Saturday, September 26, 2020

"The Tyranny of Merit": (Michael Sandel), the dark side of meritocracy

 


Smersonish, this morning on CNN, interviewed author Michael Sandel, from Harvard as professor at Government Theory, his new book “The Tyranny of Merit: What Becomes of the Common Good?”, from Farrar, Straus and Girroux, September 15, 2020, 288 pages. 

.

Meritocracy has a dark side, in that it tends to create a view of people as winners and losers, with success as always their own doing, a measure of worthiness.

The opposite of this idea would seem to be critical theory, especially critical race theory.

In a personal sense, it leads to a desire to avoid people who fail personally as being less morally “worthy”.  If applied by everybody this would wind up with fascism.

This becomes important in socialization of some edgy people, like me, who may not find a point in joining in with (other) people who claim to be “oppressed”.

Friday, September 25, 2020

"White Awareness: A Handbook for Anti-Racism Training" caused a controversy for the Smithsonian

 


There is an old handbook a 1978 paperback, now expensive and a collector’s item, “White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-Racism Training”, by Judith H. Katz, from the University of Oklahoma Press. The existence of the book reminds us that the theory of anti-racism (and even critical race theory) have been around before, and I recall them occasionally from the early 1970s.  As an author myself, I have a bit or revulsion over the idea of spoonfeeding people in handbooks. 

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture admitted that it had used a “whiteness” chart that seems to emphasize individualism (deferred gratification, logical thinking, etc) but as an example of “ideology”, according to a Washington Post article by Peggy McGlone July 17. Newsweek had a similar story by Marina Watts.

The Smithsonian periodical has several articles with a flavor of anti-racism, such as “How to Talk about Race, Racism and Racial Identity”, by Allison Keyes.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Wall Street Journal Series, "The COVID Storm"

 


The Wall Street Journal offers a series called “The COVID Storm”.  I’ll link to the most recent one, Sept. 7, by Robert Lee Holtz and Natasha Khan, “’Really Diabolical’:Inside the Coronavirus that Outsmarted Science” (paywall).   The master page will link to “A Deadly Coronavirus Was Inevitable.  Why Was No One Ready?”  by Betsy McKay and Phred Dvorak, Aug. 13.

The current essay explains how the virus can attack almost every organ system because it can use several receptors (the most important is ACE2) to get inside cells.

It developed this seemingly improbable multiplicity of ways to damage humans by incubating in bats, whose high metabolism and body temperature forces it to evolve more to survive in them.

Particularly scary are the findings that sometimes the virus has been found in spinal fluid and brain.

I have thought of measles as a reasonable comparison to a multi system disease, but COVID19 does seem unprecedented in the variety of damage a highly contagious respiratory disease can do, because it evolved in an unusual mammal.  The development inside bats probably explains most of the unusual properties sometimes attributed to labs (including a recent rumor on Tucker Carlson).

Friday, September 18, 2020

New York Review of Books: "It Can Happen Here", the imposition of fascism

The New York Review of Books, in an article by Cass R, Sunstein (June 28, 2018), argues “It can happen here” with the byline “Many accounts of the Nazi period depict a barely imagineable set of events, a nation gone mad. That makes it easy to take comfort in the thought it can’t happen again.”

Sustein discsses three books on the lives of ordinary Gentile citizens in Nazi Germany.

One is Milton Mayer, “They Thought They Were Free”, 1955.

But in 1939 Sebastian Haffner (real name Raimund Pretzel) had written “Defying Hitler”.

And Konrad Jarausch had written “Broken Lives”. 

The main point seems to be that ordinary Lutheran or Catholic Germans probably had the best times of their lives economically.  The government entertained and indulged them and kept “speech” at bay, of course.  Many barely grasped what was going on or, or knew enough to care. 


Monday, September 14, 2020

Internet Archive in legal battle with book publishers over too-lenient lending of e-books during pandemic

 


Maria Bustillos has a story about a lawsuit against the Internet Archive by some major book publishers for being overly generous with rental e-copies of books to students during the pandemic, link. 

