had declared right at the beginning of the pandemic that people will have to live under emergency conditions until a vaccine will be available
8) The requirements for demonstrating the safety of new Covid-19 vaccines have been dramatically watered down, even though these vaccines are based on technologies which have no long term human safety data
9) The way the pandemic is being covered in the media, has made science a casualty of this pandemic. Controversy is the lifeblood of scientific progress. But that is done best within the scientific community, and not in the public, especially if the dominant media censure views that don't support a certain narrative. There are plenty of examples of reputable experts being blocked from having a public presence. That could be topic of another piece.
All I am doing here, dear readers, is to provide some verifiable dots. How you connect them, or not, is entirely your choice :-) If there are some more dots that I am unaware of, please do let me know and I'll include them here.
Dec 22, 2020: You may have noticed my lack of trust in the corporate media. Here is just one recent example. You have certainly read sensational headlines about a newly mutated, highly contagious SARS-COV-2 virus in the UK. The problem is that mutations are a natural way of life for all viruses. If we ever found a virus that does not mutate then that would be a sensational news. A worthwhile news would be if a mutated virus is found to be more lethal. And the mere fact that a virus has mutated is a no-news. And yet, the media are setting people in panic by reporting no-news as sensational news. Is it incompetent or intention? You decide. Check out this video from a Columbia University medical school professor on virus mutation.
Dec. 26, 2020: Here is a game theory approach to a risk/benefit analysis for getting vaccinated or not (Nash equilibrium). Game theory, unlike traditional statistical analysis, incorporates people's behavior in a dynamic situation. This video is only a demonstration of the approach. Relevant parameters for Covid-19 are not known yet.
Dec. 28, 2020:
Prof. Wolf-Dieter Ludwig, head of the drug commission of German physicians, and a member of the management board of the European Medicine Agency EMA (EU equivalent of FDA in the USA), would not personally take the Pfizer vaccine because of its lack of long term safety data. As for his patients in their 80's, especially those with comorbidities, his recommendation depends on individual situations (see video in German)
Prof. Hockertz, a past director of institute for experimental toxicology and clinical toxicology at University of Hamburg Eppendorf, and a past member of the directorate of Fraunhofer Institutes for Toxicology and Environmental Medicine in Hannover, asserts that there is little toxicological and pharmacological data on the Pfizer vaccine. Those were supposed to have been collected during phase 1 and 2 preclinical studies. He also points out that Swissmedic (the Swiss equivalent of EMA) has recently concluded that the Pfizer vaccine submission package lacks evidence of safety, efficacy and quality! Swissmedic is independent of EMA (see video in German)
Apr. 3, 2021:
A meta analysis of 54 studies with 77,758 participants concludes that household secondary infection from asymptomatic Covid-19 patients lies at 0.7% (95% confidence limit 0%-4.9%)
Apr. 4, 2021:
A letter from a group of prominent European physicians and scientists (including Prof. Bhakdi, Dr. Wodarg, and Dr. Yeadon) to the Executive Director of European Medicines Agency (and copied to the President of the Council of Europe and President of the European Commission) lists 7 specific adverse effects expected from mRNA based "vaccines", and asks for evidence of animal studies from which it can be concluded that these effects can be ruled out in humans. They also point out that absent such data the use of such "vaccines" constitutes "human experimentation", and as such violates the Nuremberg Code. This letter is endorsed by 89 prominent scientists in related fields and physicians from all over the world.
Three very relevant interviews are included in this long video (in German)
- Dr. Wodarg explains (starts at 0:32:0 minutes) the mechanism of blood clotting caused by the spike proteins (created
by the "vaccine" in the blood stream) and by the lipid nanoparticles (used to protect the RNA in the "vaccines"). He
also explains the subsequent serious physiological harms.
- Dr. Bhakdi further elaborates on the above issues (starts at 2:14:00 minutes).
- Mathematics Prof. Stephan Luckhaus explains (starts at 1:10:00) how the data being used to justify pandemic
measures in Germany are erroneous. He also concludes that the available data suggest that the mortality of (older)
people is higher than that of comparable groups that have not been "vaccinated". On December 6, 2020 Prof.
Luckhaus resigned from Leopoldina (German Academy of Sciences) in protest against its continued flawed
recommendations on pandemic measures to the German government. One of Leopoldina's missions is to provide
science based policy recommendations to the German government on various issues of national interest.
