Monthly Archives: July 2020

Henry Cavill breaks the internet (and what it says about how to build an audience in today’s hyper-political world)

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:; July 30, 2020)

OK, British actor Henry Cavill, star of Netflix’s The Witcher, didn’t actually break the internet–an overused and lazy description for digital content that spreads rapidly and organically through various social media platforms.

Examples  of such content include music videos (Who can purge Rebecca Black’s “Friday” from their memory bank?–a  YouTube video with over 144 million views), social commentary videos (My favorite being an ad agency-produced video titled “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” that has garnered over 49 million views since being posted in 2014–more impressively, it has attracted over 270 response videos, generating over 147 million additional views ), and plain quirky videos–one of the most famous being Star Wars Kid” which has enjoyed a modest 35 million views since its posting in 2006 and has inspired dozens of imitator and parody videos.

In Cavill’s case, a July 16th Instagram video of him building a gaming PC has already attracted over 4.7 million views in under two weeks.

And the original Cavill-produced video has inspired dozens (by now, maybe hundreds) of reaction videos–more aptly described as videos of people watching Cavill building a PC, the most popular of which are each closing in on one million views.

Cavill, by his own multiple admissions, is a serious PC-gamer and was a fan of the PC-game version of The Witcher well before getting the lead role in its TV incarnation. However, he is not the first celebrity to self-produce a gaming PC build video. Actor Terry Crews regularly receives one million plus YouTube views for his videos regarding his PC-gaming obsession and his own gaming PC build.

According to a few serious PC-gamers I know through my teenage son, Crews and Cavill are the authentic deal. Just watch  Cavill’s PC-build video, particularly when he gently locks the CPU into place with a thin metal lever (at the 0:44 mark in the original video)–he’s clearly done this before.

But Cavill’s PC-build video takes the genre to an additional level through its synergy with Cavill’s professional life.

If you don’t know who Henry Cavill is, here is a quick recap: He’s the best movie Superman since Christopher Reeve and might be the best had he been given decent scripts and directing (though Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is grossly underrated).

More recently, Cavill has taken on another superhero-ish character in Geralt of Rivia, a product of sorcery who becomes a monster-hunter known as a “witcher.” Set in a medieval-inspired fantasy world called “The Continent.” The Witcher was created by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski, but its story is best known through its PC-gaming spin-off (now in its third version).

My teenage son says the role-playing, PC-version of The Witcher is for gaming “hardcores,” but as for the TV version–which, given its contextual similarities, receives frequent comparisons to HBO’s Game of Thrones (GOT)–it is a different beast entirely from GOT or other fantasy epics.

For one, The Witcher‘s narrative is reducible to a simple dramatic arc as it focuses on its lead character–Geralt–and the two most important women in his life: a young woman linked to his destiny (Ciri) and a rather fetching sorceress (Yennefer) who regularly appears and reappears in Geralt’s life.

The Witcher is less complex than GOT and not as Homeric in its ambitions. Equating the two shows is like saying Rawhide and Gunsmoke were essentially the same TV show (I just dated myself).

I am not a fan of high fantasy literature, having only read in my lifetime a handful of books from series like J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire [a.k.a. Game of Thrones], and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea. As suchthis essay does not intend to sell anyone on (or against) The Witcher TV series or its literary source material.

For what it is worth, after binge-watching all eight of The Witcher‘s Netflix episodes, I found the blizzard of unfamiliar proper nouns along with the dense intricacy of the show’s many plot threads to be a touch overwhelming—only coming together in the last three episodes when the background stories for Geralt, Ciri and Yennefer finally converge. Season 2 appears well-positioned to benefit from the groundwork laid in Season 1.

My purpose here is not to do a TV review; but, instead, bring attention to the The Witcher‘s unlikely success story and how Cavill—playing the show’s central protagonist—has perhaps revealed the template for how sci-fi/fantasy franchises (not named Marvel) can still thrive in an entertainment industry seemingly determined to kill the genre.

While The Witcher thrives with viewers, other sci-fi franchises are suffering

By industry standards, one season alone cannot establish The Witcher as an unqualified success. But the show has much to be proud of in its short history. For example, according to Parrot Analytics, a media demand measurement company, The Witcher‘s US debut on December 20, 2019 was the third most-in-demand streaming series ever measured–behind Stranger Things and The Mandalorian. In just a week after its debut, The Witcher was the most-in-demand streaming series in the world, dethroning Disney’s The Mandalorian.

In January, 2020, Netflix announced that The Witcher‘s audience in the first season, and after only one month of availability, exceeded 76 million viewers. With eyeball-popping numbers like that, Netflix didn’t require any verbal gymnastics to trumpet The Witcher‘s initial audience success.

Compare that to how the mainstream entertainment media covered the ratings for the September 2017 debut of CBS All-Access streaming series, Star Trek: Discovery.

From Variety’s Janko Roettgers “exclusive” report on the Star Trek: Discovery’s ratings debut:

CBS was able to almost double the mobile subscription revenue for its CBS All Access service with the premiere of “Star Trek: Discovery,” according to new data that app analytics specialist App Annie exclusively shared with Variety this week. Additionally, the number of downloads of the CBS mobile app grew by 2.5x following the premiere of the show.

CBS premiered “Star Trek: Discovery” both on broadcast TV as well as on its subscription streaming service CBS All Access on September 24. The first episode was free to watch for everyone; episode number two, which premiered on the same day, has only been available to CBS All Access subscribers.

To sweeten the deal, CBS has been giving All Access subscribers a 7-day free trial period. This means that anyone who signed up on September 24, and decided to stick around, saw their credit card charged on October 1. That day, the CBS app on iOS and Android did indeed see a revenue hike of 1.8x, compared to the average in-app revenue during the previous 30 days.

