“All You Need Is a Pair of Eyes”

(p. 1) MUNICH — Dr. Camilla Rothe was about to leave for dinner when the government laboratory called with the surprising test result. Positive. It was Jan. 27 [2020]. She had just discovered Germany’s first case of the new coronavirus.

But the diagnosis made no sense. Her patient, a businessman from a nearby auto parts company, could have been infected by only one person: a colleague visiting from China. And that colleague should not have been contagious.

The visitor had seemed perfectly healthy during her stay in Germany. No coughing or sneezing, no signs of fatigue or fever during two days of long meetings. She told colleagues that she had started feeling ill after the flight back to China. Days later, she tested positive for the coronavirus.

. . .

Dr. Rothe and her colleagues were among the first to warn the world. But even as evidence accumulated from other scientists, leading health officials expressed unwavering confidence that symptomless spreading was not important.

In the days and weeks to come, politicians, public health officials and rival academics disparaged or ignored the Munich team. Some actively worked to undermine the warnings at a crucial moment, as the disease was spreading unnoticed in French churches, Italian soccer stadiums and Austrian ski bars. A cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, would become a deadly harbinger of symptomless spreading. Continue reading ““All You Need Is a Pair of Eyes””

Germans Were “Seduced” by Nazi “Optimism”

(p. C7) In some perceptive passages in the earlier stages of this book, Mr. Fritzsche examines how, during the party’s years in opposition, the Nazis were able to broaden their support away from the original ideological core to voters who, for example, just thought that “something” had to be done to sort out a deeply unsettled country.  . . .

What the author stresses is that, contrary to what is so often assumed, many Germans were seduced not by despair but by optimism. Mr. Fritzsche sets out the ways that the Nazis produced the impression that the party was creating a Volksgemeinschaft—a people’s community—through such methods as transforming the Left’s traditional celebration of (p. C8) the first of May into “The Day of National Labor,” a festival of national unity rather than class struggle.

. . .

Mr. Gellately differs from many in the weight he places on the appeal of the “socialist” element in an ideology that, almost from its earliest days, had combined nationalism and anti-Semitism with a distrust of capitalism.

. . .

It was probably the memory of that Volksgemeinschaft, however much it rested on illusion, that explains one of the most remarkable facts in Mr. Gellately’s book: When Germans in the country’s west and in West Berlin—a people still living amid the ruins of the Reich—were asked in 1948 whether National Socialism was a good idea, but poorly implemented, 57% of those polled replied “yes.”

For the full review, see:

Andrew Stuttaford. “High-Speed History.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 13, 2020): C7-C8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated on June 12, 2020, and has the title “Three on the Third Reich: High-Speed History.”)

The two books mentioned in the passages quoted above, are:

Fritzsche, Peter. Hitler’s First Hundred Days: When Germans Embraced the Third Reich. New York: Basic Books, 2020.

Gellately, Robert. Hitler’s True Believers: How Ordinary People Became Nazis. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Mainstream Science, and Governments, Rejected Early Evidence of Symptomless Transmission

(p. 1) MUNICH — Dr. Camilla Rothe was about to leave for dinner when the government laboratory called with the surprising test result. Positive. It was Jan. 27 [2020]. She had just discovered Germany’s first case of the new coronavirus.

But the diagnosis made no sense. Her patient, a businessman from a nearby auto parts company, could have been infected by only one person: a colleague visiting from China. And that colleague should not have been contagious.

The visitor had seemed perfectly healthy during her stay in Germany. No coughing or sneezing, no signs of fatigue or fever during two days of long meetings. She told colleagues that she had started feeling ill after the flight back to China. Days later, she tested positive for the coronavirus.

. . .

Dr. Rothe and her colleagues were among the first to warn the world. But even as evidence accumulated from other scientists, leading health officials expressed unwavering confidence that symptomless spreading was not important.

In the days and weeks to come, politicians, public health officials and rival academics disparaged or ignored the Munich team. Some actively worked to undermine the warnings at a crucial moment, as the disease was spreading unnoticed in French churches, Italian soccer stadiums and Austrian ski bars. A cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, would become a deadly harbinger of symptomless spreading.