Apr. 30, 2021
Recently several US states have significantly reduced lockdown mandates. It is said that none of them experienced any significant increase in Covid-19 deaths. But instead of using these states as an evidence, I feel more comfortable comparing Minnesota and Wisconsin. These are two neighboring states with very similar size, population, demography, climate, etc. MN has 5.6 million and WI 5.8 million inhabitants. MN has 68 inhabitants per sq. mile vs 108 in WI. But MN had significantly tougher lockdown measures than WI. In MN, where I live, gyms and restaurants were closed for extended periods of time, among other things. As a result, many Minnesotans, including us, regularly crossed the border to use these amenities in WI. But according to Worldometer website, as of April 30, MN has 1,278 Covid-19 deaths per million, whereas WI has 1,170! And that even though MN has a better health care system.
READING LIKE A DRUNKEN SAILOR November 2020
"Why do you read?" is an unusual question. But that's what my friend had asked me; he didn't ask me the usual "what are you reading now?". That got me thinking, and realized that there is a third question that could be asked about reading. In other words, the three questions that could be asked about reading are "why", "what" and "how".
Let's start with the "why". I read for three reasons, which is probably true for most of you. I read to gain skills – both for professional and personal reason. Then I read to remain informed about what's going on around me. And finally, I read as a muse - just for pleasure, expecting no practical return whatsoever. It is the third kind that interests me most.
Reading of the first kind is what I used to do almost exclusively during my education and during my professional career. Now that I am retired, I have no interest whatsoever in such reading. Unlike most of my former colleagues, who do teaching and consulting after retirement, one of my goals has always been to stay away from activities related to my profession in retirement. It is unusual but may have to do with how I had come to chose my profession – accidentally! Therefore, I do not do any reading of the this kind anymore.
Reading of the second kind interests me very much. Here the aim is to deconstruct the matrix we live in, or pierce the simulacrum, if you will. This can only be done with targeted and deliberate reading. Otherwise, as my favorite American author Mark Twain had said, "If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you're un-informed". But that’s a whole different story, for a different time.
But my favorite kind of reading is of the third kind – just for muse. I tend to live by the adage that there is nothing more pleasurable than to curl up with a book, especially when so much needs to be done around the house! But joke aside, one of my fond childhood memories is of reading. I remember how, at the beginning of each summer break, my mother would take me to a bookstore. I don’t remember the name of the store, but it was in the then premier shopping center New Market, near Azimpur in Dhaka. There, I’d browse the children’s section and pick up whatever I wanted to read during the long summer break. Then, happy with my booty, we’d go to the neighboring bakery store. There, I’d eat a cool, crispy cream roll, and sip ice-cold Coca Cola. To make it perfect, the Coca Cola came in one of those small, iconic glass bottles, fresh out of a cooler – with small droplets of water condensing on its surface in the high humidity summer of Dhaka.
Then I encountered life – first formal education and then real life. Less and less time remained for pleasurable reading. My high school curriculum in Bangladesh was overly technical, which I took rather seriously. I had little curiosity for most things outside the bubble, including pleasurable reading. Then came an overly technical education in Germany with no liberal arts requirement during entire undergrad and masters courses! One exception was Marxism-Leninism, which was optional. Regrettably, I did not take advantage of it. And Ph.D. comprised entirely of independent research with no requirement for taking any class whatsoever - not even science classes! Today, this has changed (in Germany) due to EU harmonization.
Things didn't get better as I started working. Besides having to focus on my professional career, and raising a family, I had to cope with two immigrations to two different continents! No wonder that one day I realized that I had become a Fachidiot! To explain - Fachidiot is a compound German word consisting of two words: Fach, meaning technical subject matter, and Idiot, which requires no translation. I also realized how much I had been missing reading for pleasure.
So, I planned to kill two bird with one stone. Why not make reading for pleasure also a remedial course for recovering Fachidiots? In practical terms, that meant reading things that I have missed out in my one-sided education - which is practically everything outside of my technical field. Then I added a drunken sailor in the picture - meaning jumping from topic to topic randomly. (BTW, there is such a random sailor approach in polymer science to estimate the structure of polymer chains. But let's not geo there). I started reading randomly - anything from fiction, history, philosophy, (geo)politics, (auto)biography, psychology, anthropology and what not. The only condition is that the book
1. cannot be on any recent list - bestseller, book club, pundit recommendation, etc.
2. was published at least 20 years ago, preferably even earlier
3. is not of self-help or how-to type, and
4. has nothing to do with my training or profession
Then allow for an occasional violation of the first two rules and you are all set!