This is how an audience ratings story is written when the real numbers are disappointing and the entertainment reporter is little more than a propaganda mouthpiece for large media corporations.

A more useful number for Star Trek: Discovery—particularly if comparing it to The Witcher—came from Nielsen Media Research, who reported that Discovery‘s first episode was watched by 9.5 million viewers. Rick Porter, a well-known TV ratings reporter, described Discovery‘s debut ratings as “decent.” He was being kind.

There is no reason to pick on Star Trek: Discovery, however. The number of sci-fi/fantasy franchises that have died (or are dying fast) grows with each new ratings period:

  • HBO cancelled its critically-acclaimed “Watchmen” series (26 Emmy nominations) after just one season (9 episodes) due to less-than-great audience numbers.
  • DC Comics’ 2020 “Birds of Prey” movie, an intended launchpad for Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn character, died a quick box office death.
  • Warner Brothers’ Supergirl TV series has seen its average season viewership over five seasons drop from 9.81 million (Season 1) to 1.58 million (Season 5).
  • And in case you thought this is just a rant against female-led sci-fi/fantasy shows, Fox’s Seth McFarland-led The Orville has seen its viewership decline from 8.56 million in its first episode (Sept. 2017) to 2.97 million in its most recent episode (April 2019).

The audience problem for the sci-fi/fantasy genre is bigger than partisan politics.

My favorite sci-fi franchise, the BBC’s Doctor Who, has hit a ratings low since its reboot in 2005. According to Doctor Who TV, the premiere episode under current showrunner Chris Chibnall and “Doctor” (Jodi Whitaker) in 2018 attracted 10.96 viewers. Two complete seasons later, their most recent episode reached 4.69 viewers. Subsequently, what would be only the second time in the show’s history, there is a real chance the iconic BBC franchise will be cancelled after next season.

But not even the decline of Star Trek and Doctor Who can equal the heartbreak of watching the demise of modern science fiction’s most celebrated franchise, Star Wars, under Disney’s ownership.

Following the critical disaster of last year’s The Rise of Skywalker, unverified rumors have emerged that Disney is considering the creative cop-out of declaring the Disney trilogy movies (The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker) as part of an alternative universe distinct from the original trilogy—which is little more than the last words of a dying patient. Its J. J. Abrams’ Kelvin timeline for Star Trek all over again, only with cuter droids. Should the alternative universe angle be pursued by Disney, it will fail to save Star Wars, just like Abrams killed the lucrative Star Trek movie franchise.

Apart from the Marvel superhero movie franchise, the end of science fiction and fantasy in mainstream entertainment today is nearly complete. 

But I don’t blame Marvel for this decline (though its enormous popularity has probably sucked some of oxygen away from other sci-fi franchises).

I don’t blame video games (though my anecdotal experience with my teenage son and his friends supports the hypothesis that fantasy-based video games are far more stimulating and rewarding than TV shows or movies).

I don’t blame the soul-grinding negativity of today’s science fiction writers either (though I dare anyone to watch two consecutive episodes of Star Trek: Picard without needing to pop a couple Xanax tablets).

And I don’t even blame Hollywood’s “wokeness” or political correctness (though it has encouraged a tsunami of IQ-draining, political message scripts that read more like bad middle school history lectures than thought-provoking drama—I’m talking to you Chris Chibnall).

Nothing better highlights Hollywood’s self-important, imperious tendency than the recent words of CBS Star Trek‘s executive producer Alex Kurtzman during 2020’s virtual Comic-Con as he promoted the #StarTrekUnited hashtag on Twitter:

Star Trek, really since its inception, has always endeavored to speak to the vision where everybody really is united and a lot of the differences dividing us these days are gone,” said Kurtzman during CBS’s virtual Star Trek panel. “It’s unfortunately not the vision that the rest of the world is living in (today). #StarTrekUnited is is an effort to bring awareness to many of the organizations that are critical right now such as Black Lives Matter and the NAACP.”

Apparently, Alex Kurtzman’s has the authority to speak for the conditions in the “rest of the world.” Kurtzman’s co-executive produce, Heather Kadin, isn’t humble either:

“We are proud to be working on a show that has a message that really matters,” added Kadin, executive producer of CBS’s upcoming animated show, Star Trek: Prodigy. “I think anyone on this side of the camera (or) on the other side of the camera is hoping to say something. What’s great is you often get to say things about current events and mask them so they don’t feel like medicine or that you’re being taught something; in the case of Star Trek, thematically, it’s been baked into what Star Trek is about: a better hope about equality, gender equality, racial equality, and sexual equality.”

That is one way to describe CBS’s treatment of the Star Trek franchise. Actual Star Trek fans offer a different take:

“They are using Star Trek to push their own personal (f-ing) political views,” responds Tom Connors, a lifelong Star Trek fan and producer of the Midnight’s Edge podcast on YouTube.

As if we don’t get enough politics in our daily lives already, Hollywood routinely now forces overt political agendas into their movies and TV shows. I call it Hollywood’s anti-entertainment strategy. Most of it is mind-numbingly unpleasant to consume—watch 15-minutes of any Star Trek: Picard episode and you will think the Alpha Quadrant in the 24th century is dominated by Donald Trump’s offspring.

In particular, CBS’ Picard is unsparingly dark and depressing–and never play a drinking game where you take a straight whisky shot after every murder during an episode. By the end, you will be floor-crawling drunk.

As any fan of the original Star Trek will tell you, part of the show’s attraction was the intrinsic nature of its progressive, anti-bigotry principles (though a few of its episodes in the last season fell a bit short in that regard).

In the episode, The Ultimate Computer, from the original Star Trek’s second season, the character Dr. Richard Daystrom (played by William Marshall), considered one of the most brilliants minds in the Federation, designs and tests a supercomputer called the M-5 Multitronic System, a revolutionary tactical and control computer engineered to do the work of hundreds of Enterprise crew members. Through the entire episode, there is no mention that Dr. Daystrom is a Black man as it was irrelevant to the plot.

