Archive for year: 2020

Vietnam Cyberhacks China, Countries that Test, Trace & Isolate Do Best, and R&D Around the World

As we locked our bike outside the grocery store, the security guard said to the customer in the wheelchair, “they don’t know nothing, whether the virus came from a lab or not. I tell you it was either the Chinese or the CIA, one or the other.” While we doubt being more transparent on pandemic data will persuade that security guard (we did not, btw, feel more secure with him outside the store), we do continue to call for leaders to be more upfront about data and criteria for policies. Our fair state of Washington is no exception. We continue to assert Washington State leadership ranks near the top in the US in dealing with Covid-19, but they need to do even better. Over a month ago we called for testing and tracing and finally two weeks ago Governor Inslee started talking about it and now the state is trying to hire 800 tracers to get to a total of 1500 (an NPR report claims this is too few). They should have done this well over a month ago. And they are still only talking about quarantine facilities for the homeless. We need to provide quarantine facilities for everyone who is infected and for those who come into contact with the infected (the latter are quarantined until they test negative). There are plenty of hotels available for this. How do we come up with these conclusions? Our second story below shows which countries have been successful not in just flattening the curve but in reducing infections and deaths to near zero. All of these places test, trace and isolate (and require masks). Wuhan did too. I know it’s in vogue to hate China and we ourselves have written an entire book about the challenge of China and what we need to do to counter it. But we must always be guided by data and evidence and both point to the success of China’s central quarantine efforts (ours can be far more humane and without the authoritarianism of China’s). Lockdowns have flattened the curve in most countries. But the goal should be to bring the infection and death rate to near zero. To do that, current evidence points to test, trace and isolate using central quarantine facilities. As we await our leaders response, we isolate ourselves to examine Vietnamese cyber hacking of China, country data on test, trace and isolate, and the state of R&D around the world. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, thinking of the late, great Dr. John on Piano Night while prescribing cures for the world’s blues.

(Last minute update: Late yesterday Governor Inslee released a risk assessment dashboard with explanations and a way to track progress on among other things, testing and tracing capacity and isolation and quarantine capacity. Washington is now very transparent on data and criteria for where the state is and what is needed for opening up various aspects of the economy. Huge kudos to the Governor and his team for doing this. As we wrote above, Washington’s leadership has been one of the best in the country in the pandemic. We asked for improvement and they provided it. They deserve our thanks and admiration. If your state/province/country is not doing what Washington is, ask them why not). 

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

Vietnam’s Cyber Hacks Into China for Health

So if you’re a country that suffered from SARS 17 years ago, and word starts to spread of a strange new pneumonia disease spreading in Wuhan, China, and like any rational actor, you don’t trust the information China’s government is releasing, the natural action is to go searching for the real information in China. Which apparently is what Vietnam did in early January when a Vietnamese-tied cyber actor called APT32 hacked into China’s Ministry of Emergency Management and Wuhan’s local government. According to cybersecurity company, FireEye, “The first known instance of this campaign was on Jan. 6, 2020, when APT32 sent an email with an embedded tracking link (Figure 1) to China’s Ministry of Emergency Management.” We assume that the Chinese Ministry’s equivalent of our 84-year-old Mom opened the link allowing Vietnam into the Ministry’s network. Vietnam’s government is denying any cyber hacking of China but Reuters reports that FireEye’s senior manager Ben Read asserts, “These attacks speak to the virus being an intelligence priority – everyone is throwing everything they’ve got at it, and APT32 is what Vietnam has.” China, one of the biggest cyber attackers in the world (but for some reason Americans fixate on Russia), is condemning such attacks on their agencies. Viruses are rampant online and off during the pandemic.

Countries that Test, Trace and Isolate Do the Best

With sports at a halt, instead of reading baseball box scores or analyzing NBA playoff statistics, we find ourselves poring over Covid-19 data from around the world. It is not nearly as much fun, much more scary and certainly more confusing. But it is intellectually stimulating and as you see in our chart below, countries that have a high number of tests per confirmed case have much lower death rates. That’s a correlation without much meaning but what it is showing is that countries with large number of tests per confirmed cases likely have a much more accurate reading of the number of infections in the country. As Our World In Data explains, “A country that performs very few tests for each case it confirms is not testing widely enough for the number of confirmed cases to paint a reliable picture of the true spread of the virus…The large number of tests for each confirmed case in Taiwan and Australia suggests that the number of confirmed cases paint a much more reliable picture of the true number of infections in these countries.” Vietnam* is the true star in this regard and Vietnam appears to have the pandemic under control, as do Taiwan, New Zealand and South Korea. What do those countries also have in common? Each of them have robust test, trace and central quarantine programs. If your state, province or country is not doing that or is not rapidly gearing up to do so, ask them robustly why not. They will not get anywhere close to normal without it. NPR is tracking which U.S. states are prepared to trace as is I hope they soon report on which states are prepared to quarantine more intelligently.

**I often hear critics of test, trace and isolate claim that it can only be accomplished in small countries. Vietnam is not small. It has a population of 94,6 million. Yes, it’s smaller than the U.S. but it is not small. And Vietnam’s economy is about 1/100 the size of the U.S. America has no excuse for not being able to institute test, trace and isolate. If Vietnam can do it, than so can the U.S.

R&D Around the World

In reading some back and forth about whether the U.S. is investing enough in R&D, we became curious about the rest of the world. After all, it is research and development that gets us out of this pandemic. It turns out UNESCO has excellent data on how much countries spend on R&D. In the bubble chart below you can see how much countries are spending on R&D (the size of the bubble), their R&D expenditures as a percent of GDP (larger the further right you go) and the number of researchers per million inhabitants (more the higher up you go). The star is Israel (star of David?) which has the second highest R&D expenditure as a percent of GDP and the most researchers per million inhabitants. This helps explain why Israel has such a successful high tech economy and perhaps is an indicator of why they have thus far** so successfully contained Covid-19. Note other successes such as South Korea, Japan, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland. And, frankly, the U.S. doesn’t look so bad by this measure. But there’s certainly room for improvement and immigration restrictions which cut off talent, drive and innovation, will harm America’s R&D capability in the future.

**The words “thus far” should be used in all analysis of Covid-19

Italians Hate China, We Still Need to Talk About Sweden and Jordan Rules in China

We arrived well before warm ups and as we sat down there was an electricity surging through the arena. When the Chicago Bulls came onto the court for warmups, every single eye was fixated on Michael Jordan. This was in the early 1990s at a Washington Bullets game. I had never seen or felt anything like it before or since.* Just Jordan’s presence on the court, before the game even started, made it feel like Jesus rising from the sports pulpit. As Larry Bird once said after Jordan scored 63 points, “that was God disguised as Michael Jordan.” I honestly don’t remember much about the game but I’ll never forget the crowd and the effect Jordan had on it. We guess that all the people at that game watched the first two parts of The Last Dance that aired Sunday night, ESPN’s documentary on the last championship of the Bulls, but really about Jordan. It was impossible not to contrast Jordan’s authentic desire to win at all costs depicted in the film, that the team’s winning was what was important, to today’s players attitudes. Many of today’s contemporary players want to win but it is about their individually winning a championship, not about the team they play for.  It is interesting that today’s generation is much more fond of collectivism and socialism than Jordan’s, but today’s players are much more assertive about their individual rights than they are about the success of the team. We’re not sure this is a contradiction but rather a different level of knowledge about how the world works, both for the player and the owner. While we ponder what this all means, we set a screen for Italians hating Germany more than China, dribble some more around Sweden and blow a whistle on Jordan in China. It’s this week’s International Need to Know dancing with international data, waltzing with global questions.