That’s ironic in that publishers normally have strong relationships with public libraries (although I haven’t gotten far with that with my own books).

The article discusses the “rentier” behavior of both publishers and digital libraries. 

Internet archive rental periods are supposed to expire but have been relaxed during the pandemic.

The article also implies a concern with what makes digital books “sell”.  It has become popular, even sometimes expected, to see books on social justice address the reader and instruct them (even provide worksheets), as opposed to more abstract, literary style of writing which is now seen by many people as gratuitous and abusive, a curious change in values.

YouTubers who recommend books (like John Fish and Nate O’Brien) ought to look at this.

Picture: San Francisco, 2018

Saturday, September 12, 2020

"The 1619 Project" of the New York Times Magazine

I need to create an entry on this blog for the New York Times Magazine "1619 Project", which started in 2019.

The major photoessay documenting many forgotten locations of the slave trade, where they auctioned human beings as property,  is here

Matthew Desmond has an essay showing how American capitalism originated in the slave trade.

Jake Silverstein has an update in March 2020     There is controversy over whether slavery affected the beliefs of most of the colonists before the American Revolution or “only” some of them.

The reader should understand that there are many criticisms of the Project online.

Picture: Jamestown, my visit, Dec 30, 2018 


Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Bob Woodward's "Rage" reports Trump understood the COVID risk to Americans by late January

 


OK, now we are hearing a lot about Bob Woodward’s new book, “Rage”, from Simon and Schuster, 466 pages, due out Sept. 15, comprising 18 interviews with Trump.

There is a lot being said in media today about Bob Woodward’s reporting a conversation he had with Trump on Tuesday, Jan. 29, where Trump realized that the novel coronavirus would be deadly and could be easily passed through the air.  But Trump didn’t want to cause “panic”.  He later understood if could affect younger people and could become a grave national security threat.

Now I written elsewhere that the US cases as reported rose only very slowly in February, partly because of a flawed CDC test, but also because there really weren’t any “superspreader” indoor events in the US until probably late in February.  It doesn’t seem that surfaces or brief personal encounters was spreading the virus much.

It’s arguable that by late February (based on what was happening in Italy and the certainty people had flown here with the virus from Europe as well as China) that a soft “stay at home” could have prevented much of the run up of cases we saw in NYC and then other locations starting in mid March.

Had Trump acted by late February, I might have recovered the $3500 or so that I lost with a trip that I self-canceled out of exploding concern about the virus from my own info.

Robert Costa and Philip Rucker report in the Washington Post, here

Trump could give a knee-jerk reaction to all this criticism in coming weeks.

They also report that the book covers Trump’s evasion of the issue of structural racism (or critical race theory), which I personally have a lot of problems with (it isn’t the right way to look at personal social creditworthiness).

It also covers some of the actions and exchanges with Kim Jong Un (as with Jim Sciutto’s book).  

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Revisiting Deborah Watts, "101 Ways to Know You're 'Black' in Corporate America", in light of today's anti-racism corporate traning

 


Back in 1998 I reviewed a self-published book by Deborah Watts, “101 Ways to Know You’re ‘Black’ in Corporate America”.  It was published by Watts-Five in Minneapolis.

I did a pretty thorough review here on a legacy site.  I wanted to mention the book, with video here, because of the recent controversies of corporate and governmental employment training, somewhat compulsory, in critical race theory and “anti-racism”.

I was employed by ING-Reliastar at the time, actually just ReliaStar then (to become ING in 2000 and Voya some years later).  ReliaStar offered a forum where she came and spoke, I think during a box lunch, in the main building on Washington and Marquette sts, across from the Churchill Apartments, where I lived at the time.

The event was quite welcome and was not controversial.  It was not coercive.  It was surprising to me that an accomplished black female would report these problems still in the late 1990s.