When Captain Kirk’s court martial in Season 1’s 20th episode is presided over by Commodore Stone, a flag officer to Kirk’s line officer status, the character is played by Canadian actor Percy Rodriguez—who is of African-Portuguese descent.

In Season 1’s 16th episode–The Galileo Seven–Spock commands an expedition party that gets stuck on an uncharted planet populated by giants, only to lose two crew members as they try to escape. The most interesting dramatic element in that episode is the interaction between Spock, the Enterprises’ senior science officer and second-in-command, and astrophysicist Lieutenant Boma, played by Don Marshall, an African-American actor. As Spock made a series of “rational” but unpopular decisions during their ordeal, it was Lt. Boma (along with Doctor McCoy) who dared to challenge Spock’s strict logical governance style.

Marshall would say many years later about Star Trek, “if you look at Star Trek you have every nationality in the book on the show. That’s opening the door to saying ‘the only reason the world is surviving is because we pull together.'” As for his one-episode role as Lt. Boma, Marshall was grateful to the episode’s scriptwriters—Oliver Crawford and
S. Bar-David—for not making his ethnicity a relevant part of the story.

The matter-of-factness of diversity on the original Star Trek was one of its enduring strengths.

So why is The Witcher succeeding where others are failing?

Its hard to say sci-fi/fantasy franchises are failing when, in 2019 worldwide movie grosses alone, the genre took in over 8 billion dollars. But take out Marvel superhero and Star Wars movies and the numbers become more modest.

In fact, despite their box office prowess, there are many reasons to worry about the future of the Marvel and Star Wars franchises too. Both have likely experienced the crest of their creative high points. That The Mandalorian is the best thing LucasFilm and Disney Star Wars has in production right now is evidence of this problem. At some point Buck Rogers (the biggest sci-fi property of its time) had to hang up his jet pack, and so too will The Force have to fade into the past.

It is going to be new franchises, such as The Witcher, that are going to carry the sci-fi/fantasy torch into the future–which is why Cavill’s gaming PC build video is far more important than just its ability to garner a few million YouTube views.

Knowingly or not, Cavill is giving Hollywood free lessons on how to build a lucrative new sci-fi/fantasy franchise. He gave his first lesson last year while promoting The Witcher premiere.

When baited by a media reporter to give his opinion about the negative impact “toxic fans” on well-established franchises such as Star Wars and Star Trek, Cavill’s answer shut the reporter down as easily as Superman stops bullets.

“When it comes to fans, it is a fan’s right to have whatever opinion they want to have, and  people are going to be upset… I don’t necessarily consider that toxic. I just consider that passion,” said Cavill.

In this simple statement, Cavill establishes that genre or franchise fans are not the problem–and, quite the opposite, they are the safety net for franchises that may need time to build a stable, lucrative audience.

Cavill’s First Lesson for Hollywood: ‘Toxic fans’ is another term for ‘core audience.’

Hollywood may think they gain their progressive  bona fides  by shunning these fans, but they are actually turning away the core audience who would otherwise show up at theaters in the first week of release and watch the TV show premieres and buy the board games.

The corporate suits running the current sci-fi/fantasy franchises are cutting their audiences in half under the false pretense that they are building new audiences.

But Cavill’s next lesson for Hollywood may be more important.

Franchise spin-offs have a potential ‘core audience,’ but that doesn’t mean these fans will show up anytime that franchise has a new movie or TV show. The core audience needs to trust the creative forces behind any spin-off.

In The Witcher’s case, it had a passionate fan base before the Netflix series ever premiered. In book sales alone, The Witcher series has sold over 50 million copies worldwide. Add to that over 28 million copies of the PC game, The Witcher 3, and it is not hard to understand why a media company might want to create a TV series around it.

Which is where Cavill’s gamer PC build video establishes his second and most important lesson.

Cavill’s Second Lesson for Hollywood: By respecting the ‘core audience,’ you have a better chance of adding new audiences

Social media is an ugly, mean place. And when you start navigating within its subgroups, such as the sci-fi and gaming communities, it can get even uglier. Phonies are easily spotted and quickly mocked (and then shunned).

After watching a dozen or so serious PC experts on YouTube critique Cavill’s PC building skills–he was generally praised for his hardware selections and widely commended for

What has been fascinating are the number of my family and friends who know Cavill as Superman, but have never read The Witcher books, don’t care about fantasy literature in general, and never play PC games, but had to tell me about Cavill’s PC build video. And it wouldn’t surprise me if half of them at least sample The Witcher on Netflix in the near future.

Anecdotal evidence it may be, but consistent with everything I’ve seen and read about audience building: the importance of word-of-mouth and trusted opinion leaders, which can lead to sampling, which can lead to a loyal customer (viewer). A company’s core customers are often their best salespeople.

But when a studio alienates its core audience? Well, you get ratings declines like those seen for Doctor Who and other science fiction franchises.

Henry Cavill and Netflix’s The Witcher prove it doesn’t have to be that way.

  • K.R.K.

Send comments to: or tweet me at: @KRobertKroeger1

Dick and Jane: Fun with Soft Coups

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:; July 22, 2020)

The New York Times broke a bombshell story on June 26th with this headline:

Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says.

No, the bombshell information is not that Russians might be paying our adversaries to kill our soldiers. That’s been going on for close to 75 years now. And, truth be told, the U.S. does the same to Russia. The CIA’s Operation Cyclone during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan (1979 to 1989) comes to mind, but sometimes the U.S. just kills Russians directly, as we did in Syria. No middleman or bounty required. Either way it’s called statecraft, and its a dirty business.