*Though our opportunities are limited thanks to Howard Schultz unforgivably selling the Sonics to OKC

The last weekend of April is traditionally the first weekend of Jazz Fest in New Orleans. This year because of the cursed Covid-19 pandemic, Jazz Fest is cancelled (sigh, one of our favorite vacations was attending 2014 Jazz Fest), but WWOZ is replaying past highlights all weekend–we are listening to Kermit Ruffins 2015 performance as we type. 

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

Never Mind China, Italians Hate Germany

Like a couple of high school students hopped up on hormones, China and the United States are in a battle for love in the time of coronavirus. As we noted a few weeks ago, both countries could come out of the pandemic less popular. But a recent poll of Italians shows China achieving some PR success there. In a poll conducted March 20 – April 12, 52 percent of Italians listed China as a friendly country compared to only 17 percent listing the U.S. as a friendly one. In a sign of perhaps just how difficult Germany has been on EU economic relations dating back to the financial crisis in 2008, 45 percent of Italians think of Germany as an enemy country. China has tried to leverage its aid to Italy for good PR, even though much of it turned out to be damaged goods. But how the media covers these issues is also important. According to the Atlantic Council, “The news of the cargo flight from China has had more than triple the visibility compared to the announcement by US President Donald J. Trump to send $100 million of assistance to Rome.” The current U.S. Administration has severely damaged America’s credibility around the world, which is a boon to authoritarians. But even so, news organizations need to cover the facts on the ground, not just a distaste for an incompetent, failed U.S. Administration.

We Still Need to Talk About Sweden

Two weeks ago, we noted we must grapple with Sweden’s only partial lockdown policies. Even as we wrote that the world needs to keep an open mind about Sweden’s approach, we wrote, “Perhaps a week from now Sweden will be a catastrophe.” Two weeks later, Sweden is not a catastrophe. Maybe it will be in the future but not yet. As you see in the first graph below, Sweden’s death rate may have peaked. It is true that Sweden has thus far done worse than its Scandinavian neighbors (see second chart) but it is still doing better than many other European countries. There could be many reasons for this—as we wrote last week, data surrounding this virus is remarkably heterogenous.** And, it is way too early to make conclusions one way or another about Sweden. As noted, Finland and Norway have much better infection and death rates, but what about 6 months from now? 12 months from now? 18 months from now? (will there is an effective treatment or vaccine developed and distributed before then?). Sweden is, of course, different than the U.S, Italy and other countries, as our favorite named person of April Dirk Schwenk points out. We would not have adopted Sweden’s approach but two weeks after we first wrote about it, we still can’t make definitive conclusions.

**For example, what are we to make of Bali, which has incredibly low rates of infection and death despite hundreds of thousands of Chinese, including from Wuhan, visiting there in January? There is so much we don’t yet understand about the pandemic. 

Taking the Air Out of China

As we noted above, on Sunday ESPN aired the first two parts of a new documentary on his Airness, Michael Jordan, bringing much needed content and salve to sports fans all over the world. The NBA is huge in China despite the government’s authoritarian rebuke to the Houston Rockets’ Daryl Morey calling for freedom in Hong Kong.*** Michael Jordan is also big in China and has been fighting for years to protect his trademarks. He won a partial victory there last week when China’s Supreme Peoples Court (note that whenever an authoritarian government uses the word “people” in an organization’s title, it has nothing to do with people like you and me) ruled that “Qiaodan Sports, a company based in China’s southern Fujian province, had illegally used Jordan’s name in Chinese characters.” But at the same time, the Court ruled the company can continue to use a silhouette of Jordan that is the Qiaodan’s logo. The ruling on his name overrules two lower courts judgements. How this all works in practice in China will be telling. China continues to have a very closed economy and as we’ll likely talk about next week, there is increasing pushback from the world. Jordan’s competitiveness is on full display in the documentary, but can he dunk on China?

***China arrested 14 human rights activists in Hong Kong earlier this week. Maybe Italians mistook them for Germans?

Filling the Vacuum, Crashing Global Trade and Naughty By Nature

It is easy to be dazed, confused and appalled during these strange times. We confusedly dance with the heterogeneous data coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic like the Nicholas Brothers* searching for their tap shoes in Elmer Lake, Oklahoma.** Take one of a thousand examples we could offer, the list of the U.S. towns and cities with the highest Covid-19 death rates per 100,000 people. What do Bellingham, WA; NYC; Greeley, CO; Pittsfield, Massachusetts and the other towns have in common? No idea. It is easy to be appalled at the most incompetent wannabe dictator since Commodus. The U.S. President claims dictatorial powers on one hand and with the other one does nothing about testing, tracing or nearly anything else. It is easy to be dazed by the fact we may never be able to attend a baseball game this summer, nor a concert or any other large gathering. As we wonder, worry and lament all of these things, we turn to Haiti for hope (Editor: Good God, are we that doomed?!!!). The country that has suffered earthquakes, hurricanes, misrule, criminal abuse by the UN and much more, gives us salve. That’s because the Haitian musical collective Lakou Mizik teamed up with New Orleans’ legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band to write a song that reminds the world of all the good of Haiti—flowers, rolled coconuts, avocados, cassava bread, and certainly its vibrant spirit. So if we can find beauty and hope there, surely we can team up like those wonderful Haitian and NOLA musicians to find and work for good in our world. While you pick up your instrument we notice what’s filling the world’s vacuum, examine the collapse of international trade and provide a mea culpa for a recent mistake. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, Creole for important international information and data.

*The Nicholas Brother accomplished what Fred Astaire called the greatest dance performance ever

**The setting for Footloose

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

Filling the Vacuum

The other day I was cleaning up a mess with our upright vacuum and had to get down on the floor to pick up something wedged in a corner when the vacuum tipped over and hit me in the head. Which is all to say the world hates a vacuum, including of American leadership. That’s why some European countries and Canada are working to fill it. Or as the Global News puts it, “Canada has formally joined a German-French coalition aimed at saving the international world order from destruction by various world dictators…” Many countries are concerned at the abandonment of global leadership by the U.S. since Trump became president, and are not ready to hand over the keys to an authoritarian China. So, new alliances and institutions are being built, without the involvement of the U.S. Japan is also part of the nascent Germany-France-Canada effort. Japan has been busy in the last year creating new geopolitical partnerships. Last year, we told you of Japan’s creating an alliance with Vietnam. This is all good news. The world needs democracies to build new international structures even if the U.S. does not participate. The old world order is dead or just about. Long live the new world order…as long as its built by liberalized societies and not authoritarian ones.