Later, there would be more attention to LGBT issues after publicity from Matthew Shepard’s murder in October 1998, in Wyoming.  That’s on the other side of the upper Midwest, but the idea that something like that would happen was especially shocking regionally.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Vanity Fair piece by novelist Jesmyn Ward about her husband's death suggests the coronavirus was already in the US before the end of 2019

 


American black novelist Jesmyn Ward has an important piece in Vanity Fair, Sept. 1, 2020, “On Witness and Respair: A Personal Tragedy Followed by a Pandemic”, link. 

The writer has authored several books, the most recent a novel “Sing, Unburied, Sing” (2017, Scribner).

She teaches at Tulane in New Orleans and lives on the Mississippi Gulf Coast near Bay St Louis, which I visited in Feb. 2006. 

Her husband, whom she says functioned as a house-husband, died Jan. 9, 2020, and the circumstances in the article make it sound like he died of COVID-19.

The family got sick right after New Years (well before the maligned Mardi Gras parties that made the news).

Her piece in the periodical is quite passionate.

But if a male only 33 died of COVID this soon in the US and indeed acquired it in the community in the US (Mississippi or maybe New Orleans), that shows that the virus was already here before the end of 2019.

It should not be surprising.  What may have happened is that incidences of transmission (contact with people who had flown in for China or maybe Europe) simply dead-ended, but there could have been some of them.

It seems like the exponential spread, with hospitalizations and deaths (first in nursing homes but then everywhere) took off after a few superspreader events, first on the West Coast (especially near Seattle) and then in the East (near NYC) and possibly the South.

International air travel would have had to be almost completely shut off by Jan. 1 (with quarantines) to prevent the pandemic in the US. 

Friday, September 04, 2020

Atlantic: Trump calls wounded military veterans "losers"

 


The Atlantic has called attention to reports that President Trump has called people (mostly young men, often of color) who die or are maimed or disfigured for life in military combat “losers”.  An intermediate article by Jeffrey Goldberg lays out the concerns.  It is titled, “Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and “Suckers’”.   There is a tagline, “The president has repeatedly disparaged the intelligence of service members, and asked that wounded veterans be kept out of military parades, multiple sources tell The Atlantic”.

One of the most telling comments is that the president doesn’t get.  One comment is “He can’t fathom the idea of doing something for someone other than himself” or of volunteering for some kind of possibly personally risky service.  Other comments suggest he can’t understand doing things other than for measurable monetary gain, which is a double-edged idea indeed.  

I’ve told the story of my own experience with the draft (1968) and how I leveraged it to make unusual arguments for lifting the ban on gays in the military in my first book (1997) in many posts. I remember that in my first platoon at Ft. Jackson, the squad leader was a charismatic black man who had been a pre-med student but not enough money to stay in school. 

Since I was “behind” other boys physically growing up, I felt particularly sensitive to the idea of male sacrifice, particularly around the time of seventh grade (1955).  I experienced this feeling in relation to the idea of having more to lose proportionately than other boys.  It is easier to be generous in the way you deploy yourself around others if you “have” more physical assets in the first place.  It’s when “it costs you something” that sacrifice is transformative.  It was somewhat common, like in grad school before the draft, to hear young men say, if they were badly wounded in combat they did not want to come back. 

Furthermore, given my inclination for “upward affiliation” in relations with others, becoming disfigured by combat would mean that I could never feel attraction for the person, or, conversely, if that happened to me I could never expect a relationship.  This idea was a very big deal in those NIH days. 

Yet we have a nation built on unseen sacrifices of others that we take for granted.  You could start with slavery.  The military draft and student deferment system that we had until 1969 implied that “smart people’s lives” mattered more than others. 

Without getting too far into this, it’s easy to see that the idea of sacrifice comes up again any time there is social unrest as now, or a pandemic (and the idea of “survival of the fittest”).

The Washington Post has some more background on this (Teo Armus).   

Update: Sept 8

Kait Wyatt, widow of a Marine, weighed in on Trump's behavior and his lack of understanding of submission to goals greater than the self. CNN story

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Should authors be discouraged from writing outside their "identity group"? The self-cancellation of "A Place for Wolves"

 


There have been some incidents where authors have been prodded to withdraw books because “the Left” (so to speak) saw it as unsuitable that the author should be the person speaking about the topic. This issue seems to have surfaced particularly in the young adult market. 