Idiosyncratic? May be; but I am in good company. for example, Haruki Murakami speaks from my heart when he says that “if you only read the books that everyone else is reading, then you can only think what everyone else is thinking”. What a nightmare! I am also with Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who predicts that "the show running the longest on Broadway is more likely to outlast the younger ones". That speaks to my rule #2. This rule weeds out books with a poor signal to noise ratio. What is interesting is that I found out about these two quotes long after I had made up my rules. Ah, don't they say that great minds think alike?
WORDS OF WISDOM TO LIVE BY July 2020
Grown on my own muck (literal translation of Auf eigenem Mist gewachsen)
1. Wisdom, at its core, is pattern recognition. Knowledge and experience are merely the data.
2. To be wise, you don't have to be right all the time. You don't even have to be right most of the time. All you have to do is to be right more often than others.
3. Think radically, speak moderately, and act rationally.
4. Being fooled is entirely a voluntary act.
5. Don’t end up being like everyone else even before you are dead.
6. All human activities, including altruistic ones, are driven by self-interest. The difference lies in the definition of self.
7. Your life is a self-portrait painted with strokes of every decision ever taken. Make it a colorful one – use a palette less chosen.
8. Decision is the mother of all actions – even the ones not ventured.
9. The first step in overcoming any adversity is to stop considering yourself a victim. A victim, by definition, is powerless.
10. Intellectual greatness is elusive in the contemporary because it requires both being right and popular.
11. If "War is the continuation of politics by other means" (Claus von Clausewitz), then politics is the continuation of finance by other means.
12. The road to hell is paved with successive, unconditional, votes for the lesser evil.
13. Make change in plan part of your plan.
14. You can use adversity as an excuse or as a challenge to excel.
15. True friendship is nurtured by emotional and intellectual compatibility - and not merely by a shared experience.
16. The road to hell is paved with many bricks of "lesser of two evils".
1. "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." - Mark Twain
2. "It is easier to fool a man than to convince him that he has been fooled.” – Mark Twain
3. “Before you criticize someone else, first put yourself in his shoes. That way, if he gets mad, then he’ll have to chase you barefoot.” - anonymous
4. "Everything we call real is made up of things that cannot be regarded as real.” – Niels Bohr, a founding father of quantum physics
5. “The expert you want to consult is not the one who knows all the rules, but the one who knows the exceptions.” – anonymous
6. “What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”. - Christopher Hitchens
7. “Everything the State says is a lie, and everything it has, it has stolen.” - Friedrich Nietzsche
8. “You can’t connect dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backward.” – Steve Jobs at 2005 Stanford commencement speech
9. “Everything the Soviet government told us about our country was wrong, but everything they said about the west was right.” – popular saying in contemporary Russia
10. "All models are wrong, but some are useful." - George E. P. Box
12. "In the long run, luck prefers the one who is more capable." - Prof. Dr. J. Fuhrmann, my Doktorvater (Auf die Dauer Glück hat nur der Tüchtigere)
13. "The United States its also a one-party state but, with typical American extravagance, they have two of them." - Julius Nyerere (1922-1999), President of Tanzania
14. "One cannot do everything at the same time, but one can stop doing everything at the same time." J. Spennhof, my onetime 3M colleague (Man kann nicht alles auf einmal tun aber man kann alles auf einmal lassen)
15. "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." - Sigmund Freud
16. "The self does not know anything except its own feelings, and while projecting these feelings it creates its own world." Nikolai Kulbin
17. "Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation." - Oscar Wilde
18. "The idealists and materialists see the possibility of change only through revolutions, while realists say that real change only happens through gradual evolution.” - Dmitry Mendeleyev
19. "Property is theft" - Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
20. "War is when your Government tells you who the enemy is, Revolution is when you figure it out for yourselves" ..... "In America, war is a business, and business is war." - Eamon MCKinney
21. "It takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently.” - Dostoevsky
BAD WATER ALONG THE SCENIC ROUTE March 2020
It was not exactly a warm welcome, and it was pretty clear that I ignore the warning at my own peril. What else could I do but suffer through? Not a good omen, I thought. Then followed a couple of inconvenient days, and I tripled my German vocabulary. Not making much sense? Let me start from the beginning.
It was many years ago. Bangladesh had barely emerged from a bloody war of independence, and I had freshly graduated from the former Momenshahi Cadet College. The times were uncertain. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the President and Father of the Nation, had been assassinated in a military coup, together with most of his immediate family. Just a month later, I was on an Interflug turboprop headed for Berlin. The decision was surprising and abrupt. My parents did not agree, and yet they let me go.