Rather, the bombshell news is that the CIA is leaking classified intelligence–probably illegally, as only the President and those he delegates have the legal authority to declassify such information, per Executive Order 12356–in an apparent effort to undermine the Trump administration’s policies in Afghanistan, if not undermine the administration’s overall ability to govern.

If this were done in one of Donald Trump’s shithole countries, we’d call this type of government intelligence activity part of a coup effort. As it was done in the U.S. during the Trump administration, its called the ‘nightly news.’

Whether coincidental or not, the Times story is coming out at the very moment the Trump administration moves forward in brokering a peace deal with the Taliban and the current Afghan government in an effort to end our 19-year war in Afghanistan, the longest in U.S. history.

On July 13th, chief U.S. negotiator and peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted:

In a good faith move, the Trump administration recently dropped U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan from 12,000 to 8,600 and closed five military bases.

While the Taliban has increased their military activity against the Afghan government in recent months–most likely an effort establish their leverage at the negotiating table–they have not targeted U.S. troops, despite such lazy inferences repeatedly drawn in the U.S. mainstream media from the thinly-sourced Times ‘bounties’ story.

The last U.S. troop deaths in Afghanistan due to hostile activity were on February 8th, from a Green on Blue attack (i.e., an attack by Afghan National Security Forces or an Afghan contractor employed by the International Security Assistance Force–ISAF). These U.S. combat deaths occurred three weeks prior to the signing of the U.S.-Taliban Peace Deal on February 29th.

If there have been Russian-paid bounties on the lives of U.S. soldiers, they have had no substantive impact on the Afghan conflict.

The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend

Growing tensions between the U.S. and Russia during the Obama administration and continuing under Trump has led Russia to pursue closer economic and security ties with the Taliban in anticipation of a potential U.S./NATO as early as next year. This is old news.

Reports surfaced in 2016 that the Russians were providing weapons to the Taliban to fight ISAF (US and NATO)–weapons used to kill American soldiers. This happened during the Obama administration.

By 2017, U.S. military leaders were openly calling out the Russians for providing military support to the Taliban.

It is in this context the Times reported in late June that, according to an anonymous U.S. intelligence source, the Russians had issued “bounties” to encourage Taliban commanders to target U.S. troops. Days later it would be reported that some of the intelligence used to support the “bounty” conclusion came from financial records showing possible payments to the Taliban by the Russians.

Underlying this reporting–based entirely on anonymous intelligence sources–is the implicit narrative that the Trump administration “ignored” the intelligence, thereby becoming complicit with the Russians and Taliban in the killing of U.S. troops.

The anti-Trump outrage brigade went full speed ahead with the ‘bounty’ story and its innuendo of treason, despite at least one U.S. official working closely on Afghanistan admitted it “is not a big step to see that they (the Russians) were also paying a ‘bounty’ to Taliban commanders” for targeting U.S. soldiers.

Some independent journalists such as Max Blumenthal promptly challenged the dubiousness  of the Times ‘bounty’ story—Why would the Russians need to pay the Taliban to do something they already do quite willingly?–claiming that the intelligence leak to the Times possibly represents a U.S. intelligence/military community effort to prolong the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan by sabotaging the U.S.-Taliban peace talks.

Putting aside for the moment any bureaucratic rebellion aimed at keeping the U.S. in the longest war in its history, the validity of the ‘bounty’ is most likely described by one of three explanations:

Explanation (1) The ‘bounty’ story is true and U.S. intelligence caught the Russians red-handed (no outdated pun intended),

Explanation (2) the story is not true and was built on circumstantial evidence, resulting in sincere but flawed inferences and conclusions (probably fitting a preexisting narrative already circulating within anti-Trump forces inside the U.S. government), (3)

Explanation (3) this story is not true and was a willful use of disinformation (or the reckless exaggeration of legitimate intelligence) meant solely to discredit the Trump administration.

With the recent news that some intelligence officials had only “medium confidence” in the Russian “bounty” conclusion—thereby explaining the Trump administration’s decision not to overreact to that intelligence report—I would assign the general probabilities for the three ‘bounty” story explanations as follows: Explanation 1 could be true, Explanation 2 is more likely to be true, and Explanation 3 cannot be ruled out.

Regardless of the ‘bounty’ stories truth, there is legitimate news–if still circumstantial–contained within the media frenzy aimed at further tainting the integrity and credibility of the Trump administration.

First, by refusing to foolishly ratchet up tensions with the Russians and Taliban over the ‘bounty’ story, the Trump administration is showing remarkable focus and leadership in trying to hammer out a viable and lasting peace with the Taliban. Though they may still fail—and, frankly, it doesn’t help that many Volvo Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans are actively working to malign the administration’s Afghan peace efforts—the Trump administration’s intentions do appear authentic.

Second, the Taliban’s is also showing exceptional internal discipline in ending their attacks on ISAF troops since February in an apparent good-faith effort to honor the U.S.-Taliban Peace Accord (the Afghan National forces have not been as fortunate). Whether the ‘bounty’ story is true or not, there is no substantive evidence in ISAF fatality data suggesting the Taliban has systematically altered its military tactics or strategy because of a Russian financial incentive program.

Finally, the most troubling aspect of the Times ‘bounty’ story is that the U.S. intelligence community is freely leaking classified information (without apparent consequence despite such actions most likely being illegal) with the clear intent of undermining the Trump administration. That our intelligence community for over three years now has never been held accountable for violating one of this community’s strictest legal boundaries—the authorization to collect and analyze only foreign intelligence in service to the executive branch—should alarm every American. By leaking to the news media an accusation that the Trump administration is not acting on classified intelligence is, by definition, a form of spying on the Trump administration.