Kosoko Jackson withdrew the book “A Place for Wolves” in the spring of 2019, after criticism of his setting a novel in war-torn Kosovo which he has not experienced.  The author is black and gay and non-Muslim, but somehow the concept of the novel was seen as offensive, in a way not very clearly explained.  Vulture has a story by Katie Rothstein, and a reviewer in Goodreads seemed offended by (cis male) “fetishization” in the face of genocide (in the 1990s Balkans) that is said to be misrepresented.

Suzanne Nossel even mentions this “fiasco” on p. 37 of her new book “Dare to Speak” (Aug. 24 preview) which I will soon review on Wordpress, in a chapter called “Duty to Care”.   The publisher (Sourcebooks Fire) destroyed 55000 print copies, and now Amazon offers only high-prices “collectors items”.  Jackson had previously tweeted himself that stories about PoC gay men should be written by members of those groups.

Likewise author Amelie Wen Zhao “self-canceled” Blood Heir, according to the article.

There is a belief that books with minority lead characters should only be written by members of those identity groups.  But that idea falls apart when you think about movie and television adaptation of stories where casting diversity is important.  Furthermore, in larger novels many “groups” appear and stronger characters are more than their groups (although they are not always interchangeable).  (It is true, I would not have tried to write “Black Panther’ however.)  

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Time: Pharrell Williams: "We Deserve a Black Future"

 

The Aug. 31 issue of Time has a large section edited by Pharrell Williams and Michael Harriott, “We Deserve a Black Future”, starting on p. 76.   The over-title is “The New American Revolution” and the longer title is “America’s Past and Present Are Racist: We Deserve a Black Future”. 

The introduction refers to the statues erected by “secessionist traitors who wanted to start their own white-supremacist nation” and to the ideas of chattel and property in Virginia in the first centuries.  The original patriots would tear down a statue of King George but not allow the same liberty to those they had enslaved.  The authors talk heavily of reparations.  The do refer to the original patriots as also “oppressors, unwilling to extend the freedoms for which they had fought to everyone.  America’s wealth was built on the slave labor or Black people; this is our past. To live up to America’s ideals, we must trust in a Black version of the future.”

But what do the authors expect personally from elder white people like me?

There are many other contributors in areas like Activism (Angela David), Education, Politics, Health, Arts, Sports.

A few of the contributors should definitely be noted. Imara Jones (p. 91) talks about the plight of black trans women. Janaya Future Khan started out in boxing (there used to be a site dedicated to female bodybuilders!) and played a major role in organizing Black Lives Matter  (the controversy over Marxism is not discussed).  One paragraph (p. 89) is particularly telling. “Activism is about being alive: about fighting for life. Activism is being for someone else who you needed most in your most vulnerable moment. There’s something inherently spiritual and supernatural about what happens when we tie our fate to another person we discover who we are in service to others.”  Note – reborn. But then she goes on “There are some people who might think, ‘This is not my fight, I don’t have to do anything’”. (Anti-racism.) “But not doing something makes them an agent of a society that creates moral apathy and a selfish bewilderment.”  She goes on to talk about pronouns and non-binary consciousness. 

On p. 84, Danielle Greathers talks about activism and organizing on campus.

What is common throughout all these is affiliation with groups and deriving a sense of identity through betterment of others in a group rather than on defining your own callings in individually separatist behaviors such as what I had, and what became controversial early in my own adulthood.

But at some point you have to come clean on what you want.  I think they want white people to change their own personal priorities and join them in a group sense, and they may think some coercion is appropriate.  But what means?

Monday, August 24, 2020

Previewing Suzanne Nossel's "Dare to Speak"

 

I’ve quickly ordered Suzanne Nossel’s new book “Dare to Speak: Defending Free Speech for All”, from Dey Street, 304 pages.  The author is CEO of "PEN America". 

The book appears to have the premise that individuals need to take more responsibility for how they deploy their own speech rather than depending on governments, as we saw with President Trump’s Executive Order regarding Section 230 on May 31.