This image is dedicated to Charlie Mitchell

Crashing Global Trade, Globalization Stands

Many are heralding the end of globalization due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Morticians should hold off, it’s not even on a ventilator yet in our diagnosis. It’s true that global trade has been growing slower than GDP for a number of years but it was still growing until the pandemic. And, of course, globalization is more than trade in goods and services. It is also connectedness through the Internet, financial flows and immigration. The first two are flowing even more since the pandemic, the latter has been in retreat for a few years and is virtually at a stop currently due to pandemic-induced border controls. And now international trade is indeed crashing due to worldwide lockdowns crushing demand. The World Trade Organization (WTO) has created scenarios for how trade might drop in the coming months and year due to the pandemic. In an optimistic scenario, merchandise trade (things you can touch and feel like airplanes, cars, computers and swabs) would fall 13 percent year over year. The worst case scenario? WTO says “global merchandise trade will plummet by 32 percent relative to 2019. This includes a fall in merchandise exports from North America of 40.9 percent, from Asia of 36.2 percent and from Europe of 32.8 percent. Imports would drop by 33.8 percent to North America, 31.5 percent to Asia and 28.9 percent to Europe.” Ultimately the world progresses past the pandemic by cooperating, including through trade, but the short to mid term is scary indeed.

Naughty By Nature

When we wrote on April 2 about a study in Nature Medicine we interpreted as saying the Covid-19 virus had possibly been spreading in humans for years and might not have originated in Wuhan, we noted “It is still early days in the study of this virus and the pandemic so take everything, including what I write, with a large grain of salt.” We regrettably must grab a rather large size salt shaker because thanks to our friend and doctor, Jim Roos, we have discovered we misinterpreted the Nature article. Jim explains to us that the Nature article authors “do NOT suggest the virus entered the human population and then spread within the human population for years or decades, gradually evolving until it caused human disease.” Instead the article suggests “a series of spillovers,” that Jim explains are “similar to MERS with its ‘short transmission chains’ that ultimately terminate.” Every time one of the “spillovers” occurs, there is a chance the virus will mutate and one of those mutations could “develop the key protein (the polybasic cleavage site) that seems to be necessary for human-to-human transmission.” So, Jim explained to us, “it’s not that the virus has been passing WITHIN the population but rather that it ‘kept trying to’.” Jim tried to make us feel better by pointing out it appears the NIH director similarly misinterpreted the article. Unfortunately, according to Trump Administration rules, this automatically makes us the new head of the NIH. We apologize to the country in advance for any errors we make in that position. One other point: I asked Jim whether the Nature authors’ theory suggest one way or another whether Covid-19 originated in the Wuhan area. He thinks it probably did originate there though he notes he is not a virologist, microbiologist or epidemiologist. You can read his reasoning below:

Jim Roos’ take on geographical origin of Covid-19: The paper does not address the issue of where the spillover event took place. However, I would say that it most likely did take place in Hubei province or nearby. However, it’s possible that it occurred elsewhere with infected people bringing it to Hubei but I would think there would’ve been a similar outbreak near the original location. My reasoning relies on the 2 characteristics of the “spike protein” discussed in the article (RBD, the “receptor binding domain”; and PCS, the “polybasic cleavage site”). The RBD is believed to be a key element of the infectiousness of the virus (i.e. it’s ability to cause infection in humans). Since a very similar RBD has been found in pangolins, the authors theorize that this was already present in the virus when it entered the human population. That is, it could cause an infection in those people who contracted it. But without the PCS, which has NOT been found in an animal host, sustained human-to-human transmission would NOT take place and an outbreak would not ensue. Now if the virus first mutated into its pathogenic form (i.e. had both characteristics) and THEN entered the population, the outbreak would happen in that area soon after since the virus was “ready-made.” If, however, the virus had ONLY the characteristic RBD when it entered humans, it then mutated within the population to form the PCS. HERE’S THE KEY (taken from the paper itself): “Once acquired, these adaptations would enable the pandemic to take off.” So as soon as the virus had PCS and was in the human population, the outbreak was inevitable. Now it’s possible that this mutation took place in a person who acquired the infection elsewhere and then moved to Wuhan, but I think this unlikely. And since before this occurred, sustained human-to-human transmission would not take place, I think the time between the spillover event and this mutation would’ve been a matter of weeks. Anyways, that’s my take. Now I am not a virologist or a microbiologist or even an epidemiologist, but I did see Contagion twice.


The Reopening, Blaming the Other is Universal and We Need to Talk About Sweden

While talking with a journalist last week, we wondered whether the dog will bite. We had written an email to the reporter, a respectful but firm one, because we felt their story did not include a key piece of information. We were surprised to receive an email back requesting to interview us for a follow-up podcast. Later that day the reporter called determined to get us to say something we didn’t assert in the email or believe. We kept answering by providing data and information beyond what they wanted us to say. The reporter became frustrated and said something along the lines of, “You’re getting into details, I don’t want the details.” But, dear reporter, details is exactly what we want. As we continued talking, and as I started asking the reporter questions, they revealed that earlier in the crisis they had asked Washington state authorities for hospitalization rates but the authorities said no such data existed. The reporter felt this was obviously a lie. Later, hospitalization data was leaked to a different news establishment. Our reporter was upset and their manager called the state authority to complain. The state is trying to manage information, they don’t want to panic people, the reporter told us. “There’s a story!” we told the reporter. That’s much more important than what you reported on, we explained. The reporter told us a number of additional details that made it clear our state government is keeping information private and also showed how the media is interacting with our government. Towards the end of our conversation, in what surely is a first in journalism history, the reporter, who called me for an explicitly on the record interview, noted our conversation was off the record. Putting aside that protocol is to indicate a conversation is off the record BEFORE you start talking, not AFTER, transparency and information are more key in a pandemic than in nearly any other kind of crisis. Washington state leaders deserve immense credit for their response to the Covid-19 crisis, but we dogs must demand continual improvements—and transparency of information and data should be high on the list, and gathering and publishing data should be paramount. The day before we were interviewed by the reporter we went on a bike ride where we came across the sign below. Blind dogs are indeed dangerous and we hope our leaders will take that caution to heart. And so we bark at what is happening during The Reopening, growl at the urge to blame The Other and point a puzzled paw at Sweden. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, your global data and information service animal.