It was my first flight ever, and my first journey abroad. As if that were not enough, I was traveling to a country where I did not know anyone and the language of which I did not speak. But I was well prepared. My mother had packed a small suitcase with things I might need. And I had tucked away US$50 in a bag tied around my chest. It was my emergency fund. Quite audacious considering that I have never been adventurous. And yet, looking back, I recall no fear, doubt or apprehension. Youth, lacking life’s experience, must resort to ignorance; sometimes it works out.
Traveling abroad was still a novelty. That meant a festive farewell at the airport. My extended family had gathered at Tejgaon International airport. They bade me goodbye with much fanfare. After the formalities, I walked out on the tarmac to the plane. On my way, I looked back. I saw my family waving at me from the rooftop visitor platform. I remember it was a beautiful, sunny September day. But I do not remember being aware of my mother’s grief. Who can tell whether that was a failing on my part or a blessing?
I climbed up the roll-on gangway into the plane, found my seat, and buckled up, waiting impatiently for my maiden flight. Finally, we took off. I was mesmerized by the view. First the airport, then the city, and finally the country of my birth become smaller and smaller, and then disappeared altogether. All the while, I remained blissfully unaware that once you step out of a stream, you can never return to the same stream again.
Memories of the flight are sketchy now. But I remember the breathtaking view of the Hindukush Mountains in the warm glow of a late afternoon sun. Our first stopover was in Tashkent. As the plane refueled, we had snacks in the lounge. That's where I got my first culture shock - I could eat as much grapes as I wished. Until then, grapes generally went with being sick, especially if you are severely sick. Grapes do not grow in Bangladesh and must be imported. They were expensive. I suppose that’s why grapes had a special healing power. Things may be different today. I haven’t been to Bangladesh since 2000.
The next stop was Moscow – Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport. We arrived shortly after midnight. I had to wait for the connecting flight in a quiet and deserted transit hall. Suddenly, chatter and laughter woke me from my stupor. A group of middle-aged cleaning women had arrived. It may sound trivial, but I was struck by their portliness. Women in Bangladesh are small statured and lean, especially those, who do menial work. Clearly, from now on, different rules will apply. A harbinger of new things to come?
Then another long flight to Berlin - this time with Aeroflot. We arrived in Berlin at the crack of dawn, Berlin Schönefeld to be exact. By that time, everything was a blur. I vaguely remember someone from Herder Institut taking care of immigration formalities. I was going to learn German language at Herder Institut in Leipzig, and then go on to study chemistry on a scholarship. Both decisions – to study chemistry and to go to East Germany – were abrupt and unusual. Just a month earlier I had other plans. But life would be so much duller if it always followed a well laid plan.
The last leg of the voyage was a long train journey from Berlin to Leipzig. A Bangladeshi student, who had come to study the previous year, came to accompany me. We took a train and rode on for many more hours. Bleary eyed, I watched the landscape pass by the window – a gray countryside interrupted by small towns; occasionally stopping at a somber and deserted train station.
Finally, we reached Leipzig. The senior student dropped me off at the dormitory of Herder Institut. Then he left for Halle, the neighboring city where he attended college. The long journey and the jet lag had taken a toll on my energy. I was happy to finally settle down and rest. Then I saw the ominous sign.
It was the sign on the door of the dorm’s bathroom. It showed a running showerhead, with the word "Bad" scrawled on it by someone. Obviously, something was not right. May be the water quality was not good, and should not be used?
The ominous sign
But I couldn't ask anyone because the semester hadn’t started yet, and few students were around. Besides, they wouldn’t have spoken English, and I spoke neither German nor Russian (which was theirobligatory foreign language). Fortunately, I spotted another dorm across the cobblestoned street. I collected my towels and cosmetics, walked across the street and used that facility. This became my awkward routine for the next few days. Every day I was glad that winter had not arrived yet; all the while wondering when anybody was going to take care of things.
On the third day, the senior Bangladeshi student came back to check out how I was doing. I explained my misery, and he burst out laughing. Then I got my first lesson in German language. It came in three parts. First, "Bad" means bath in German. Second, Bad's grammatical gender is neuter and therefore its definite article is "das". And the final one was a stern advice from him never to learn a German noun without its gender. Then and there, and even before my language course had begun, I tripled my German vocabulary. Until then, the single German word I knew was Achtung - thanks to dog-eared, WWII comic books I used to buy at Sakura Market (does it still exist, across from Hotel Intercontinental?) Now I also knew Bad and das!