Roy S. Gutterman has a prospective review in the Washington Post July 31.

The Los Angeles Times goes one better. Sewell Chan, a lead editor of the paper, interviews the author on July 21.  The author thinks that “speech transgressions” can do real harm in a culture that is already polarized and unequal at an individual level, and lays out three principles of contrition.

One of the problems, looking from a distance, seems to be “skin in the game”.  Many writers or speakers are less directly affected by issues than others when they talk about them.  With that point in mind, my own history of past speech, with gays in the military, is unusual and ironic, but less so today than it was in the years before “don’t ask don’t tell” was finally repealed in 2011. 

In today’s culture, many activists “expect” everyone to accept the idea that they belong to groups (intersectionalized) whether they want to accept that “reality” or not. One problem with inequality is that it really calls for “action”  (even willingness to appreciate and behave with “solidarity”) and not just gratuitous or undirected speech on abstractions. 

 T1J offers an interesting piece (April 2019) "Is 'Civil Debate' Actually Useful"?

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Leah Sotile illustrated article "The Chaos Agents" about Boogaloo Bois (New York Times)

View of Virginia state Capitol from the intersection of East Main and North 10th Street

Leah Sottile, with illustrator Tomer Hanuka, have a comic book (or maybe graphic novel) insert “The Chaos Agents”, with the subtext “The wave of political unrest gave adherents of the Boogaloo a chance to test their theories about the collapse of American society.”  The article offers an audio-book option.

The bad word is “Boogaloo” which I guess can get a YouTube or Facebook post banned.

The difference between Boogaloo Bois and the militias is that the Boogaloo want to make stuff happen.  Okay, Portland for starters.  There is a saying “learn to hate, or die silently.” 

Wikipedia embed:  Richmond, Jan. 20, 2020.  I was there but was not aware of far extremist presence as is claimed here.  Click for embed. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

WSJ booklet: "A Deadly Coronavirus Was Inevitable. Why Was No One Ready?"

6VSB spike protein SARS-CoV-2 monomer in homotrimer

 

Betsy McKay and Phared Dvorak offer a long booklet in the Wall Street Journal, “A Deadly Coronavirus Was Inevitable.  Why Was No One Ready?, Aug. 13, 2020.  Subtitle: “Scientists warned of a pandemic for decades, yet when Covid-19 arrived, the world had few resources and little understanding.”

One reason is that people didn’t connect the dots.  Asymptomatic transmission of a highly infectious “respiratory” virus meant that if it caused severe disease in any significant rate, we would have to have lockdowns or effective contact tracing to avoid collapse of the health care systems. We didn’t see that long term we would have to shut down all indoor gatherings.

I have been corresponding in YouTube comments with a UK doctor who says there are many other coronaviruses which cause isolated flareups, and I may have encountered one in California in Feb. 2002.  Having simultaneous coronavirus infections might cause codon inserts.  Often, however, most healthy people learn to deal with these viruses with their T-cells in time.

But they can become dangerous.

Picture: Embed from Wikipedia of spike proteins, click for attribution 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Time Mag: "It's time to radically rethink public safety in America"

 

Josiah Bates (from Camden NJ) and Karl Vick (Minneapolis) along with Anna Purna Kamnhampaty, offer a long commentary in the print version of the Aug. 11 Time Magazine, a Nation article,It’s time to radically rethink public safety in America”.

The tagline is “The police are a broken legacy of a racist system and tasked with work they are not trained to do.”

On p. 46 the writers ask, “What could replace the police?”

Much of the article is vague, and maintains that there is not enough personal or social contact among different classes of people to frame a reliable answer.  It says, well yes, but actually no, it doesn’t mean abolishing law enforcement and leaving the world to anarchistic socialism and communism (where everyone joins an intentional community or “Chaz”).  To me, "abolish the police" sounds like an extension of "Abolish ICE". 

The article does, toward the end, give a detailed account of how the Camden NJ police department was replaced essentially by the county police, with rehiring of only properly performing officers.