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

The Reopening

As we stay in place/socially distance/physically distance and otherwise avoid breathing on other individuals (while also avoiding blowhards on TV), we look to other countries who have opened or are planning to reopen and what it may portend for the coming weeks and months. China, which was swept by the virus first, is mostly reopening. However, that does not mean the country’s is fully recovering. As we reported a few weeks ago, they are impacted by the new lack of demand in other parts of the globe due to the pandemic. And while business is starting to reopen in China, there are still restrictions on how many people can be in a restaurant, store or business. Austria announced earlier this week it plans to reopen on April 14th. But Austria was early and stringent in its planning and will continue to insist Austrians wear masks. Denmark is also preparing to reopen though they have not set a date yet. Will there be a second wave of infections in these countries after reopening? What other measures are they taking before opening such as test and trace and isolating elderly and other vulnerable populations? What role will seasonality play? If you are in lockdown in the U.S. or elsewhere, look to other countries reopening for your possible future, and for what mitigation factors they implement and how they work. Demand to know the plan your leaders have for reopening, what data will drive the decision and whether they are prepared to test and trace.* We are still waiting for such information from federal and Washington state leaders, who have thus far been mostly opaque on these questions.

During China Lockdown                                                  After

*Alaska has been testing and tracing for weeks. Massachusetts is developing a test and trace system.

Blaming The Other is Universal

Alas the United States does not have a monopoly on blaming The Other although we have proven ourselves adept at it over the centuries. Incidents against Asian-Americans and Asians in the current crisis show we have not lost our touch. But such behavior is not peculiar to America, it is taking place all over the world during the pandemic. Here is a particularly virulent example in China in the form of a cartoon. According to New York Times reporter Paul Mozur, it “imagines foreigners as trash to be sorted. It invents their crimes against the virus response, mixes it with their malign motives in China, and fantasizes about committing violence against them.” Then we read in Nigeria there is a backlash against Chinese doctors who traveled there to assist the country in its battle with Covid-19. Both the Nigerian Union of Journalists and the Nigerian Medical Association complained about the Chinese medical team coming to their country. One ruling party member expressed concern, “There is always this inferiority complex with white skin people. Nigerian doctors are some of the best in America and Europe. The ones here are doing very well even in this coronavirus pandemic. What magic does the president think Chinese doctors will perform here.” Can’t wait until an American white racist discriminating against Chinese discovers a Nigerian thinks Chinese are white. Both American leaders and Chinese leaders have actively flamed racist sentiments during the pandemic. Fortunately, Americans can partly rectify the situation in November with the presidential election. And Chinese can change their country….wait, how does that work?

We Need to Talk About Sweden

We have been firmly in the shut-down society camp to deal with Covid-19. In fact, we argued for shutting things down far sooner than they were done, including here in Washington state. But, a) there’s no doubt this is hugely disruptive economically; and b) just as last week when we presented evidence that Covid-19 might not have started in Wuhan, in a highly information-sparse crisis like this one, it is important we continue to check our assumptions. And that means grappling with Sweden. There they have not shut down the country as strictly as many others have. They have banned gatherings of 50 or more people and high schools and colleges are closed, but the rest of the economy is mostly open. Sweden’s death rate is about middle of the pack. It’s worse than its neighbors but it’s better than some other countries. Their hospitals are not overrun. They have attempted to isolate the elderly and other vulnerable populations. China was first in the virus crisis and approached it with a strict lockdown. The rest of us mostly followed that model without its authoritarian trappings. We still believe it is the right decision. Recent data shows Sweden may be getting worse. Perhaps a week from now Sweden will be a catastrophe. Still we need to reckon with the Swedish experience as we move forward, continually check our assumptions in this crisis and learn from it. We all need to use “perhaps”, “maybe” and other such words more often during this pandemic.

Japan Decouples from China, Both China and U.S. Lose, and Covid-19 May Not Have Started in Wuhan

I limped over to the field of play and Rob put the axe in my hand while showing me how to throw it. Remarkably, defying all expectations, I hit the target. Not perfectly as Rob did every time he tossed the axe with a casualness, strength and precision that was amazing to see, but for a beginner not too long after our third knee surgery I took a bit of pride in the minor accomplishment. Of course, Rob wasn’t recovering from something as lame as knee surgery, he was in temporary remission from cancer which had spread through much of his body. Being a world renowned lumberjack (and school teacher), it is just possible he was tougher than me. He was certainly more thoughtful, erecting a tent for me to sleep in. Rob was a remarkable guy I met in college. A great athlete, an upbeat attitude, a great guy to share a drink and story with. I received word of his death last Friday while on a bike ride. With the closing of our gym due to the coronavirus crisis, the worsening of the weather in Seattle, and my generally being a fair weather bike rider, my outfits to keep warm for bike rides have become increasingly ludicrous. I look like the nerdiest character from a Mad Max movie. But given Rob was prone to dressing a bit crazily himself–he led us into town during the camping trip with everyone dressed up in crazy old western-like gear, he was a lumberjack, after all–on this bike ride I felt dressed perfectly. And perhaps just as perfect, the song Long As I Can See The Light, came on our iPhone as we rode. It was a cover of the old Credence Clearwater number by 80-year-old Louisiana Swamp Pop pioneer Warren Storm. Towards the end of the song a different voice begins singing–74-year-old John Fogerty, founder of CCR, and writer of the song. It was goddamn poignant. The light, of course, was all Rob Waibel, gone far too soon at 54.

Last night it was announced that legendary pianist and educator Ellis Marsalis, one of the great musical patriarchs of New Orleans, died after being hospitalized with Covid-19 symptoms. New Orleans has lost too many icons and legends over the last twelve months and we worry more are to come in this pandemic. RIP Mr. Marsalis. Here is a link to his performance at the 2012 Jazz Fest. Here is a wonderful tribute by his son, Wynton Marsalis.

Without further ado, in a world awash in ado, here’s what you need to know.

Japan Decoupling from China

Over the last many months, “decoupling” was the word de jour of U.S. – China relations analysts (can we get these two countries on a couch in a relationship therapist’s office ASAP?). But as we pointed out many weeks ago, Covid-19 will change supply chains more than any event since September 11. One recent example is Japan announcing it will subsidize the moving of Japanese companies production back to Japan or to locations in Southeast Asia. The Yomiuri Shimbun reports the, “government will subsidize establishing buildings and installing equipment for manufacturers that set up production bases in Japan. When firms plan to move their production centers to Southeast Asian countries, the government plans to subsidize the installation of equipment.” Japan’s government is committing up to 200 billion Yen for this effort. Japan, like other countries, is realizing it needs to diversify and spread out its supply chains. The world will be very different even after the pandemic subsides.

Editor: Note Taiwan’s numbers. 

