This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!
Sam Pearson 6/21/2021 2:02 PM
My father was one of the wisest men that I knew. As a freshman in college a college fraternity brother of mine came to me with a great, “Git rich quick” plan. My buddy had found that China’s markets were going to be opened to western trade by the efforts of President Nixon. Clackers had been popular in the United States and a company that needed funding was going to sell them in China.
In case you are too young to remember…Clackers were popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There was this one issue as the early ones were made of tempered glass that would eventually shatter, sending glass shards into your face, of the face of everyone for 50 feet. In the early 1970s, manufacturers changed them to plastic spheres suspended on each string. When they were swung up and down, banging against each other with a lot of force they made the loud "clacking" sound. Clackers are similar in appearance to bolas, the Argentine weapon. They are formed out of two solid balls of polymer, each about 2 inches in diameter, attached to a finger tab with a sturdy string. The player holds the tab with the balls hanging below and through up-and-down hand motion makes the two balls swing apart and back together, making the clacking noise that gives the toy its name. With practice one can make the balls swing so that they knock together both above and below the hand.
Well, I invested the $1200 that I had set aside for my second semester room and board that I had earned as a sewer carpenter the previous summer. That is another story. The company had already gotten permission to build a plant and produce clackers in time for the Christmas season. Unfortunately, communist china does not have a significant Christmas season due to being a communist country and all. Sales were pretty slow at first and then suddenly they took off and we were selling clackers faster than they could be manufactured. I was counting my riches; in my mind I could see me owning a yacht with a crew of beautiful women. Life was going to be awesome! Then my buddy comes to see me with a letter from the business owner’s attorney, he had been arrested and his business confiscated. Ugh, the yacht sank, and the beautiful women turned into sharks as we had to each pay another $88 to get him out of prison and back to New York!
I had to go back to my father and admit to the failure of the business which he said sounded a little too good to be true. I had to borrow $600 so that I could stay in school. He did let me repay him the next summer at only 6% interest (this was a great interest rate, remember the “Carter years”). He told me that it is not unusual to be a fool once, just don’t let it happen a second time to the same set of conditions. He then gave me one of his Famous Quotes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!”
Ok, now that I have wasted 3 minutes of your life that you will never get back, let us talk about the lessons that we have learned from the 2020 SARS-2 pandemic. First off, this is not the first virus that has jumped from an animal host to humans, just since the 1970s, it is estimated at least three dozen infectious diseases have emerged from human interference with animals, including SARS, MERS, Ebola, bird flu, swine flu and the Zika virus. These do not include the laboratory manipulated viruses that may also have occurred. In fact, there are 219 virus species that are known to be able to infect humans. The first of these to be discovered was yellow fever virus in 1901, and three to four new species are still being found every year. Extrapolation of the discovery curve suggests that there is still a substantial pool of undiscovered human virus species, although an apparent slow-down in the rate of discovery of species from different families may indicate bounds to the potential range of diversity. More than two-thirds of human viruses can also infect non-human hosts, mainly mammals, and sometimes birds. Many specialized human viruses also have mammalian or avian origins. Indeed, a substantial proportion of mammalian viruses may be capable of crossing the species barrier into humans, although only around half of these are capable of being transmitted by humans and around half again of transmitting well enough to cause major outbreaks. A few possible predictors of species jumps can be identified, including the use of phylogenetically conserved cell receptors. It seems almost inevitable that new human viruses will continue to emerge, mainly from other mammals and birds, for the foreseeable future.
Ok, so we know that we can expect another “Virus” about every two years. Did we handle SARS-2 correctly? Was it worth shutting down the world’s economies (Except China) to get to herd immunity which was reached by the other 200 viruses without doing so? If one is to start an analysis one is first to understand the elements or parameters that need to be analyzed. Over the next 4 days we will: 1) Determine what was the actual risk from the virus using World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Controls (CDC) data. 2) We will analyze what was the return on investment from the efforts to reach herd immunity comparing SARS-2 with previous similar virus outbreaks. 3) We will identify and analyze who benefitted from the way that we handled the SARS-2 virus. 4) We will attempt to identify how we should handle the next virus based on previous virus outcomes.
Based on our discussion and analysis over the next four days we will have a better understanding concerning the level if any of our having been fooled by those making the decisions regarding SARS-2 and its impact on our lives and long-term economies. If we were fooled, well shame on them. If we allow ourselves to be fooled again, well as my father would say, “Shame on me!”
 Woolhouse, M., Scott, F., Hudson, Z., Howey, R., & Chase-Topping, M. (2012). Human viruses: discovery and emergence. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences, 367(1604), 2864–2871. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2011.0354
Sam Pearson is a retired Army Colonel with a variety of experience in both government and private sectors. As arguably one of the World's foremost military logisticians, he has been responsible for the on time delivery of supplies and services worth billions of dollars. After service in Southwest Asia, he was hand picked to support logistics operations in support of earthquake relief operations in Haiti. Pearson now serves as a consultant and volunteer mentor for students seeking their doctorates in advance statistical analysis.
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