There is little question that in much of northern Europe, for example, community management works because the population is more homogeneous, even given the immigration controversies of the past few years.

I was personally near Camden last August for a Minds event in Pitman NJ, moved to Philadelphia. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

3-D Book: "Lest We Forget: The Passage from Africa to Slavery and Emancipation"

 

Author: Velma Maia Thomas

Title, subtitle: “Lest We Forget: The Passage from Africa to Slavery and Emancipation

Publication: Crown: New York, 1997, 32 pages, “a three-dimensional interactive book with photographs and documents from the Black Holocaust Exhibit”, ISBN 0-609-60030-3, 12 stories

The book has pullouts of envelopes with letters and sample contracts and one map.

The work describes what life was life for slaves on a daily basis, when in transport (from Africa), when auctioned, when children were being broken in to work, and when trying to escape. Being auctioned was particularly dreadful, as families were broken up.  The book ends with a piece about the Emancipation Proclamation.

It’s hard to imagine how men could even have families knowing what would happen.

I see that Amazon Associates lists the book for about $39, but on Amazon itself I had to pay $92.  Not sure what is happening.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

National Geographic offers new coverage of the aerosol issue for coronavirus

Sneeze

 National Geographic in August has an important article by Maya Wet-Haas, “What ‘airborne transmission’ means, and how to protect yourself”, link.  

Recent research suggests that as water in aerosols evaporates, even tinier droplets could be transmitted for further distances and through some masks, beyond the CDC gold standard of 6 feet.

But it is not clear if the concentrations would normally be enough to cause disease or real infection. On the other hand, the recent studies could cause real concerns about the ventilation in indoor spaces, like schools and even apartment buildings. It could also lead to narrowing of mask recommendations and requirements, even for civilians. 

The article makes more comparisons of coronavirus transmissibility to other diseases, included measles and chickenpox.

Apoorva Mandavelli has a similar "smoking gun" article in the New York Times today about aerosol in hospitals. 

Picture:  Embed from Wikipedia, click for attribution. 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Georgia Senate candidate Matt Lieberman confounds everyone with a self-published novella which some see as "imaginary racism"

 

Former independent Senator Joe Lieberman’ son Matt Lieberman is running for the Senate as a Democrat in Georgia.

Matt also has a self-published book, a novella, “Lucius” which some people see as racist.  I bought it for $2.99 on my Kindle today but I won’t run the normal ad.  The book can be read for free on you Kindle. It seems to be published by Create Space. 


The title refers to an imaginary “slave” and companion of an elderly man “Benno” resembling someone Matt met in an eldercare center.  It sounds almost like an imaginary playmate of a child.

The introduction is a bit confusing as to Matt’s motive for writing it. Part of it has to do with “race blindness”, yet some of it he sees as coming to terms.  Most of us have to work through our needs for power or submission relationships with others, based on notions we have grown up, he seems to say.

Kevin Robillard and Clare Fallon discuss this situation in the Huffington Post (reposted on AOL’s site).

Sunday, August 09, 2020

"Christianity Will Have Power": Long NYTimes piece explains Trump supporters among evangelicals

Falls Park, Sioux Falls, SD

Elizabeth Dias has a long booklet-like article “Christianity Will Have Power”, with photographs and video by Jenn Ackerman and Tim Gruber, in the New York Times.  The subtitle is “Donald Trump made a promise to white evangelical Christians, whose support can seem mystifying to the outside observer” – as if from relativity theory.

Curiously the article doesn’t have a date in the expected place, but at the end it mentions the fact that, around Sioux Falls SD (even with the meat packing plants there) most white evangelicals have not seen much experience with COVID.  Oh, I see at the bottom the fine print, that in the print version today’s Sunday Times, p. A1, same title. It’s about group power when individual freedom has to be circumscribed.
  
  
It does describe their “trust” in Trump as their belief that he is there (perhaps proto-fascist) bully to keep minorities in line who have threatened to erode their own social hegemony.