Maybe Both China and the U.S. Lose

One of the issues we examine in our forthcoming book is China’s growing power in the world as the U.S. cedes global leadership. We read much analysis that the Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating that trend. During the global financial crisis, the U.S. was a leader in fostering cooperation around the world to contain and mitigate the crisis. During the current pandemic, the Trump Administration has barely provided leadership at home much less abroad. However, even though China has been actively trying to use the pandemic to burnish its brand and smear the U.S., it’s often facing backlash around the world. There is much anger against China in Europe, for example, where people blame China for spreading the virus, and where some of the equipment delivered by China has been found to be faulty. What’s more, China’s economy as we described last week, is badly impacted by the worldwide drop in demand. Plus, there is concern that African countries who are now impacted by the pandemic will default on loans owed to China. And as the story above about Japan decoupling shows, there is likely to be continued supply chain diversification away from China. Its economy may be greatly weakened not just in the short-term but also long-term by the pandemic. It is possible that the two strongest powers in the world both come out of this pandemic weakened as global powers.

It’s Possible Covid-19 Did Not Start in Wuhan

Three weeks ago, which is a century in pandemic time, we wrote about the “Fog of Corona,” i.e. that like in war, much of what we think we know will turn out not to be true. Specifically we wrote, “There are many things the world does not understand about the virus itself and the most effective public policy reactions to it. In fact, we are willing to wager that much of what we think we know will turn out to be wrong in the light of longitudinal studies and time.” In that vein, we bring your attention to a new study published in Nature last week by scientists in the U.S., Scotland, Australia and New Orleans (NOLA really is its own world), that suggests “The coronavirus that causes Covid-19 might have been quietly spreading among humans for years or even decades before the sudden outbreak that sparked a global health crisis.” These scientists studied the virus and its evolutionary path and determined it is possible it jumped from animals to humans many years ago, and perhaps not originally in Wuhan, China. The paper states, “It is possible that a progenitor of SARS-CoV-2 jumped into humans, acquiring the genomic features described above through adaptation during undetected human-to-human transmission.” It is still early days in the study of this virus and the pandemic so take everything, including what I write, with a large grain of salt (and maybe some anti-viral medication). As the great screenwriter William Goldman wrote about Hollywood, “Nobody knows anything.” At least not yet.

Important Last Minute Bonus Story: Masks Might Be Hugely Important

This Twitter thread will be one of the four most important things you read today. It’s about a new study on the importance of encouraging everyone to wear cloth masks. It includes the below graph with “blue countries having norms of mask-wearing for sick people, green countries having no such norms but adopting mask regulations in response to the spread of the virus, and orange countries doing neither.” Authors admit this is preliminary but they will have more data soon. Feel free to send us photos of your cloth masks.

We’re All In This Together, A Note On Supply Chains, And Brazilian Gangsters To The Rescue

Last week we were optimistic. This week less so. The U.S. federal government continues to be a disaster abetting a natural one. But Trump has set the bar so low that we are giving state, regional and local officials too much leeway. Not being Trump is not good enough. Most despairing of all, we see no efforts to develop a South Korea or Taiwan-like response–of testing cases, tracing the infected and then quarantining them. This would allow us to start to end shelter in place policies and begin to re-open the economy. Can we get at least one governor or mayor of a major city to take the approach below at their next press conference?


Here is our current data. As of this morning, we have x number of people tested and confirmed to have Covid-19. Y number of people have been confirmed to have died as a result of Covid-19. Yesterday we had Z number of new cases of Covid-19. We tested W number of people.

We need to be able to test N number of people per day. Our current capability is H. To get to get to N we are taking the following actions. (list these actions–this is a difficult supply chain challenge but it is doable)

Once we get to N number of tests per day, we can start “testing and tracing” as they have been doing in South Korea. To be able to effectively trace, we are taking the following steps to secure tracers, equipment, create a database, determine how to isolate cases, and ensure they are able to isolate, etc.

Once we are able to test and trace we will be able to start opening up businesses. At current rates of building up testing and tracing capabilities, we will be able to begin opening up businesses on ___ date. By taking the steps described above, we hope to do testing and tracing sooner than that.

We will update you regularly on our progress on this.

Thank you for coming to our press conference.

Taiwan’s success and techniques, which we wrote about on March 12, continue to be ignored. Nearly every chart of the pandemic you see online does not include Taiwan (thanks to Roy Ngerng for the one above that does). This is because WHO bans Taiwan and because countries are scared of China. There’s a mid-term solution to the pandemic and Taiwan offers one of the answers. 

Without further ado (and lately we have much more ado than usual), here’s what you need to know.

Like It Or Not, We’re All In This Together

One of the many reasons why China and the U.S. sniping at each other during this pandemic is dangerous is that we all need each other. This is certainly true health wise—a virus by nature is transnational—but also economically. As China gleefully trumpets that there are many more cases of Covid-19 outside of China than in, and that things are slowly returning to normal there, they forget that to get their economy back on its feet, they need the markets of the world. And those markets have now collapsed because of the pandemic. For China’s economy, it’s nearly as damaging what is happening in New York, Paris and New Delhi as what is happening in Shanghai, Xiamen and Shenzhen. According to Caixin, “Output contracted in March more than February, work weeks shrank further and hiring declined despite labor shortages…return to work has not meant return to growth for China.” In addition there have been reports that local governments are forcing companies to cook the books to make production look better than it is. The truth is they don’t have enough customers for which to produce. After all, 40 percent of China’s economy is still tied to its exports. And gleeful American policymakers back in February who chortled about the problems in Wuhan might have wanted to stop and think what that was doing to our economies both then and when the virus inevitably traveled to our country. We’re all in this together. At some point we need to start acting like it.

A Note About Supply Chains

All the pieces matter noted the great TV show The Wire. That’s even more true for supply chains, which as we noted a while back, are likely to change radically due to the pandemic. Countries will not be putting all their virus vaccine eggs in one basket anymore. But decisions we are making in one area are affecting supply chains in ways people don’t often understand. For example, understandably air travel has been severely restricted and airlines have smartly responded by cancelling routes—in other words restricting supply. There is talk of the United State closing down domestic air travel. Again, there might be good reasons to do this to slow down the spread of the virus. But we also need to think through how to mitigate the impact on the supply chain. When you are flying to Chicago for a business meeting or to Florida for vacation, below you in the belly of the plane is lots of air cargo, not just your checked bag. Someone we know at an air logistics company tells us, “Capacity is already outrageously reduced but is getting worse by the hour with more airlines cancelling lanes, even on freighter services. Prices are skyrocketing to a level we have never seen before! The only thing moving now is food and any medical supplies requiring the quickest transit time so the ocean freight industry will continue suffering as well.” All the pieces matter. Never forget that.

Put Brazilian Gangsters in Charge of White House?

A number of years ago, when interviewing small businesses for a project I was a part of, I heard consistently how hard it is to do business in Brazil. The bureaucracy and corruption made it difficult for these companies to be successful there. That same combination, along with a Trumpian-like president, is bringing Brazil to the brink of Covid-19 disaster. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro who earlier this week called the virus “a little flu” has berated his subordinates for suggesting Brazilians stay at home and businesses close, much less prepare to do test and trace. It’s become so bad that the gangsters of Brazil have taken matters into their own, presumably gun-toting, hands. On Tuesday night, according to Andrew Cesare, Rio’s gangs enforced a lockdown that started at 8 pm that night. The statement the gangs issued read, “If the government won’t do the right thing, organised crime will.” We advocate for better organized crime inside the White House.