Soon afterwards, my German class began at Herder Institut. That was an amazing experience. I learned the language in complete immersion. Not a single explanation was ever given in any language other than German. More than four decades later, I still remember the first two German sentences I had learned on the very first day: "Ich bin Frau Lehmann. Ich bin ihre Lehrerin" ("I am Mrs. Lehman. I am your teacher"). I can vividly see a middle aged woman standing in front of the blackboard, with those two sentences written on it. She repeated them over and over, while gesticulating to herself, until we understood that she is Mrs. Lehmann and she is our teacher. She was helped by Fräulein Frankenberg, a teacher-in-training. The duo took charge of our class of 11 students from seven countries. Most of them had some prior German. Two of them were even conversationally fluent. Over two semesters we learned and practiced all aspects of German together - speaking, pronunciation, written and verbal comprehension, composition, dictation, note taking, grammar, you name it. And after two semesters, when I moved to Merseburg to commence my studies at the university, I was perfectly prepared. To top it off, I even tested out from having to take an additional, two semester long advanced German course that is required for all foreign students!
First winter in Germany
Fichtelberg, Thuringia, in the former East Germany (December 1975)
Seminargruppe Chemie 76/11
First semester at TH Leuna-Merseburg
Looking back at that first year in Leipzig, when I learned German, I remember it as was one of the most delightful experiences in my life. Suddenly, I was in a country whose language I did not speak, surrounded by a culture I did not know. I found myself in an opaque world. But with every new word I learned, and every idiom I understood, bit by bit, little pieces of a veil continued to fall. Each day, as I walked around in the city, I deciphered another signpost. As I looked out while riding a tram, I understood another nugget from a billboard on Hotel Astoria next to Leipzig Hauptbahnhof. Sometimes, it was part of a political slogan that I tried to decode. With every improvement in my comprehension, I could catch more bits and pieces of conversations of fellow commuters speaking in their colloquial tongue. The experience was like moving gradually from deafness to hearing, from incomprehension to comprehension, and ultimately from darkness to light. I do not know anyone who was cured of blindness. But that is the closest analogy I can come up with. How I wish I could repeat this experience again. But globalization and the Internet have made it difficult to find such secluded and opaque environments. I have become even more comfortable with time.
That was two score and five years ago. Much water has flown down the Ganges since - I am tempted to say – ignoring Strunk and White’s advice not to strain the readers’ power of mental math or to overuse figures of speech. By now I have been living in Minnesota for almost three decades. Count to that another 17 meandering years through Europe. I have studied, worked and lived on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Along the way, I have experienced new cultures, lived life under different rules, and broadened my perspective.
Now after the fact, it would be disingenuous to pretend that I had a deliberate plan. I did not. I have always been a consummate homebody, But the line between free will and destiny is hazier than one would like to believe. So is life. My life’s path along the scenic route has enriched me in ways that no money can buy. I would not trade them for anything.
Latest winter in USA
Yellowstone National Park, WY (March 2020)
As I was making those important life’s choices, I didn’t know about Robert Frost, let alone his poem. Today, all I can say is, how correct he was, and how blessed I am!
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY (or is it?) February, 2019
“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise”. “A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush”. “Honesty is the best policy”. These are some of the idioms we children were taught as we were growing up in Bangladesh. But one day, my grandfather told me that honesty is not the best policy. He did so in such a convincing way that I could not disagree. Ever since, my life has not been the same again ….
Relax, he did not lead me astray – neither was he a characterless man. In fact, he was a distinguished educator. He was a longtime principal of Dhaka College - a premier educational institute in East Pakistan (later Bangladesh). A generation ago, it was difficult to meet a successful professional or administrator in the country who did not revere him as a teacher.
Unfortunately, I did not know him very closely. That was partly because I was just one of his 22 grandkids (which later grew to 29). It did not help that I was a child of one of his eight daughters, rather than of one of his three sons. Such small differences do matter in South Asian culture. It certainly did back then. But it was also because I had left home early to attend a distant, residential school, from which I came home only twice a year. And right after graduating, I had left Bangladesh – never to see him again. Only as an adult, and long after he was gone, did I understand the magnitude of my loss, seen interestingly, primarily from an intellectual perspective. He had graduated at the very top in English literature in entire Bengal during the British rule in India and was awarded a gold medal for the distinction. In his professional career, he was a legendary teacher and administrator. But most admirably for me, he was an outspoken clear thinker. This made him very popular with his students, but less so with his superiors.
