Sunday, November 1, 2020

It is the Eve before Lockdown...

It's the eve of lockdown and all through the train people are coughing left and right. The trains aren’t as full as they used to be a few days ago. The number of sick people is the same. We are in the middle of a pandemic in Germany. Most passengers appear sick. Most people in my train cough and some blow their noses -- all tell tale signs of a cold.

Which cold? This is always the question. People cough. I think it is the coronavirus. I cough as well, so I don’t stand out.

Slovakia is now conducting nationwide COVID-19 tests. I presume they will find a vast number of infected people and prove that the disease isn’t as deadly as feared. I predicted the mortality rate to be in the region of 0.2% in February and published this number on this blog and in a book in March. The moment of the truth is now overdue. It should happen, conveniently, just after the US election.

Americans don’t like to change political direction and the president in the middle of the war. Thus, it has become a tradition to start some kind of war when a president wants to be reelected. We’ve had Kosovo, Iraq, and the war on/of Terror. During the 2nd World war, a president managed to even get 3 terms in office — the one and only time in history when such a feat was achieved.

Now, Trump has followed the tradition and, in honor of the American election, the world has blown a cold out of proportion — all the way to a world war. India’s GDP is down 25%, and with about 100 000 deaths, COVID-19 hasn’t led to much loss of life. We should not forget that over 10 million Indians die every year — most of them far too soon. The average life expectancy in India is considerably shorter than in the West. Those years don’t have to be lost. The 10 million Indians that died this year were, on average, over a decade too young, while COVID-19 death are, on average, only one or two years younger than people who die without COVID-19. Yet, the Coronavirus has brought the world in a state of war.

The election is coming up. Thus, I predict

— TRUMP will win. Americans don’t like to change the course of politics in the middle of a war.

— Upon winning the election, he will follow up in the last minute electoral promise and end the COVID-19 Pandemic with a tweet. He’s seen the virus. He and his team fought and defeated it. They spread it a a few rallies. Nothing terrible happened. The rest of America can do the same. At a mortality of 0.2%, we’re looking at 400 000 deaths if half of the population gets infected. Twice that, if it’s gonna be like NY everywhere. Not nice, but not the end of the world. In the US, almost 240 000 people have died already from/with COVID-19.

— With the pandemic ended by the tweet, Trump will proceed to MAGA - Make America Great Again. Success lies in the failure to contain the virus. The worst the quarantine, the faster the whole population gets infected and the easier it is to restart the economy.

While the countries successful at stopping the virus will need to continue the quarantine and lockdowns indefinitely, the ones that fail will enjoy herd immunity and the freedom to develop economically until the next pandemic comes along.

The Anti-Trump sentiment around the world will help promote politicians that favor containment of the Coronavirus and thus longer economic shutdowns. This will give America a head start of a in the new world.

As for the rest of the world, judging by what I see in the train around me, I think the pandemic will soon be over. We will all be infected. It’s never the entire population, but most of us. Herd immunity will be achieved. This may be short lived, like it is with the other coronaviruses. Thus, herd immunity achieved this winter may not prevent another wave next winter.

We could move in brave new world where COVID-19 infects a large portion of the population every winter. The first infection may be more severe than subsequent ones. It may be that only this first infection is likely to lead to viral pneumonia, while subsequent ones may only manifest themselves as normal colds. Thus, in the future, we’ll have to live with one more cold. This may displace other cold viruses or increase our cold burden to some extent. As only children will have the primary infection and children are adapted to have a rather easy form, it may not be the end of the world.

The world war we’ve made out of this and its consequences will sure last.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Saul wins the Einstein Prize from APS

Saul Teukolsky won the 2021 Einstein Prize from the APS. He shares it with Cliff Will. They say it's "for outstanding contributions to observational tests of general relativity with theories of gravitational waves, astrophysical black holes, and neutron stars."

Saul was my PhD advisor together with Ira Wasserman. They were amazing. I've watched Saul build the group that run the first simulation that produced a BH waveform -- the first orbit was such a big thing -- and then they produced LIGO templates. Later LIGO saw something very similar to the templates, and the first gravitational waves were observed. The books Saul has written: Numerical Recepies and "Black Holes, White Dwarfs and Neutron Stars" are in the library of most graduate students across the world. I can't think of anyone who deserves the prize more. So proud!