The Trump/Xi Axis of Evil Stupidity, China Propoganda Machine, and the World is Less Free

We’re almost finished with The Sympathizer, a novel about a North Vietnamese mole in the South Vietnamese army who has an outsized ability to see and understand multiple points of view. Perhaps that’s why even though we see Covid-19 spreading darkness around our world, and worry deeply about the future, we also can see glimmers of hope and positive signs. Not least of which is the army of helpers out there. Health care workers, of course, but the neighbor offering help to our Mom, people providing daycare to relatives, Facebook groups formed to help small businesses, arts organizations and other distressed communities. In fact, the hated tech companies have been stalwarts so far in bringing people together. In addition, although I feel like I should be allowed make a citizen’s arrest of certain high level federal officials for negligent homicide, there is great progress being made in testing capabilities in the U.S. so that finally perhaps in six to seven days, America will be able to test at South Korea levels. Not only that but a whole variety of possible effective treatments are being developed around the world. Chinese scientists are making progress on understanding the virus so that we can better contain it. We don’t forget that there have been massive mistakes made by leaders in a whole host of countries, including here in the United States, but because, as we have often noted in this space, the world has continued to improve over the last 100 plus years, we are in much better shape to deal with this pandemic, almost despite ourselves. So yes, we present to you the Trump/Xi Axis of Evil Stupidity, the China Propaganda Machine and a Less Free World, all stories of darkness. But the light is seeping through. And as we showed over a year ago here, the world can lean on each other, if we just sing it loud enough.

We can’t get videos to embed in Mailchimp anymore. Any Mailchimp experts out there, please email me. In the meantime, click on the Everlasting Arms video link

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

The Trump/Xi Axis of Evil Stupidity

In our upcoming book about the challenge of China and how the U.S. and world should react to it, I document how the Trump Administration has trashed the post-World War II/post Cold War liberalized world order. I also explain how that “opens the door for China to remake the world order with Chinese characteristics.” More and more of the challenges in the world are transnational with a global pandemic being the obvious current one. But instead of cooperation among countries, we are often seeing competition. In addition, many countries are using the crisis as an opportunity to score points or push forward nefarious goals. Just this week alone, rather than working together, Trump provocatively called Covid-19 the “Chinese flu” while one of his officials called it “Kung Flu” to an Asia American reporter. Meanwhile, China has started a full-blown propaganda push on Corona (see story below), flew J-11 fighters into Taiwan’s airspace and is kicking out American journalists from China, including those from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. We suggest Trump, Xi* and their minions be quarantined to an island while the rest of us get to work.

*Criticism of the Trump Administration is not to say there is a moral equivalency between China and the United States. Trump is an incompetent, narcissistic buffoon, but a duly elected one with checks and balances of a liberalized, federalized society. Xi’s constraints come within an authoritarian unelected regime with no way for the people to change it or its direction. But, if we want America to improve and to continue as a functioning democracy, we must maintain a high standard on our leaders and the government—it is even more important to criticize them than China for that reason. That I have to write such a long footnote explaining this obvious fact, knowing that many people will attack what I wrote in this story, nearly causes one to despair…except that we are a fan of footnotes! Regardless of length. In fact, one day we’d like to write a book with one sentence and the rest of it a very, very long footnote.

The China Propaganda Machine

The most important step a country can take during a global pandemic is to take full advantage of it for propaganda purposes. China has obviously learned this lesson so well it could write a dissertation—in tabloid style. Early in the week, a China Foreign Ministry spokesperson tweeted, “It might be the U.S. Army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan.”  Yes, China is engaged in a worldwide propaganda effort to convince people that the virus did not start in China. They are also propagating the line that China “bought the world time” and the world is increasingly thankful for it. They did not buy the world time. A China government spokesperson retweeted fake videos of Italian citizens clapping along to the PRC national anthem, as if Italians believe China is their savior. China has also been claiming to be giving away equipment and masks to places like Italy. In fact, they are selling them. However, there are plenty of Chinese, not the government, who are generously giving aid (and comfort) in this challenging time. We ourselves received a wonderful email from a Chinese partner worried about us in Seattle: “We are deeply concerned with the situation in your area. If you need any assitance, please let us know.  We will be more than happy to offer a hand to our friends.” This is why it is so foolish and short-sighted of Trump and others to call Covid-19 the “Chinese virus” and otherwise engage in racist bullsh**. Go after China’s government strategically and intelligently, but win over the Chinese people, who often have been and continue to be, heroes in this pandemic.

World Less Free

If you are one of the many people in the world currently locked down due to Corona, and are looking for something to read to cheer yourself up, we don’t recommend Freedom House’s latest Freedom in the World Report. The world, as you’ve probably noticed, is becoming less free, and has been deteriorating since 2009.  According to the report, “64 countries experienced deterioration in their political rights and civil liberties while those in just 37 experienced improvements.” Freedom House notes that minority rights are under attack, including in democracies and spell out the bad consequences of this, “The progression illustrated how violations of minority rights erode the institutional and conventional barriers that protect freedom for all individuals in a given society.” The same with immigrants: “Attacks on the rights of immigrants continue in other democratic states, contributing to a permissive international environment for further violations.” The whole world is looking shaky, and this report documents it, “The unchecked brutality of autocratic regimes and the ethical decay of democratic powers are combining to make the world increasingly hostile to fresh demands for better governance.” And what about one of the most important countries in the world and the second-largest economy?  “China pressed ahead with one of the world’s most extreme programs of ethnic and religious persecution, and increasingly applied techniques that were first tested on minorities to the general population, and even to foreign countries.” You may want to pick up whatever crappy book Oprah’s peddling instead.

The Fog of Corona, Taiwan’s Response, and Domestic Violence Increase Due to Corona

When last we left you, we were about to fly to Japan for vacation and work. We cancelled our trip if not at the last minute, than certainly at the last hours. We cancelled not so much because we feared there was a greater chance to contract the conornavirus in Japan, but because just before we left, Japan essentially closed everything down. There would have been nothing for us to do over there but sit in our hotel room. In fact, as we were cancelling, we told the INTN spouse that likely by the end of our vacation it would be more dangerous here than there. Of course, by here we meant the U.S. not the Seattle area specifically which within days of our cancelling our Japan trip became the American epicenter of the Covid-19 epidemic. But our home town is one of the most internationally tied in the country so it should not be surprising that SARS-CoV2 has gripped its infectious tentacles here.One of the more amusing, astonishing, depressing behaviors we see from a minority of people is that they are not at risk from the virus so they will continue on in their lives doing what they want when they want. We presume they have parents or grandparents. Maybe they hate them or are expecting a big inheritance they want sooner than later. Or maybe they are just idiots. Whatever the answer, we raise the fog of corona, point to which country we all could learn from and warn about consequences of quarantining. It’s a special coronavirus edition of International Need to Know, coughing ahem at bad pandemic takes wherever we find them.