. . .

(p. 10) Though estimates vary, models using data from Hong Kong, Singapore and China suggest that 30 to 60 percent of spreading occurs when people have no symptoms.

. . .

After two lengthy phone calls with the woman, doctors at the Robert Koch Institute were convinced that she had simply failed to recognize her symptoms. They wrote to the editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, casting doubt on Dr. Rothe’s findings.

Editors there decided that the dispute amounted to hairsplitting. If it took a lengthy interview to identify symptoms, how could anyone be expected to do it in the real world?

“The question was whether she had something consistent with Covid-19 or that anyone would have recognized at the time was Covid-19,” said Dr. Eric Rubin, the journal’s editor.

“The answer seemed to be no.”

The journal did not publish the letter. But that would not be the end of it.

. . .

On Monday, Feb. 3, the journal Science published an article calling Dr. Rothe’s report “flawed.” Science reported that the Robert Koch Institute had written to the New England Journal to dispute her findings and correct an error.

. . .

Dr. Rothe’s report quickly became a symbol of rushed research. Scientists said she should have talked to the Chinese patient herself before publishing, and that the omission had undermined her team’s work. On Twitter, she and her colleagues were disparaged by scientists and armchair experts alike.

“It broke over us like a complete tsunami,” Dr. Hoelscher said.

. . .

If Dr. Rothe’s paper had implied that governments might need to do more against Covid-19, the pushback from the Robert Koch Institute was an implicit defense of the conventional thinking.

Sweden’s public health agency declared that Dr. Rothe’s report had contained major errors. The agency’s website said, unequivocally, that “there is no evidence that people are infectious during the incubation period” — an assertion that would remain online in some form for months.

French health officials, too, left no room for debate: “A person is contagious only when symptoms appear,” a government flyer read. “No symptoms = no risk of being contagious.”

. . .

(p. 11) Dr. Rothe, . . ., was shaken. She could not understand why much of the scientific establishment seemed eager to play down the risk.

“All you need is a pair of eyes,” she said. “You don’t need rocket-science virology.”

. . .

While public health officials hesitated, some doctors acted. At a conference in Seattle in mid-February, Jeffrey Shaman, a Columbia University professor, said his research suggested that Covid-19’s rapid spread could only be explained if there were infectious patients with unremarkable symptoms or no symptoms at all.

In the audience that day was Steven Chu, the Nobel-winning physicist and former U.S. energy secretary. “If left to its own devices, this disease will spread through the whole population,” he remembers Professor Shaman warning.

Afterward, Dr. Chu began insisting that healthy colleagues at his Stanford University laboratory wear masks. Doctors in Cambridge, England, concluded that asymptomatic transmission was a big source of infection and advised local health workers and patients to wear masks, well before the British government acknowledged the risk of silent spreaders.

The American authorities, faced with a shortage, actively discouraged the public from buying masks. “Seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS!” Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams tweeted on Feb. 29.

. . .

By the end of the month [March 2020], the U.S. Centers for Disease Control announced it was rethinking its policy on masks. It concluded that up to 25 percent of patients might have no symptoms.

Since then, the C.D.C., governments around the world and, finally, the World Health Organization have recommended that people wear masks in public.

Still, the W.H.O. is sending confusing signals. Earlier this month, Dr. Van Kerkhove, the technical lead, repeated that transmission from asymptomatic patients was “very rare.” After an outcry from doctors, the agency said there had been a misunderstanding.

“In all honesty, we don’t have a clear picture on this yet,” Dr. Van Kerkhove said. She said she had been referring to a few studies showing limited transmission from asymptomatic patients.

Recent internet ads confused the matter even more. A Google search in mid-June for studies on asymptomatic transmission returned a W.H.O. advertisement titled: “People With No Symptoms — Rarely Spread Coronavirus.”