The “bounty’ story leaker cannot justify his or her actions as a ‘whistleblower’ as the person did not go through the authorized ‘whistleblower’ process. And any justification of the leaker’s actions on the grounds that he or she is exposing the Trump administration’s gross negligence with intelligence ignores the fact that administrations have been ignoring military intelligence since at least 1812 when the James Madison administration ignored military intelligence reports saying the British were planning to invade Washington. Madison’s administration didn’t act on the intelligence until British troops were a mere 16 miles from the Capital.

Even if mostly true, the Times ‘bounty’ story is non-news posing as substantive news. It is a pattern we saw worked with ruthless precision during Russiagate coverage in which non-news stories–such as incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn talking privately to the Russian Ambassador to the U.S.–become “blockbuster” exclusives confirming Trump was a Vladimir Putin puppet and signaling the imminent end of the Trump presidency. None of that was ever true and you can be forgiven if you are rolling your eyes at the ‘bounty’ story as well.

In a free society with a free press, journalists have every right to uncover stories like the ‘bounty’ story. But it is dangerous for the public to turn a blind eye to the U.S. bureaucratic state using journalists to facilitate domestic political attacks using information of unknown veracity. Wikileak’s Julian Assange sits in a UK prison because he published classified information about U.S. military actions in Iraq—not one word of which Wikileaks has ever had to retract for being a falsehood.

The laundry list of falsehoods, inaccuracies, smears, deceptions and baseless inferences published by the U.S. news media during Russiagate should be used to paper the walls of every journalism school in the country.

Journalism is all but dead in the U.S. and Donald Trump isn’t to blame—nor are the Russians.

  • K.R.K.

Send comments to: or tweet me at: @KRobertKroeger1

In politicizing the coronavirus, partisans are cherry-picking the data

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:; July 19, 2020)

Key Takeaways: The science says we will reach herd immunity — the point at our most vulnerable citizens have indirect protection to the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) — when 60 to 70 percent of the population has either been vaccinated or has the virus antibodies having survived contraction of the virus.

At present, while the U.S. is seeing a fast growing percentage of its population who has survived this disease (COVID-19) and therefore bringing the U.S. closer to herd immunity, this growth may be occurring too fast given the country’s medical capacity to handle those most vulnerable to the disease. Based on my models, the U.S. has experienced around 80,000 more deaths than expected given the country’s general characteristics (i.e., population density, days since the virus became lethal, mean latitude, and historical ability to handle the seasonal flu).

Without disciplined individual behavior (i.e,. face masks and physical distancing), the U.S. will continue to suffer more coronavirus deaths than necessary to reach herd immunity.

The U.S. will be talking for “decades” about what New York did to fight the coronavirus, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently declared. To further emphasize that point, Cuomo himself designed a campaign poster touting his state’s titanic efforts to control the coronavirus (I purposely use the term ‘titanic’ ):

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s graphic poster of New York’s efforts to control the coronavirus


Criticism of Cuomo’s splatter graph poster is coming from all political corners.

Says the National Review’s Madeleine Kearns: “I don’t have anything nice to say about it, except that it’s a helpful insight into a singularly incompetent and disorganized mind. It must remain one of the weirdest political stunts to come out of a crisis.”

Even CNN — the broadcast home of Governor Cuomo’s own brother, Chris Cuomo — can’t stomach the inappropriateness and arrogance of the New York Governor’s poster art.

“Cuomo’s whimsical gesture was in poor taste and poorly timed,” writes CNN contributor Errol Louis, “New York suffered a staggering 32,000 coronavirus deaths in the span of just a few weeks, more than 10 times the number of lives lost on 9/11.”

With New York’s coronavirus death rate of 1,670 per one million people, what Governor Cuomo wouldn’t give to have Florida’s or Texas’ death rates (211 per/M and 125 per/M, respectively). Indeed, Florida and Texas could see their deaths rates triple over the next month and they still wouldn’t be close to the carnage experienced in New York (or New Jersey) over a much shorter period of time.

Governor Cuomo is smart to focus attention on the past month of relatively few new coronavirus cases or deaths in his state, as the art of politics has at least one immutable law: when a statistical measure doesn’t give the answer you want, use a different measure.

The Republicans are not innocent

Of course, the Donald Trump administration and the Republicans are no better.

The ongoing pissing match between Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Peter Navarro, an assistant to the president, spotlights how the Trump administration is cherry-picking coronavirus data for its own political convenience.

In a recent political event — directly contradicting statements by President Trump promoting the declining case mortality rate of the coronavirus — Fauci said “that it’s a false narrative to take comfort in a lower rate of death” and the country cannot get into a “false complacency” regarding progress made in controlling the virus.

Navarro shot back at Fauci in a USA Today editorial: “Fauci says a falling mortality rate doesn’t matter when it is the single most important statistic to help guide the pace of our economic reopening. The lower the mortality rate, the faster and more we can open. So when you ask me whether I listen to Dr. Fauci’s advice, my answer is: only with skepticism and caution.”

So who is right? Fauci or Navarro?

In truth, they are both right…and both wrong.

As reported weeks ago by myself and others, the falling coronavirus case mortality rates are real and significant. Axios, perhaps the most anti-Trump rag on the web, concluded the decline is a function of: (1) a drop in the mean age of Americans getting infected (i.e., a higher percentage of those infected are healthy and capable of surviving the virus), and (2) the “treatments and therapies for those with advanced coronavirus symptoms have improved in the U.S.”

To the extent the Trump administration can take partial credit for the latter reason is debatable, but there is some merit to the argument. The U.S. buying up a large percentage of the world supply of Gilead’s Covid-19 drug Remdesivir, an effective treatment for the disease, is one example — though somewhat ruthless given that this is a global pandemic, not just an American crisis. America First, I suppose.