Since we wrote the above, Seattle has cancelled all events of 250 or more people, the U.S. has banned all flights from Europe,Tom Hanks(!) has been diagnosed with corona, people are using Tinder (!!) to communicate with people in Wuhan about the epidemic, and the NBA postponed a game just before tip-off when moments earlier one of the players tested positive for coronavirus. The world has officially entered the Tyson Zone when events are so insane there’s literally nothing that could happen that would shock or surprise us at this point. On a more serious point, the President of the United States started his speech Wednesday night by insulting Europe, EU countries refused Italy’s desperate pleas for medical equipment and China has threatened to cut off medical supplies to the U.S. if it doesn’t back off against Huawei. The world is quickly reverting to a pre-World War I order–that is, there is no cooperation at all, it’s every country for itself. This ultimately is a bigger concern than the virus. Unless the U.S., EU, China and the rest of the world start working together, using whatever is left of the liberalized post cold war order Trump and Xi are destroying, 50 years of amazing progress in improving human lives will go down the drain. Definitely worry about the Covid-19 virus pandemic and take all necessary precautions, but don’t take your eye off the ball–a rotating orb hurtling through space.

Now without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

The Fog of Corona

Inevitably in an age of instantaneous communications, people are making broad assumptions and assertions about SARS-CoV2 corona (screw it, corona is much easier to type). Regular readers of INTN will remember we were early on the coronavirus beat, bringing it to our readers’ attention on January 9th. By early February, in both work interactions with logistics and manufacturing companies, and in our reading of a variety of Chinese experts, it became clear to us this is the most impactful economic event since the 2008 financial crisis. In fact, it is likely to change supply chains more than any event since September 11th with consequences that are difficult to entirely understand. Today that is becoming a common place belief. Meanwhile, people rightly condemning China’s inept actions at the beginning of the outbreak in Wuhan, when officials were more concerned about controlling information than the virus, are now praising China as a model for how to deal with the virus. In fact, too many analysts are making the jump to asserting authoritarian governments are a better way of governing. This is childish thinking. During such a crisis, or course there needs to be intrusive state interventions. Even in robust democracies the laws are written to provide powers to governments not granted during ordinary times, thus Washington’s government banning gatherings of 250 or more people. Praise for authoritarianism is making the rounds partly because China’s government is selling the line that the world needs to learn from their successfull taming of the epidemic. As a part of this propaganda campaign, China is promoting the idea that the virus did not start in China, and may have originally started in the U.S. There are many things the world does not understand about the virus itself and the most effective public policy reactions to it. In fact, we are willing to wager that much of what we think we know will turn out to be wrong in the light of longitudinal studies and time. But unless we think we are in a permanent state of pandemic, then we do know the answer to which system is better: authoritarianism or liberal democracy.

PS There has been some heroic work by medical workers in China. They should be lauded, whatever worries we have about the government there

Look to the Other China on how to deal with Corona

There has been much concern expressed about governments responses to the coronavirus. That is true here in Seattle about the U.S. federal government, but it was especially true of the people of Wuhan about their local, provincial and federal government. (check out this video of their citizens shouting “shame, shame” at a CCP official). But some countries have so far been more successful than others in containing the virus. South Korea, of course. But the “other China”, Taiwan, also stands out. So far, despite being only 81 miles off the coast of mainland China, having 850,000 citizens who live in China and another 404,000 who work there, Taiwan currently has only 30 confirmed cases of Covid-19. Back in 2003, Taiwan was hit hard by SARS—but they learned from it. They set up a National Health Command Center in 2004 “that focuses on large-outbreak response and acts as the operational command point for direct communications among central, regional, and local authorities.” With Covid-19 they have established a checklist of 124 actions, including “border control from the air and sea, case identification (using new data and technology), quarantine of suspicious cases, proactive case finding, resource allocation (assessing and managing capacity), reassurance and education of the public while fighting misinformation, negotiation with other countries and regions, formulation of policies toward schools and childcare, and relief to businesses.” Other countries have much to learn from Taiwan. Here’s an excellent primer on how they have reacted to this pandemic.

Surge in Domestic Violence in China Due to Corona

As American officials consider whether to strengthen social distancing policies, it would be wise to at the same time strengthen domestic violence infrastructure. Because one of the many trade-offs of mandatory quarantining that we’re learning from the China experience is that domestic violence will increase when people are holed up in their homes for weeks at a time. A recent article in the invaluable Sixth Tone notes that “While millions of people are spending time indoors, rights activists say there have been increasing instances of domestic violence — a crime in China since a landmark anti-domestic violence law went into effect in March 2016.” The virus, it turns out, is as damaging on the psyche as the lungs, or at least public policy response to it can be. “Wan Fei, a retired police officer who is now the founder of an anti-domestic violence nonprofit in Jingzhou, a city in the central Hubei province, told Sixth Tone that reports of domestic violence have nearly doubled since cities were put under lock down.” This is not to say a lock down of a city is inappropriate (in fact we think we need to go further than we have–“wash your hands and avoid people” for the time being), but mitigating measures on a whole host of issues—economic, social and criminal—must also happen. Good times 2020.

No Excuse for Not Liberalizing, Cancer Deaths Decreasing, and Mecca Rapper is Sugar Candy

In the spring of 2003 we were returning from a trip to China and we caught a cold (the cold caught us?). A day or so later as we drove home from the office our right eye felt strange and we realized goop was streaming out of it. Not a trickle, more like a gushing river. Needless to say we found this alarming and it made driving difficult. We had no experience with something like this and were frankly considering panicking. At one point we saw a cop on the side of the road and briefly considered pulling over and asking the police what the hell was going on with our eye. But we calmed down enough to make our way home where we asked our wife, “what the hell is going on with our eye?!!!” By this time our eye was completely bright red and swollen—we looked like an extra on a demented horror movie set. Our wife also had no idea what was going on so we made a doctor’s appointment for first thing the next morning. We wore dark sunglasses at the doctor’s office lest we frighten the children and other innocents there with our incredibly gory looking eye. We were shuffled to one of the examination rooms and when our long-time doctor walked in asking how we were doing we took off our sunglasses. She looked at us and said, “that’s the worst case of pink eye I’ve ever seen.” But we did not have SARS which was running rampant in China while we were there, although during the first part of the trip one would not have known it from the Chinese media. So while we are not panicking like in the car drive home in 2003, we will act cautiously during our trip to Japan which we leave for tomorrow. In the meantime we squint at China’s excuses for not liberalizing, hold a microscope to world cancer rates and raise our eyebrows at Saudi Arabia’s treatment of a female rapper. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, announcing we are running for president…in 2044…when we’ll be old enough to be a candidate for president.