For the full story, see:

Matt Apuzzo, Selam Gebrekidan and David D. Kirkpatrick. “How the World Missed Covid’s Symptom-Free Carriers.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, June 28, 2020): 1 & 10-11.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed dates, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 27, 2020 and has the title “How the World Missed Covid-19’s Silent Spread.”)

Early Tool by Extinct Human Ancestors

(p. D2) What’s so special about a 300,000-year-old stick stuck in the muck?

“It’s a stick, sure,” said Jordi Serangeli, an archaeologist from the University of Tübingen in Germany.

. . .

. . . the short, pointed piece of wood his team found in Schöningen, Germany, in 2016 may be the newest addition to the hunting arsenal used by extinct human ancestors during the Middle Pleistocene.

For the full story, see:

Nicholas St. Fleur. “Haywire Immune Reaction Linked to Most Severe Cases.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 28, 2020): D2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 22, 2020, and has the title “A Short, Pointy, 300,000-Year-Old Clue to Our Ancestors’ Hunting Prowess.”)

Berliners Vote to Name Baby Panda Twins “Hong” and “Kong”

(p. A4) BERLIN — When a Berlin newspaper asked its readers to help name two pandas born at the Berlin zoo last week, the contest quickly became weighted with political symbolism and risked the ire of Beijing, which has long treated the animals as surrogate envoys to friendly countries.

The most-suggested names by readers, according to the Tagesspiegel newspaper, were Hong and Kong, an apparent nod to solidarity with the pro-democracy protests that have been roiling Hong Kong, a former British colony that was returned to China in 1997.

. . .

“The political symbolism is there, and it’s clear that the government and also the leadership of the Berlin Zoo would not allow it,” Prof. Eberhard Sandschneider, who studies Chinese politics at the Free University in Berlin, said of the panda contest on Friday.

“The last thing they would accept in Beijing, when the pandas are eventually brought back,” he added, “are the names Hong and Kong.”

For the full story, see:

Schuetze, Christopher F. “Clamor to Name Twin Pandas at Berlin Zoo ‘Hong’ and ‘Kong’ Could Irk Beijing.” The New York Times (Saturday, September 7, 2019): A4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 6, 2019, and has the title “At Berlin Zoo, a Clamor to Name Twin Pandas ‘Hong’ and ‘Kong’.”)

“Climate Change Has Been Good for Us”

(p. A1) SLINDE, Norway—Perched on a steep slope overlooking the country’s largest fiord, tidy rows of vines spread on the frosted ground underneath towering pine trees.

On the 61st parallel—the latitude of Anchorage, Alaska— Bjorn Bergum’s vineyard is set to become the world’s northernmost commercial wine estate, a testimony to how global warming is disrupting century-old landscapes, traditions and oenological preconceptions.

“There is no doubt,” Mr. Bergum says. “Climate change has been good for us.”

. . .

(p. A9) “First we take Scandinavia, then the world,” says Erik Lindås, head of Norway’s nascent winegrowers association. “It’s motivating to work when people think you can’t make it. People laughed at English wine 15 years ago but they are not laughing anymore.”

Denmark and Sweden are commercially producing wines that have won international awards, while Britain and Belgium are experiencing a viticultural renaissance. Vintners in Germany, which has a proud winemaking tradition in the south, are exploring new terroirs farther north.

. . .

The northerners have a replique to southern arguments about boreal vineyards’ lack of tradition: During the so-called Medieval Climate Optimum, a warm spell from the ninth century to the 13th, winemaking thrived as far up as northern England and the Baltics.

Professor Hans R. Schultz, who studies climate change’s effects on viticulture at Germany’s Geisenheim University, says global warming is pulling the winemaking economy northward. In Germany’s terroirs, which used to lose entire harvests to cold spells, every vintage since 1987 was better than the previous, he says.

For the full story, see:

Bojan Pancevski. “New Wines Invade From Viking Terroir.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, October 30, 2019): A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 29, 2019, and has the title “Chateau Viking: Climate Change Makes Northern Wine a Reality.”)