Andrea Ghez wins the Nobel Prize in Physics

UCLA's Andrea Ghez, a fierceless explorer of our galaxy, wins the Nobel Prize. She proved that supermassive black holes exist in galactic centres observationally by mapping the movement of stars. Their high velocity implied the presence of a very heavy object. In addition to being a wonderful astronomer, she is the mother of two boys, which means she succeeded in being both a mom and an award winning scientist and that there is hope for other women who want to have it all. She breaks the 60 year cycle by wining the Nobel Prize in physics only two years after Donna Strickland. Donna won hers for generating high intensity, ultra-short pulses of light. Before Donna, the previous female Nobel laurate was Maria Goeppert-Mayer in 1963. Then came Marie Curie in 1903. Thank you, Andrea, for being such an inspiration!

Andrea shares her prize with Sir Roger Penrose, who showed that black holes were a viable theoretical possibility, and Reinhard Genzel, the co-director of the Max Planck Institute for extra-terrestrial physics.

The Nobel Prize in Chemestry was also awarded to two women -- Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna -- for developing a method known as CRISPR-cas9, which enables the precise editing of specific genes in the DNA to, e.g., remove errors that lead to diseases.

From clocks to corn and potatoes to politics to life

This morning I had a meeting with colleagues from Bucharest and Timisoara on potentially building a centre for atomic clock research in Romania. It is not clear where the money would come from, and what can be proposed and where, but there is some enthusiasm. I am the only one without affiliation to a Romanian institution because there is little room here for people from abroad.

Then in the afternoon I went to Salbagel with my mom and the kids. With the help of two ladies from the neighorhood -- both in their fifties -- we picked our potatoes and some of the corn. We had planted one sack of potatoes in the spring, and tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, carrots, salad, raddishes, onions, peppers, and beans. We had some salad, raddishes, carrots, onions and beans earlier in the summer during and before the heavy rains started. Then today we picked three sacks of potatoes, a sack of nuts, which need to be cracked later, three sacks of corn for the chicken, six pumpkins and a few figs. The rest of the vegetables were either over-run with grass or just rotted away. Several trees dried because of the combination of rain and draught. I did not think trees could have too much water.

While I held the baby, and Edward and the ladies dugged and picked potatoes, we had a group discussion on world-affairs and on local affairs. My helpers were factory workers. One had extended family working in Spain. They said the COVID deaths were few both here and abroad. They did not know anyone who had been sick or had died from COVID-19. In Lugoj we know of a relative of a friend who died of COVID-19. She was 94 years old, and had a stroke before she caught COVID-19. Another death is the neighbor of another friend. He was severely overweight at 150 kg, and could not lose weight. Last year he had caught pneumonia and barely survived with damaged lungs. This year he got out in the rain and got COVID-19. He did not make it. His wife also had COVID and survived. If one divides the number of daily deaths by the number of counties, they get between one and two deaths per county per day. It's not signficant and people are angry and afraid of getting locked-in again and losing the little they have. They don't trust leaders. They don't trust that the measures are for the good of little people like them and us. They think this virus is used to make the very rich even richer and to ruin their future, and the future and livelihood of their children and grandchildren. They are not the kind of people who would go out and protest. They don't have the time or the inclination for such matters.

They work hard. In two hours the potatoes, corn and nuts were picked. They delve into family history. One lady is the God mother of the other. The aunt of the God daugther owned my house before her daugther sold it to the person I bought it from. With the money she purchased a one room apartment in a small, nearby city because she was tired of working on the farm. The house has four rooms in two separate buildings, 6000 square meters of garden attached, and a nice well with a bucket, which is the only water source at the moment. This cousin did not invite her to her mother's funeral. This was unjust because her mother had helped them even though they had only been half-sisters -- only the father was common. So, the revenge was that she did not invite the cousin to her own mother's funeral, and they don't speak now. She felt bitter that the cousin was visiting other people when she returned to the village, but not herself. I did not know that funerals were attended by invitation. But each area has different customs.

The two ladies are the only ones in their families who work in the garden. They are both overweight, but very efficient. What will happen to the land when they are gone? One has three grand-children because her daugther-in-law is religious. The daugther-in-law is only 25, blond with long, thick, curly hair and still very pretty. She might have even more children (I feel ancient at 38). She does not help in the garden because she cares for the children and her husband does not do much either, but he works for a company. Perhaps one of the grandchildren will take interest in field-work, and learn from his grandmother. The other lady has two children, and two grand-children. One of the grand-children is in their first year of medical school and the other is seven and likes pupies. They ask me what I do. I tell them that I worked in a university teaching science and mathematics and doing research until four years ago, and now I am a caretaker with an interest in science and education. I also write when I don't have enough energy to do one of the many chores that need to get done or when I cannot sleep like today. I am not particularly good at keeping a house clean, at cooking or at being a caretaker, but I do my best. They understand me better than my colleagues or my brother who think I do nothing all day.