Still, by trumpeting (pardon the pun) the declining case mortality rate, the Trump administration is only acknowledging half of the story. The U.S. is also experiencing an unprecedented surge in new coronavirus cases — and that surge is not solely a function of increased testing, as suggested by the Trump administration.

Yes, the case fatality rate is falling (a good thing), but with more Americans getting the virus, more Americans will die (a bad thing) — more importantly, many of those deaths will be needless, as I will demonstrate below.

Contracting the coronavirus is not necessarily a bad thing

The American public is bludgeoned with daily updates on new coronavirus cases and deaths. What the news media rarely does, however, is put those statistics in their proper context.

Not every new case of the coronavirus is bad. To the contrary, there is a strong epidemiological argument that the spread of the virus among healthy people serves the important purpose of advancing society towards herd immunity levels — particularly since, according to the University of Minnesota’s Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH, one of the nation’s leading epidemiologists, we cannot assume an effective vaccine will be widely available any time soon or that, once available, it will offer anything more than short term protection.

“One of the things we have to understand is that this virus is operating under the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. It doesn’t in any way, shape, or form bend itself to public policy,” Osterholm told Dan Buettner, founder of Blue Zones, a health-oriented website.

The Trump administration’s assumption this virus will go away as soon as a vaccine is developed is both naive and dangerous. It builds expectations in the public mind that will be impossible to meet.

Vaccines don’t just appear at your local doctor’s office or drugstore overnight. The production schedules, supply chains, personnel training, marketing campaigns, and standing up of vaccination centers on the global scale required by the coronavirus will push the capacity limits of even the most advanced countries.

The U.S. could see the wide distribution of a vaccine later this year and nonetheless need many months to get near herd immunity levels — generally believed to be around 60 to 70 percent of the population. In mid-June, Osterholm told NPR that about 7 percent of the U.S. population had already been infected by the coronavirus.

But critics of the Trump administration, led by congressional Democrats and the news media, are advancing an equally dubious expectation that rational public policy making — such as school/business closures and enforcing face mask and social distancing directives — will stop the spread of the virus; when, in fact, the science tells us such measures can only slow the spread of a virus as infectious as the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

“Protective measures such as limiting travel, avoiding crowds, social distancing, and thorough and frequent handwashing can slow down the development of new COVID-19 cases and reduce the risk of overwhelming the health care system,” according to guidance from the Harvard Medical School.

More ominously, Osterholm’s warning in mid-June that long periods of time with few new cases — such as going on now in the Northeast U.S. — is not necessarily a good thing.

“If cases should disappear over the course of the next six to eight weeks, or at least be greatly reduced, that is not necessarily good news,” according to Osterholm. “It surely seems counterintuitive that we would want cases to happen. I don’t want anybody to get sick, severely ill or die. But if we saw a trough of cases in the next two months, I think that would really tell us that we’re likely to have this big second wave, much like we would see with influenza, which could be much worse.”

“This virus is not going to slow down transmission overall. It may come and go, but it will keep transmitting until we get at least 60 or 70 percent of the population infected and hopefully develop immunity,” adds Osterholm.

In layman terms, it is a good outcome when a healthy person contracts the coronavirus and survives without major health complications — as long as they don’t subsequently pass the virus on to someone who is vulnerable to the disease (i.e., the elderly and those people with serious health problems). In other words, surviving the coronavirus is functionally equivalent to being vaccinated against it. Therefore, the news media’s negative obsession with coronavirus case numbers conveniently ignores the positive aspects of the virus’ spread in the U.S.

However, the alarming number of young Americans in “vacation” states contracting the virus and passing it onto vulnerable Americans should temper any Trump administration assertion that the coronavirus is under control. Without disciplined individual behavior (i.e,. face masks and physical distancing), the U.S. will continue to suffer more coronavirus deaths than necessary to reach herd immunity.

How do the U.S. coronavirus numbers compare to other countries?

Accordingly, I will dispense with the standard recitation of the current coronavirus case and death totals (per 1 million people) relative to other countries. The current numbers can be found at; and, based on those topline metrics, the U.S. is doing no better or worse than most economically developed countries. But those metrics offer little context or insight.

Are Trump and Navarro right in asserting that the growing U.S. case totals are merely a function of increased testing within the U.S. and the ‘real news’ story is the falling case mortality rate?

Or is Dr. Fauci correct in asserting that the falling case mortality rate is an artifact of the virus’ fast spread and that the metric to watch is the number of new cases?

As the following statistical analysis will try to show, both arguments have merit — but, overall, the relative advantage the U.S. is having in lowering its death rate is being squandered by an excessive number of new cases.

My first statistical model attempts to explain the relative number of coronavirus cases in the world’s most advanced economic countries based on a set of factors known to relate to the spread of the coronavirus: (1) population density, (2) mean latitude, (3) the relative number of coronavirus tests (per 1 million people), (4) number of days since the first confirmed case, and (5) a country’s cultural norms (as defined by Samuel Huntington in his book, Clash of Civilizations).

The linear model results can be found in the appendix below (see Figure A.1).

Based on this model, we see which countries are experiencing more coronavirus cases than expected, given their endemic characteristics. After controlling for those factors listed above, my model suggests Chile, U.S., Sweden, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Russia, France and Canada have all experienced an excessive number of coronavirus cases (see Figure 1).

The U.S. has almost 7,000 more coronavirus cases per 1 million people than expected.

Figure 1: Excess COVID-19 Cases per 1 Million People (as of 13 July 2020)


In contrast, countries like Denmark, Israel, Lithuania, Germany, Luxembourg, and Mexico have experienced relatively fewer excessive coronavirus cases.

The hypothesis that these differences are due to nationwide lockdown policies remains unproven. According to the model presented here, there is no strong relationship between whether a country issued a nationwide lockdown and its relative number of coronavirus cases.