In a “Terribly Regulated” Germany “People Look for Their Little Spaces of Freedom”

(p. A1) BERLIN — It seemed like a no-brainer: Lower Germany’s embarrassingly high carbon emissions at no cost, and save some lives in the process.
But when a government-appointed commission in January [2019] dared to float the idea of a speed limit on the autobahn, the country’s storied highway network, it almost caused rioting.
. . .
(p. A10) Call it Germany’s Wild West: The autobahn is the one place in a highly regulated society where no rule is the rule — and that place is sacred.
. . .
Germany is woefully behind on meeting its 2020 climate goals, so the government appointed a group of experts to find ways to lower emissions in the transport sector. Cars account for 11 percent of total emissions, and their share is rising.
A highway speed limit of 120 kilometers an hour, or 75 miles per hour, could cover a fifth of the gap to reach the 2020 goals for the transport sector, environmental experts say.
“Of all the individual measures, it is the one that would be the most impactful — and it costs nothing,” said Dorothee Saar, of Deutsche Umwelthilfe, a nonprofit environmental organization that has lobbied for a speed limit.
. . .
Once, during the oil crisis in 1973, a German transport minister took his chances and imposed a speed limit. Road deaths stood at over 20,000 a year at the time (six times today’s level) and with oil prices skyrocketing, Lauritz Lauritzen thought Germans might reasonably see the benefits of saving some lives and some money on gas, too.
The speed limit lasted four months, and Mr. Lauritzen not much longer.
The experiment gave birth to the “Freie Fahrt für freie Bürger!” campaign — or “Freedom to drive for free citizens!” — the car lobby’s most powerful slogan to this day, and one used by political parties and car companies alike, a sort of unwritten second amendment.
“It’s all about freedom,” said John C. Kornblum, a former United States ambassador to Germany, who first arrived here in the 1960s, and has been living (and driving) here on and off ever since.
. . .
“Germany is terribly regulated, for reasons which have to do with the past, with a fear of uncertainty, a fear of being overwhelmed,” Mr. Kornblum said. “But then people look for their little spaces of freedom and the autobahn is one of them.”
And speeding isn’t the only freedom the autobahn offers.
Driving naked in Germany is legal, too. But if you get out of the car nude, you face a $45 fine.

For the full story, see:
Katrin Bennhold. “Autobahn Speed Limits? Voting With Lead Feet.” The New York Times (Monday, Feb. 4, 2019): A1 & A10.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 3, 2019, and has the title “‘GERMANY DISPATCH; Impose a Speed Limit on the Autobahn? Not So Fast, Many Germans Say.”)

Government Fiscal Stimulus Does Not Speed Job Growth

DebtAndEmploymentGrowthGraph2019-02-17.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A17) . . . is there evidence that stimulus was behind America’s recovery–or, for that matter, the recoveries in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Britain and Ireland? And is there evidence that the absence of stimulus–a tight rein on public spending known as “fiscal austerity”–is to blame for the lack of a full recovery in Portugal, Italy, France and Spain?
A simple test occurred to me: The stimulus story suggests that, in the years after they hit bottom, the countries that adopted relatively large fiscal deficits–measured by the average increase in public debt from 2011-17 as a percentage of gross domestic product–would have a relatively speedy recovery to show for it. Did they?
As the accompanying chart shows, the evidence does not support the stimulus story. Big deficits did not speed up recoveries. In fact, the relationship is negative, suggesting fiscal profligacy led to contraction and fiscal responsibility would have been better.

For the full commentary, see:
Phelps, Edmund. “The Fantasy of Fiscal Stimulus; It turns out Keynesian policies are correlated with slower, not faster, economic growth.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018): A17.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Oct. 29, 2018.)

