Editorials: Chinese numbers, and Stay at home

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The United States has vast satellite imaging and communications intercept abilities, and people adept at analyzing data that are picked up. However, also a pathological liar as a commander in chief. US Department of Defense image.

China’s numbers, and everyone else’s

Public health statistics are not an exact science in the best of situations. A missed diagnosis, someone who never sought treatment, incompletely filled forms or other clerical errors – these things do happen. Then there is an almost universal temptation for politicians and institutions to play down, even suppress or lie about, unpleasant news.

Countries without free and independent news reporting amplify these problems. The absence of pluralism in places where there is only one legal party and it controls all legal media is the classic malady, but multi-headed business oligarchies and rival political factions with their own media can also enforce orthodoxies that are at odds with the truth. People in Panama, or in the USA, should understand about China’s strict information controls but hesitate to trumpet the superiority of the systems by which we get our news. If the Trump administration denounces the Xi administration for politically distorting facts, on a specific point the former might be factually correct, but Donald Trump and those whom he employs are notoriously unreliable sources.

By several indications, from various sources independent of one another, China’s official story of the coronavirus death count in Wuhan is way understated, likely by an order of magnitude. They say fewer than four thousand deaths in all of China, when crematoria data from Wuhan alone suggest more than ten times that.

Such discrepancies matter more about some things than they do about others. Whatever the numbers, the quarantines imposed by China appear to have gone a long way toward limiting the disease’s spread. But if other places design their responses based upon understated numbers, they may deploy insufficient resources to deal with the problem.

Panama’s pandemic response is Panama’s. We need to be aware of the experiences of other places. We need to be up to date with the state of the science, which is developing in many places. While not going into unreasonable denial, we need to look skeptically at information that comes in.

This is a matter of lives and deaths in Panama. It’s not an exercise in blame assignment. It’s not the construction a pecking order that deems some civilizations superior and others inferior. We can neither afford to be deceived, nor to shut our eyes out of fear of being deceived.

Here at The Crossroads of the World, we do have some sophistication about the ways of the many nations that trade or pass through here. A bit of worldly caution will save lives in our current crisis.


Stay at home

Panama’s various police forces are among the first responders to the current health crisis. One of their top officers, a subcommissioner, has died of the coronavirus. A bunch of their fellow cops, along with a lot of health care workers, have become sick. If you notice from their poster, these folks have masks to protect other people, but nothing like the protective gear that someone at high risk of exposure needs for self protection.

Do not put your desires ahead  of their health or that of your neighbors. The cops don’t want to hear that. They will arrest you for violating quarantine and curfew rules.

Don’t be a jerk. Stay home.



                               Power without a nation’s confidence is nothing.

Catherine the Great                                

Bear in mind…

A man is not idle because he is absorbed in thought. There is a visible labor and there is an invisible labor.

Victor Hugo

Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery.

Dr. Joyce Brothers

Of course the game is rigged. Don’t let that stop you — if you don’t play, you can’t win.

Robert Heinlein


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