In the U.S. case, the Trump administration contends that the recent increase in coronavirus cases is a direct function of significant increases in testing. The administration is partially correct.

The linear model (detailed in Appendix A.1) shows that the strongest correlate with the relative number coronavirus cases is the level of a nation’s testing for the virus. However, testing alone does not explain the current surge in U.S. coronavirus cases.

The current growth in U.S. coronavirus cases (primarily in the southern half of the U.S.) is a function of an increase in testing and the relatively high hit rate of this testing (see Figure 2). Since May 28th, 6.7 percent of U.S. coronavirus tests have returned positive. Only Sweden and Ukraine have reported higher hit rates among the advanced economies. In the same period, the U.S. has increased its cumulative number of testing rate by almost 83,000 tests per million people, the 7th fastest testing growth rate among the 41 advanced economies (behind Luxembourg, UK, Denmark, Singapore, Russia and Israel).

Figure 2: Coronavirus testing hit rates between May 28th and July 13th among advanced economies


If we merely focus on the recent surge in U.S. coronavirus cases and dismiss the importance of the country’s falling case fatality rate, as Fauci has suggested, we miss a substantial part of the overall picture.

Yes, the U.S. is seeing a surge in new coronavirus cases — a result in part due to a significant increase in cases among young adults — but a growing percentage of these new cases are within relatively healthy population segments more likely to survive COVID-19. Hence, the falling case fatality rate.

But the problem with the Trump administration resting on the falling case fatality rate as conclusive evidence that the U.S. is “beating” the coronavirus is that this too misses the bigger picture.

What if the rise in new cases far exceeds the rate of decline in the case fatality rate? For example, if the recent surge in cases is also overloading hospital ICUs, it is possible people could be dying that wouldn’t have otherwise, despite the falling case fatality rate.

The two trends — cases and deaths — need to be considered together.

In that effort, my second statistical model attempts to explain the relative number of coronavirus deaths in the world’s most advanced economic countries based on a set of factors known to relate to the spread of the coronavirus: (1) the relative number of coronavirus cases (per 1 million people), (2) mean latitude, (3) number of days since the first confirmed death, (4) historical average of annual flu-related deaths (a proxy for the ability of a nation’s health care system to deal with infectious diseases) and (5) a country’s cultural norms (as defined by Samuel Huntington in his book, Clash of Civilizations).

The second linear model results can be found in the appendix below (see Figure A.2).

Based on this second model, we see which countries are experiencing more (and fewer) coronavirus deaths than expected, given their endemic characteristics. After controlling for those factors listed above, my model suggests Belgium, UK, Italy, France, Spain, Netherlands, Mexico and Canada have all experienced more than 100 coronavirus deaths per 1 million people than expected (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Excess COVID-19 Deaths per 1 Million People (as of 13 July 2020)


In contrast, Luxembourg, Chile, Russia and U.S. have experienced more than 100 fewer coronavirus deaths per 1 million people than expected — not coincidentally, three of those countries (Chile, Russia, and U.S.) have experienced a higher than expected number of cases per million (see Figure 1 above).

As the Democrats and Republicans cite the coronavirus statistics that best support their political agendas — the Democrats hammer on the growing number of cases and deaths, while the Republicans dutifully trumpet the improving case fatality rate — it would be more productive to combine information on the coronavirus into more comprehensive metrics.

For example, what if we wanted to know what the U.S. coronavirus death rate would be if the country was experiencing its expected number of cases? Recall, in the first linear model (Figures 1 and A.1), the predicted cumulative number of coronavirus cases for the U.S. was 3,866 per 1 million people. In other words, given its underlying characteristics in terms of population density, testing rate, number of days since first case, and mean latitude, how many cases should the U.S. have right now?).

Thus, if we replace the actual number of U.S. deaths (10,732 cases per 1 million people) into the linear model equation of coronavirus deaths (Figures 3 and A.2) with 3,866 cases per 1 million, we get 178 coronavirus deaths per 1 million people. That is the the number of deaths the U.S. would have right now if the country’ s case rate was normal (i.e., predicted value).

Our actual death rate right now is 424 deaths per 1 million. Expanded over the entire U.S. population, as of July 13th, the U.S. has seen approximately 80,500 more deaths than it should have had it kept its coronavirus case rate near normal levels.

Politicizing the coronavirus is counterproductive

The Democrats can legitimately cite the growing number of cases and deaths in the southern half of the U.S. as evidence that state and federal governments are not pursuing effective policies. Conversely, the Trump administration can rightfully claim the coronavirus (and its associated disease, COVID-19) is increasingly survivable, as seen in the falling case fatality rate.

Sadly, but predictably, the coronavirus has been so recklessly politicized by all sides that it has actually done harm to the the U.S. effort to mitigate and suppress the coronavirus.

The coronavirus has exposed our broken health care system and the systemic dishonesty of our political and media elites.

At the same time, the U.S. will survive the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 and most likely see its economy not just recover but flourish in the next 12 months. The ceaseless march of human progress is not going to reverse because of the coronavirus. No disrespect to those who have suffered and/or died from COVID-19, but this virus is not that scary.

Wear a mask, keep your distance, wash your hands, and stop touching yourself

The news continues to be optimistic for the development of a coronavirus vaccine to be available by the end of this year or early next. Three labs, including the U.S. company Moderna, are currently in Phase 3 testing of possible vaccines. The other two labs are in China and the UK.

Tempering this optimism, however, is the reality that COVID-19 cases have surged in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas to such an extent that some ICUs are reaching capacity limits as the daily case and death counts are rising again across the country (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Daily Case and Death Increases in the U.S. (through 18 July 2020)


At the same time, as more Americans contract the coronavirus and COVID-19 treatments improve, the cumulative case fatality rate will continue to drop (see Figure 5). That is not a statistical artifact, as suggested by Fauci. It is the result of a virus that is increasingly survivable, as long as we don’t overload our national health care system.