Anyway, for me and my cousins, a frequent reason for interacting with him was to be stand-ins for his card playing friends. Card playing was one if his passions, and whenever his friends did not show up, he would commission one or more of us to play with him. In return, he would entertain us with English literature, which was another of his passions. He would recite long Shakespeare verses or other English poems from memory and then analyze and explain the plots of romance and chivalry. Then, with the cards in his hands, the almost spent cigarette dangling between his lips, and his eyes fixed on us over his thick reading glasses, he would explain why the author has used a certain phrase or a word, not another, and how the difference matters. Other times he’d pick some English word, phrase or idiom, and explain what it meant.
On one such occasion he challenged the notion that honesty is the best policy. His contention was that policy is subject to expediency, and as such negotiable, but honesty should not be. Therefore, honesty ought to be a principle rather than a mere policy. The implied lesson was that we should never take any statement on its face value. Instead, irrespective of how widespread and accepted that statement is, we should always apply our critical thinking. I remember having found this very convincing, but then forgot all about the conversation.
Fast forward more than four decades. It is a crispy, sunny Minnesota autumn morning. I am raking the freshly fallen autumn leaves on the front yard. On such occasions, when engaged in a routine, mindless activity, my mind wanders. Sometimes, it wanders to connect dots of all sorts that are not obvious. I can easily trace the origin of a few of my patent ideas to exactly such a state of mind. But on this occasion, it occurred to me that I tend to take conventional wisdoms and put them on their head in order to scrutinize their validity. This is the habit of a contrarian - that of asking both “why” and “why not”. Professionally, this mindset has helped me tremendously, for example, by helping me come up with unobvious solutions to problems in technology development. But this is also a great tool for cutting through the spin, manipulation and propaganda that has become so pervasive in the world we live in.
Then came the aha moment. Suddenly I remembered that short conversation with my grandfather held more than four decades ago. A conversation held between two hands of cards. He had taken a conventional wisdom and challenged its validity. It is one of my life's regrets not to have had the opportunity to get to know him better....
BAD WATER IN GERMANY (or how I tripled my German vocabulary) December, 2018
The water was bad, but there was nobody around to explain why and how. Reluctantly, I had to stop using it. It took three days to fix the problem. By that time, I had tripled my German vocabulary. Let me start from the beginning because I don't think I am making much sense.
It was many years ago. Bangladesh had barely emerged from a bloody war of independence, and I had freshly graduated from high school. The times were uncertain. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the President and the Father of the Nation, had been assassinated in a military coup, together with most of his immediate family. Just a month later, I had boarded an Interflug turboprop machine in Dhaka, Bangladesh, heading for Berlin.
It was my first flight ever, and my first journey abroad. I was traveling to a country where I did not know anyone. This was unusual because I have never been adventurous. I am still a homebody. But I was well prepared. My mother had packed my clothing in a small suitcase, and I had US$50 in my pocket as emergency fund. I also knew the most important German word: Achtung. That came from reading WWII comics. But joke aside, and looking back, I recall neither apprehension nor fear. The youth, lacking life’s experience, must rely on ignorance. Sometimes that works.
I had boarded the plane on a sunny September afternoon. Earlier, the extended family had gathered at Dhaka’s Tejgaon international airport to see me off. The fanfare, and the novelty of my experience, had made me unaware of my mother’s grief. I do not know if that was a blessing or a curse.
The memories of the flight are hazy. I do remember the breathtaking view of the Hindukush Mountains as we flew northwest. Later, we had a brief stopover in Tashkent. As the plane refueled, we waited in a lounge, eating as much grapes as we wanted to. This was my first culture shock. Until then, eating grapes generally went with being sick. This is because grapes do not grow in Bangladesh. The imported, usually not so fresh but expensive grapes, like most non-indigenous and costly things, were thought to be especially good for you. Never mind that Bangladesh is a tropical country, where an amazing variety of delicious fruits grow. Things are different today. Thanks to globalization, grapes are not a specialty anymore.
Next stop Moscow. We arrived at Sheremetyevo International Airport at midnight to change plane. There I had my next culture shock – fortunately also a mild one. As I waited in the quiet and deserted transit hall, my attention was suddenly drawn to chatting and laughter. A group of cleaners, all middle-aged women, had come to clean the area. It may sound trivial, but I was not prepared for their corpulence. Bangladeshi women are small statured. Especially those, who do menial work, tend to be rather scrawny. Clearly, different rules apply here. This was a harbinger of things to come.