German Bookstore Thrives Selling Bread and Sausage

(p. A7) BAD SOODEN-ALLENDORF, Germany — At five minutes after seven on a Saturday morning, the bookstore in this idyllic town was not yet officially open — that happens at 7:30 a.m. — but Susanne Frühauf had already rung up the first three customers of the day. At a shelf in the corner, behind a rack of discount paperbacks, her husband Wolfgang was working as quickly as he could.
“They’re like moths,” said Mr. Frühauf, genially, of his customers. “As soon as the lights go on, they come.”
With that, he got back to work, stacking not books, but rows of freshly baked bread rolls sprinkled with poppy, pumpkin, flax, sesame or sunflower seeds that have brought townspeople flocking. Next to him stood a small refrigerator hung with “ahle wurst” — a delicious air-dried, salami-like pork sausage that is one of the region’s culinary specialties — while in the center aisle, organic tomatoes and cucumbers vied with crime novels for table space.
. . .
Mr. Frühauf’s grandfather founded a bookbindery nearly a century ago, right here on the ground floor of the family house on the market square; Mr. Frühauf grew up above the bookstore, which his parents and uncle ran together. Five years ago, when he saw the numbers, Mr. Frühauf — who still lives upstairs, with his mother and his wife — said the situation was clear: “We had to do something.”
At the same time, news came that the town’s last two bakeries were closing. For residents like Mr. Frühauf, who remember when half a dozen local bakers strove to make the town’s best cream-covered plum cake, cumin roll or pumpernickel loaf, this blow was followed by hopeful news: Norbert Schill, who had lost his storefront lease, wanted to keep baking.
“I said, ‘before there’s no fresh bakery, I’ll clear a shelf, and we can sell the bread here,'” Mr. Frühauf said. Mr. Schill agreed to give it a try.
The experiment was a success. Mr. Frühauf began keeping baker’s hours, and Mr. Schill’s former customers started coming to the bookstore to buy their daily bread. Some, like Norbert Bergmann, a retired Catholic priest, got into the habit of picking up a book or TV guide, too.
Some of Mr. Frühauf’s regular customers found the idea strange at first, but they came around quickly. “It’s fun to eat breakfast again,” said Regina Kistner, who raised her family here, and had been making do with the processed rolls sold at the supermarket. “These taste good,” she added, leaving the store with two rolls (one rye and one sesame), a tabloid paper (for her neighbor) and the British romance novel “A Summer at Sea.”
Mr. Schill, the baker, said he for one was very happy to have found such an open-minded partner in the bookseller. “There’s a saying, I remember learning as a child, from the old people. ‘Go with the times, or with time, you’ll go.'”
. . .
Locking up after a long, warm morning, Mr. Frühauf paused. He took a look around at the 17th century building that houses his eclectic store, and said he enjoys being at the center of a new network of butchers, bakers and beekeepers. “In Germany, I think there’s a tendency now, to be very backward-looking, to say, ‘everything used to be better,'” said Mr. Frühauf. “But all you really need are some new ideas.”

For the full story, see:
Sally McGrane. “‘To Stay Afloat After 100 Years, a German Bookstore Sells Sausage.” The New York Times (Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018): A7.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the title “‘Would You Like Some Sausage With Your Novel?”)

Regulations Support Car Incumbents and Undermine Tesla Profitability

(p. A13) . . . governments everywhere have decided, perversely, that electric cars will not be profitable. In every major market–the U.S., Europe, China–the same political dispensation now applies: Established auto makers effectively will be required to make and sell electric cars at a loss in order to continue profiting from gas-powered vehicles.
This has rapidly become the institutional structure of the electric-car industry world-wide, for the benefit of the incumbents, whether GM in the U.S. or Daimler in Germany. Let’s face it, the political class always had a bigger investment in these incumbents than it ever did in Tesla.
Tesla has a great brand, great technology and great vehicles. To survive, it also needs to mate itself to a nonelectric pickup truck business. . . .
We’ll save for another day the relating of this phenomenon to Mr. Musk’s recently erratic behavior and pronouncements. . . . Keep your eye on the bigger picture–the bigger picture is the global regulatory capture of the electric car moment by the status quo. And note the irony that Tesla’s home state of California was the original pioneer of this insiders’ regulatory bargain with its so-called zero-emissions-vehicle mandate.
Electric cars were going to remain a niche in any case, but public policy is quickly ruling out the possibility (which Tesla needed) of them at least being a profitable niche.