International Need to Know will be off next week during our trip to Japan but back on March 12 either from Seattle or in quarantine.

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

No Excuses for Not Liberalizing

Japan, South Korea and Taiwan all experienced fast economic growth over a long-time period and then as their working age populations peaked, reverted to slower economic growth. See the charts below to illustrate this. As they grew economically, they liberalized their politics. China has experienced rapid economic growth over a long-time period but its working age population has now also peaked. The China Communist Party has promised fast economic growth and by doing so has maintained power. But China’s fast economic growth is now history. So why not liberalize politically like other Asian nations did?  Undoubtedly the answer from the CCP will be that their continued rule is the only way to ensure stability in China. But if you’re going to have slow economic growth, why would people continue to give up freedom of information, assembly, speech and other freedoms? People may give up those liberties if they perceive by doing so high economic growth is guaranteed. But now that fast economic growth is over, we doubt the Chinese people will be fine with no political freedom. We delve into this much more deeply in our upcoming book on China and the U.S.

Cancer Deaths Decreasing

The world is awash in fear of the Corona virus (and if the world was more diligent about washing, perhaps we would not have so much to fear). We’re a bit nervous ourselves given we’re headed to Japan tomorrow. But one of the tragic stories of Corona in Wuhan is that patients, including those with cancer, are being ignored as the city focuses all its attention on the virus. But there is good news about cancer in general in the world. According to, the age-standardized cancer death rate is decreasing. The overall number of people dying from cancer has increased over the years but that’s due to there being more people in the world overall (a lower percentage of a greater number of people is still high). And the cancer death rate not age-standardized has increased because there are more old people in the world and older people are more likely to get cancer. But the best way to assess how the world is doing with cancer is age-standardized cancer death rates, normalizing the data to adjust for there being more people in the world and a higher percentage of older people. The age-standardized cancer death rate is down due to fewer people smoking and better treatments now available. Let’s hope it continues to go down in the coming years, viruses or no.

Mecca Rapper is Sugar Candy

Because we miss being surrounded by music in New Orleans, let’s finish the week with a story about a female rapper in Saudi Arabia. Asayel Slay released a rap song on YouTube that led to Saudi authorities to call for her arrest. What does Slay rap about? According to the BBC, she “raps about women in the city of Mecca” calling them “powerful and beautiful.” One of her lyrics goes, “Our respect to other girls but the Mecca girl is sugar candy.” This obviously inflammatory lyric led the governor of Mecca Khaled al-Faisal to tweet, “it insults the customs of Mecca.” The video is no longer available on Youtube and Slay’s account has been suspended which if this is a decision by Youtube, makes us want to create a video criticizing Youtube. We look forward to a world where Asayel Slay is free to rap about what she wants and the world ignores D.J. Khaled (how is this guy still a thing?).

Asayel Slay – Girl Of Mecca (Official Music Video)

Watch the Video

African Handwashing, Languages Most Spoken, and India’s Economic Troubles

Up ahead a family wheeled their ladder on the specialy constructed platform that they then flipped over for their children to sit in. Bam and Nikka, who we just met, took us under their hospitable New Orleans’ wings and showed us how to plead for the best throws from the Mardi Gras floats parading by. Notwithstanding stereotypes, this has nothing to do with baring one’s chest. Mardi Gras is really a family affair, full of kids, costumes and the coming together of the most unique and special city in the world. The parades that first carnival weekend featured bands, floats, dancers, and entertainment of any category you can think of. Mardi Gras betrays the stereotype of easy-going, lazy New Orleanians. Sure they may not fix their potholes, create the latest gee-whiz technology or work insanely long hours, but to put on the equivalent of a dozen torchlight parades in a single weekend, with complicated floats and “throws” that are mini works of art tossed to the deserving crowd, along with the beads, takes a year-long dedication to the cause that no other city’s culture possesses. Nikka spent the last month working on her sign sculpted with lights to attract the most coveted throws, including purses and shoes. The Mande Milkshakers–women of every size, age and race–had obviously practiced their moves over and over to get such fun loving precision, as had the high school band with their high steppers and drummers banging the beat with the seriousness of Moses on the Mount. Even the 610 Stompers (“Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Moves”) had obviously spent many an hour perfecting those dances. New Orleans is as relaxed as anywhere you’d want to go but you gotta work hard to have fun. And they do, and we work hard to bring you corona hand washing worries in Africa, which languages have the most speakers and India’s spiraling economy. It’s this week’s International Need to Know, blowing international information and data like Trombone Shorty at Shorty Gras.

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.

African Handwashing

There is a face mask shortage in Asia due to the Corona Virus (we refuse to mar the small Arizona company, Covid, with WHO’s made-up moniker—the beer company can handle it) but not a soap shortage despite the fact medical professionals tell us the most important thing we can do to avoid Corona, or any virus, is to wash our hands diligently. But what if you don’t have the ability to wash your hands? This is unfortunately the case for too many people in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to the World Bank, “In 42 countries, less than half of the population have basic handwashing facilities with soap and water in their homes. The countries with low access are concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Access to handwashing facilities is part of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals for a reason. There is much concern about Corona spreading to Africa because of its lack of health care infrastructure. But lack of basic handwashing facilities should also be a big concern.

Languages Most Spoken

Let’s pull up a stool and make a bar bet (maybe at Napoleon House in NOLA,  for a Pimm’s Cup): which language has the most speakers in the world? If you said Mandarin, you owe me a drink. But don’t feel bad, that’s what I would have guessed too until I read Visual Capitalist’s graphic of the “100 Most Spoken Languages Around the World. (original source: Word Tips)” But there’s a catch. There are 1.132 billion English speakers around the world, more than the 1.116 billion Mandarin speakers, but only 379 million of those English-speaking people are native speakers (including certain Bostonians). But because English is now the Lingua Franca of the world, English is the second-language for a heckuva lotta people. If we’re just counting native speakers, than Mandarin is indeed the most spoken language in the world with Spanish second and English third. The full list is below, only in English.  What will this list look like in 2120 (should there still be spoken languages–by then everything may be communicated in emojis)?

India’s Economic Troubles

India, one of the most important countries in the world, has been going in the wrong direction politically recently–you have probably seen the news about Modi’s citizenship law. But economically things are going south too. Good chance the two are related. India’s economy is in a rather severe slowdown as a paper at Harvard’s Center for International Development documents. GDP is growing at a much slower pace but the paper says the underlying data is even worse: “The growth of consumer goods production has virtually ground to a halt; production of investment goods is falling. Indicators of exports, imports, and government revenues are all close to negative territory.” What is causing the economic slowdown? Harvard’s paper suggests it is a complicated balance sheet recession coming at the end of a credit boom. We don’t know if credit petering out in India is a problem, but if it is then there’s a lot of credit relying countries in the world that may be in for a rude awakening soon. Good times.