Before long, we were on our way to Berlin – Berlin Schönefeld, to be exact. By that time, everything was a blur. I vaguely remember having landed in Berlin at the crack of dawn. Someone from Herder Institut took care of the formalities. Herder Institut was the place where I was going to learn German, and then go on to study chemistry on a scholarship. Both decisions – to study chemistry and go to East Germany (or to Germany for that matter) – were unexpected and unusual. But that is a whole different story altogether.
The last leg of the expedition was a train journey from Berlin to Leipzig. That’s where Herder Institut was located. Fortunately, they had arranged for a senior Bangladeshi student, who had come to study the previous year, to accompany me. By that time, it had dawned, and I must had been observing the country through the train window. Amazingly, I have no recollection of what I had seen.
Once we reached Leipzig, the student dropped me off at the Herder Institut dormitory, and left for the neighboring town where he lived. The long journey and the jet lag had taken a toll, and I was totally exhausted. I was finally happy to settle down and rest. Then I saw the ominous sign.
- - See Newer Version here - -
It was the sign on the dorm’s bathroom door, showing a running showerhead, accompanied by the word “Bad” underneath it. Obviously, something was wrong with the water and should not be used. I couldn’t ask anyone because the semester hadn’t started yet, and few students were around. More importantly, their preferred foreign language was Russian. They didn’t speak English, and I spoke neither German nor Russian.
In my distress, I looked around and found another dorm across the street. I collected my towels and cosmetics, walked across the street and used that facility. This became my awkward and inconvenient practice for the next few days. All the while, I kept on wondering when anybody was going to fix the problem.
On the third day, the senior Bangladeshi student stopped by to find out how I was doing. I owe him my second and third German words: das Bad = the bathroom. That’s how I had tripled my German vocabulary in three days even before the language course had started.
OF SCIENCES AND ARTS November, 2018
I think everyone will agrees that sciences and arts are different. Where we may disagree is how they are different. But let’s start with the easy part. It is pretty obvious that people who do (hard) sciences and who do arts are quite different.
A typical scientist is an “aging white male with crooked teeth and messy hair; wearing a lab coat and goggles, and preferably holding an effervescent test tube.” To be honest, this is what you’ll find in Wikipedia under “mad scientist”. But who reads the fine prints anyway? We also know that scientists are nerdy and socially awkward. For them, it is a great improvement in social skills if they can bring themselves to stare at the other person’s shoes rather than at their own, when having a conversation. Fortunately, they prefer to stay in their labs and leave us in peace.
Artists, in contrast, are open-minded, expressive and flamboyant. They love to congregate with others in bistros or cafés, unless they are working on an artistic endeavor in some artists’ enclave. The more fortunate among them hobnob with the society’s culturally high-minded Who’s Who, and are celebrated by philanthropists. And the less fortunate ones, possibly even the starving ones, exude a romantic aura about them. How can their outputs not be very very different?
And to continue this line of thought …. artists have beautiful visions, and get elated by uplifting emotions - out of which they produce works of art using words, melodies, colors, sculptables, or some other media. These works of art are their way of sharing their vision and emotions with us. How creative!
How about scientists? Let’s take Einstein and Max Planck, two scientists who have developed theories of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, respectively. They each had a vision about how certain things in the nature work. Out of this vision, and with the help of logic, mathematics, etc., they have crafted a model - something that did not exist before, and which expresses their vision to everyone else. The simplicity and the elegance of their models that capture the complexity of nature is nothing short of beauty. There you have it – vision, imagination, creativity, beauty - all right there.
But is it artistic? Albert Einstein thought so: “New ideas are not generated by deduction, but by artistically creative imagination.” Yes, artistically creative imagination! And then there is the German chemist Friedrich August Kekulé, who had solved the mystery of benzene’s chemical structure after dreaming of Ouroboros – the snake consuming its own tail. How imaginative, how creative and how beautiful!
Ouroboros and benzene
No, that line of thought will not lead anywhere. The differences between sciences and arts cannot be measured by degrees of creativity and imaginative power. Both qualities are needed both in sciences and arts. Neither can they be differentiated by the scale of beauty created. Rather, the answer lies in the answer. This is not a typo – the answer lies indeed in the answer. Let me explain.
A fundamental difference between what scientists and artists do lies in the nature of the answer they seek. Scientists strive to find the simplest common answer, for example, to explain something that has caught their imagination. And the giants among them go even one step further and try to find an answer that transcends many phenomena – even attempting to find the one answer that explains everything.
In contrast, artists want to, and thrive from getting answers that are as different as possible from those of other artists.