Figure 5: Cumulative Case Fatality Rate in the U.S. (through 18 July 2020)


Osterholm warned at the beginning of this pandemic, make no assumptions about when a safe, effective and widely available vaccine will appear. Besides, vaccines are not 100 percent effective and it is unknown how long the eventual SARS-CoV-2 vaccine will protect individuals once administered. Viruses mutate, after all. Furthermore, it is also not clear the extent or how long the SARS-CoV-2 antibodies protect COVID-19 survivors.

What is clear is that the U.S. is going to reach herd immunity through some combination of COVID-19 recoveries and vaccinations. But assuming the U.S. can prevent SARS-CoV-2 infections long enough for a vaccine to be available is foolish and bad public policy.

The goal should be, according to Osterholm, to flatten out the infection curve as much as possible — and that means enforcing sound physical distancing and mask-wearing policies.

However, it is not obvious that shutting down the U.S. economy is necessary or even helpful. And schools may be able to safely re-open as well if Americans — young and old — systematically change some of their everyday behaviors: Wear masks. Wash hands. And avoid close physical contact outside the home.

This is not hard to do. But as one of my Russian friends living here in New Jersey likes to remind me, Americans do not know how to be sick.

That has to change.

  • K.R.K.

Send comments to: or tweet me at: @KRobertKroeger1


APPENDIX: The Linear Models for Explaining Worldwide Coronavirus Cases and Deaths (n = 41 countries)

Figure A.1: The Linear Model for Explaining Worldwide COVID-19 Cases (n = 41 countries)

Figure A.2: The Linear Model for Explaining Worldwide COVID-19 Deaths (n = 41 countries)

The Prisoner in Room 19

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:; July 14, 2020)

I must preface this essay with this acknowledgement: In preparing my visit with my 92-year-old mother, the staff at the Western Home’s Windhaven Assisted Living residence in Cedar Falls, Iowa, could not have been friendlier or more accommodating given the extraordinary circumstances.

I bitched. I moaned. I complained about every rule they imposed on the visit — particularly the disallowing of my mother’s 14-year-old grandson to stand with me behind a Plexiglas barrier that protected her from me.

As it was over 90 degrees in Windhaven’s outside courtyard — where the visit took place — my time with my mother was limited to 30 minutes (though the nurses aide appeared willing to let us go longer, had we requested).

The control measures seemed excessive then; and, in retrospect, they still feel that way.

Even so, I accepted the Western Home’s restrictions (What choice did I have?). As a nurses aide tried to ease my disappointment, she told me, “We can’t take any chances. You understand.”

I understood. I have no complaints with the Western Home. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Considering that over 40 percent of U.S. coronavirus deaths are linked to nursing homes, the Western Home had few options. It is easier to protect people from the coronavirus than it is to isolate and eradicate the coronavirus itself. Epidemiologists say, even with a vaccine, the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and its mutation offspring may be with us forever.

When the books are finally written about the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, a large part of the story will be how the U.S. failed its senior citizens, and the blame will cross party lines.

And first in line for criticism should be New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who, in the last minute, inserted into New York’s final budget bill (passed in late March) a provision that “shielded nursing homes from many lawsuits over their failure to protect residents from death or sickness caused by the coronavirus.”

Sadly, New York is not the only state where the nursing home lobby has successfully pressed for legal protections that make it harder for families to sue over negligent COVID-19-related deaths.

If you are wondering why CNN or MSNBC aren’t covering this nursing home liability story more tenaciously, most likely it is because they can’t blame it on Donald Trump. The coronavirus has been so completely politicized by the news media — conservative podcaster Steve Deace perceptively refers to media coverage of the pandemic as ‘panic porn’ — the public is worse off for consuming it. Once more, complicity for this politicization crosses the ideological spectrum.

Western Home’s Windhaven Assisted Living Residence in Cedar Falls, Iowa (Photo by Kent R. Kroeger)


As for my visit with my mother, my biggest regret is that I didn’t lie about my son’s age (he’s 14 and only people aged 18 and older can visit Western Home residents right now).

The visit itself was mostly a positive experience, though its strict limitations were frustrating. Through the inch-thick glass barrier, I could barely hear my mother’s voice (and vice versa). To compensate, we were yelling most of the time. In the end, the 30 minutes I had with my mother on that hot July afternoon felt more like a prison visit.

“Mom, maybe with good behavior they’ll let you out on parole?”

“I’m innocent,” she pleaded back. “I was framed.”

Having raised three boys, my mom has a battle-tested sense of humor.

But, as my visit ended and I began drive away from Windhaven, my wife and son (who had been waiting in the car) begged if they could at least wave at my mother through her apartment window.

I didn’t know her apartment number.

I asked one of the attendants if that would be possible. I could tell he was supposed to say “No,” but he paused for a moment, went into the facility’s office, and soon returned.

“Room 19. North Wing. First level, looking towards the parking lot,” he said. “I’ll let her know.”

My mother looking out her apartment window (Photo by Kent R. Kroeger)


Despite years of clean living and an uncompromising daily exercise routine, my mother’s body has ultimately betrayed her. Osteoporosis has left her wheelchair-bound. A woman that once started every day to either Tae Bo or Sweating to Richard Simmons and the Oldies, can no longer walk. Aging can be cruel enough, but add to that a pandemic-related quarantine and the result is demoralizing for my mother and her family.

The healing power of touch is well-documented in medical science. There must be a better way to protect our seniors from dangerous pathogens without denying the physical contact they need (and their families need) for a decent quality of life.

I don’t know what the solution is, I just know I left the Windhaven nursing home feeling more sad than happy.

It didn’t need to be that way.

  • K.R.K.

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Or tweet me at: @KRobertKroeger1