For the full commentary, see:
Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. “BUSINESS WORLD; A Tesla Crackup Foretold; The real problem is that governments everywhere have ordained that electric cars will be sold at a loss.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 23, 2018): A13.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 22, 2018.)

Ancient Skeletons Harbor a Common Cause of Liver Cancer

(p. A9) Scientists reported on Wednesday [May 9, 2018] that they have recovered DNA from the oldest viruses known to have infected humans — and have succeeded in resurrecting some of them in the laboratory.
The viruses were all strains of hepatitis B. Two teams of researchers independently discovered its DNA in 15 ancient skeletons, the oldest a farmer who lived 7,000 years ago in what is now Germany.
Until now, the oldest viral DNA ever recovered from human remains was just 450 years old.
The research may provide clues to the continuing evolution of hepatitis B, a plague that infects an estimated 257 million people worldwide and contributes to an epidemic of liver cancer.
. . .
Chronic infections can lead to liver cancer. Each year, the World Health Organization estimates, hepatitis B kills 887,000 people. Researchers have long wondered how it became a worldwide menace.
. . .
. . . the skeletons in which the Cambridge geneticists found hepatitis range from 820 to 4,500 years old. The research, published in the journal Nature, demonstrates that hepatitis B existed across Europe and Asia as early as the Bronze Age.
. . .
Johannes Krause and his colleagues examined DNA extracted from the teeth of 53 ancient people in what is now Germany. Three of them were infected with hepatitis B, it turned out: one who lived about 1,000 years ago, a second person who lived 5,300 years ago and a third who lived 7,000 years ago.
. . .
Dr. Krause and his colleagues found that their Stone Age viruses were most closely related to strains of hepatitis B found today only in chimpanzees and gorillas.
He speculated that the virus jumped from apes to humans early in the history of our species in Africa. “It’s more likely this is really an old pathogen in humans for the last hundred thousand years or more,” he said.

For the full story, see:
Zimmer, Carl. “In Ancient Skeletons, Scientists Discover a Modern Foe: Hepatitis B.” The New York Times (Thursday, May 10, 2018): A9.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 9, 2018. The print version cited above is the National Edition.)

The paper by the Cambridge geneticists, mentioned above, is:
Mühlemann, Barbara, Terry C. Jones, Peter de Barros Damgaard, Morten E. Allentoft, Irina Shevnina, Andrey Logvin, Emma Usmanova, Irina P. Panyushkina, Bazartseren Boldgiv, Tsevel Bazartseren, Kadicha Tashbaeva, Victor Merz, Nina Lau, Václav Smrčka, Dmitry Voyakin, Egor Kitov, Andrey Epimakhov, Dalia Pokutta, Magdolna Vicze, T. Douglas Price, Vyacheslav Moiseyev, Anders J. Hansen, Ludovic Orlando, Simon Rasmussen, Martin Sikora, Lasse Vinner, Albert D. M. E. Osterhaus, Derek J. Smith, Dieter Glebe, Ron A. M. Fouchier, Christian Drosten, Karl-Göran Sjögren, Kristian Kristiansen, and Eske Willerslev. “Ancient Hepatitis B Viruses from the Bronze Age to the Medieval Period.” Nature 557, no. 7705 (May 9, 2018): 418-23.

The paper co-authored by Krause, and mentioned above, is:
Krause-Kyora, Ben, Julian Susat, Felix M. Key, Denise Kühnert, Esther Bosse, Alexander Immel, Christoph Rinne, Sabin-Christin Kornell, Diego Yepes, Sören Franzenburg, Henrike O. Heyne, Thomas Meier, Sandra Lösch, Harald Meller, Susanne Friederich, Nicole Nicklisch, Kurt W. Alt, Stefan Schreiber, Andreas Tholey, Alexander Herbig, Almut Nebel, and Johannes Krause. “Neolithic and Medieval Virus Genomes Reveal Complex Evolution of Hepatitis B.” eLife 7 (2018): e36666.