Imagine a scientist enjoying a crimson red sky at sunset. At some point, his scientific mind will most likely try to figure out how and why the sky, the cloud and the sun appear so spectacular right now. He will try to find an answer that will not only explain this exact scene, but many similar scenarios at different times, locations, etc. Equally importantly, the success of his answer will be measured by how many other scientists agree with the answer.
Now imagine an artist in the same place. The artist’s response may be to capture the beauty as a painting, or may be in a photograph he takes, or by composing a poem, or in some other way. But for sure, his output – his answer, will be as personal and as different as possible from that of any other artist.
That’s where the real difference between sciences and arts lies. For sciences, the pinnacle of success is the single answer; as for arts it is the death knell.
If you are surprised to see science and simple being used in the same sentence, then remember what Einstein is supposed to have said: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”. But then, the least cited Einstein quote is “I never said half the crap that are attributed to me”.
BTW, if you ever thought that a scientist could not be as funny, as entertaining, as witty and as charming as anybody else, then you need to read this book about Dr. Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.
READING ENGLISH WITH CHANACHUR September, 2018
Bangladesh was still East Pakistan, and I was just a 6th grader. I recall playing endlessly with neighborhood kids on the then sprawling compounds of DIT quarters in Malibagh in Dhaka. And I recall being a bookworm - reading anything that came in my hands. I had unlimited freedom within a cage. Life was good. Sadly, all good things must come to an end.
One day, my parents decided that I needed to go to Momenshahi Cadet College - a prestigious, all-boys boarding school with strict disciplines, located outside the capital city of Dhaka.
That was a surprise. At least in my family, Cadet Colleges were thought to be educational correctional facilities for the bright but unruly boys. Many years ago, my maternal grandparents had sent their youngest to Faujdarhat Cadet College near the port city of Chittagong. But as soon as my grand parents had left my uncle there, he had bribed the guards to sneak out. He found his way back home in Chittagong - never to return. That experiment was an abject failure. But he was a rebel and I was an “exceptionally good boy” - back then, and for a long stretch afterwards. So, why me? Of course, my parents knew the difference between the uncle and the nephew. What they wanted was to sacrifice my present happiness in pursuit of happiness and success in a distant and elusive future.
Cadet Colleges were selective and had rigorous entrance exams. I was not too worried though, because I was a reasonably good student. Except for one matter. Cadet Colleges taught in English, and I went to Government Laboratory High School - a Bengali medium school. Don’t get me wrong; we had English too. But what we learned was pretty basic. I remember showing up for the final English exam wondering why a colorful umbrella was dangling from a door. Later I found out that the tough part of the exam was not to call it “a” umbrella.
The entrance exams came in due course. I took them and, to my parents’ relief, I was accepted to attend the school. But contrary to all expectations, I did surprisingly well in the English test. How? By visiting my grandparents just a few days before the tests.
My maternal grandfather was the principal of Dhaka College, and the grandparents lived in the principal’s quarters within the campus. Back then it was safe to do so. (Dhaka College was one of the premier educational institutions of the country, and my grandfather was its longtime and almost legendary principal. Back then it was rare to meet a successful academician, civil servant or professional who was not his student and did not revere him. Pursuing business as a reputable career in Bangladesh came much later. I might write more about my grandfather someday).
Anyway, my grandparents’ home functioned also as the watering hole for the entire clan. On any day of the week, in any week of the month, and in any month of the year, you’d be guaranteed to find clan members there – close or distant, from Dhaka, Bhairab, Chittagong or elsewhere. We visited my grandparents frequently. My mother could meet any number of her eleven siblings and their families, and forget us children for a few hours. And we children could bond with whichever cousins happened to be there.
On that particular visit, sometime in the afternoon, one of the adults had sent a servant to buy snacks for all of us. He went out to the sprawling street food bazaar, right outside the college gates on Mirpur Road, and brought back chanachur (a snack consisting a variable mixture of spicy dried ingredients). As we ate our snack, it did not escape my eyes that the snack was packaged in book pages. Being the bookworm I was, I started reading. Those were pages from an English book that had something to do with slow lorises and sloths. Intrigued, I waited until everyone was done and collected the pages. I retreated to the empty drawing room, found a quiet corner and lay down on the floor and started reading the difficult text. I read and reread, until it made sense.
Imagine my surprise, when just a few days later, I found the same text in the English entrance exam. The task was to read it and answer multiple questions. That would have been a big challenge for me. But this time I aced it. Good for me, you say? Not if you were in my shoes.