Coronavirus, Chaos, and Strange Attractors

Coronavirus is chaotic by nature. Its signature is cascading bifurcation.  Chaos, however, is deterministic, it has mathematical solutions (logistic equation, fractal geometry). It can be bounded. Social distancing does that by flattening the curve, putting bounds on the situation.

Chaotic situations also produce strange attractors, entities that cannot be known but can be identified retrospectively. 9/11, also a chaotic situation provides clear examples of how strange attractors emerge and control the flow of information.

One example is the massive cleanup operation at Ground Zero.

The city government ran the show. The agency charged with managing the physical work was an unlikely one. It was the Department of Design and Construction (DDC), an obscure bureaucracy…The DDC was given the lead for the simple reason that its two top officials, a man named Kenneth Holden and his lieutenant, Michael Burton, had emerged from the chaos of September 11 as the most effective of the responders. Now they found themselves running a billion-dollar operation with the focus of the nation upon them. American Ground, Unbuilding the World Trade Center, Langewiesche, North Point Press, 2002)

Another example is the control of information flow, accurately or inaccurately, that emerged during the actual battle on the day of 9/11. Ideally, information should have flown between the operator of the National Air Space System and the defender of that system. The operator was the Air Traffic Control System Command Center, the Federal Aviation Administration’s operational center in, then, Herndon, Virginia. The defender was the, then, Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, New York, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) element protecting the east coast of the United States.

Instead, information flowed between Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZBW) and NEADS. Specifically, two named individuals controlled that flow, Colin Scoggins, Military Operations Specialist at Boston Center, and Master Sergeant Maureen “Mo” Dooley, head of the Information Section at NEADS.

Now, here we are nearly 20 years later facing another significant chaotic event and the strange attractors have emerged. They are Ambassador, Dr. Deborah Birx, Colonel, USA, retired, and Donald J. Trump, President of the United States.

The story of how Birx, an Obama appointee, and Trump, the anti-Obama President came to this state of affairs remains to be told.  Its vary nature, however, was captured succinctly by the Washington Post on March 31, 2020. The article is “Trump weighed health, politics in policy shift,” by Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey and Yasmeen Abutaleb. The authors make this prescient statement:

“…Birx and the president have a good relationship…she understands how to work with Trump and he, in turn, respects her.”

Repeatedly in coronavirus task force updates Trump refers to her as either Dr. Birx or, deferentially, simply Deborah.

This is a story yet to be told.