But the article hints at the importance that older “family values” – where women submit to husbands who proved during courtship that the men could protect them (and their children), and the belief literally that more freedom for gays and lesbians and for other minorities means less freedom for them – it’s a zero-sum game.
  
The article also presents some Hispanic families (which tend to be larger with lower incomes) and the hardships they encounter which white evangelicals don’t seem to grasp.

Embed picture is from Wikipedia, picture of the Falls (click for attribution).  I was there in Nov. 1999. Also look at this (GNU license) picture of Falls. 

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Yuri Deigin offers long Medium "booklet" on the genealogy of the SARS-Cov-2 coronavirus, with possibly major implications for tracing the source and path of the virus (from bats)


Positive-pressure biosafety suit

Yuri Deigin, who appears to be a Russian medical researcher, has an important Medium article, “Lab-Made? SARS-CoV-2 Genealogy Through the Lens of Gain-of-Function Research”. (His YT channel).

The author traces many projects since 2003 with coronaviruses in China and other countries (there were a few in the 2006-2008 time frame)   This paper is extremely detailed.

But one particularly critical development concerns the relationships among the viruses related to Cov-2, especially RaTG13, considered the closest bat relative but not announced publicly until Jan 2020 (around Jan 20).
   
Particularly curious is the insertion of the “PRRA” sequence of condons into the genome, as explained by Christ Martenson in the Peak Prosperity Video on May 4, 2020.  He has related videos May 1, May 6 and May 12 (the May 1 and May 12 videos are embedded in the International Issues blog on those dates).
   
   
Bloomberg had reported July 5 that a sample was sent to Wuhan Virology Lab in 2013 from a copper mine in SW China.  While three miners died and there may be people in the area with Cov-2-like antibodies, there was no widespread outbreak in the region then. Why then in Hubei and Wuhan in late 2019?
  
Circumstantial evidence that somehow a lab worker might have been infected, maybe asymptomatic, and then given it to someone who started community spread, seems to be accumulating.  There are various reports of a communications blackout at the Wuhan virology lab in early Oct. 2019.  ABC News reports satellite data or parking lots near Wuhan hospitals and Internet searches show increased activity back as early as Sept 2019.
    
There are also curious reports of finding the coronavirus RNA in wastewater near Barcelona as early as March 2019 and possibly near Italy in December.  ABC News reports satellite data or parking lots near Wuhan hospitals and Internet searches show increased activity back as early as Sept 2-19.
  
Teenager Avi Schiffmann started work on his Covid tracker in December 2019, before the world knew about this.  Other science fiction and screenwriters were talking about pandemics in the fall of 2019.  A lot of people knew something. But not the CDC.

Fox has a recent video (Bill Hemer) where a female Hong Kong scientist talks about China's "coverup"/ 

Picture: embedded from Wikipedia, a CDC researcher wears a space suit for protection in the pressurized lab, click for attribution. 

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Major Time Magazine summer issues cover John Lewis, protests, coronavirus origins


The Aug. 3 – Aug. 19 issue of Time Magazine is appropriately dedicated to John Lewis (1940-2020), “Conscience of a Nation”, pp 32-47).  The most important takeaway is that Lewis felt that young adults have to take personal risks (with arrest and their safety) to jumpstart social progress – “good trouble”.  That is not something I (with my schizoid personality) have been willing to do.


There is a major section on going back to school (as in Europe).

The last section, starting on p. 78, has a long section by Charlie Campbell and Alice Park, “Anatomy of  Pandemic, Inside the Global Effort to Understand Where Covid-19 Came From.”

The article starts with a discussion of the Shitou Cave, and a female scientist Shi’s discovery of a virus RaTG13 that is very close to the SARS-Cov-2.  Apparently the Wuhan lab obtained a sample sometime in 2013.  Although there is no direct evidence of mishandling or accident, the progress in small genetic changes that allowed the virus to spread like a respiratory disease among humans needs to be traced in detail.  This would include accounting for insertion of the “PRRA” sequence associated with furin cleavage inside the ACE2 receptor (and maybe other receptors).  On p. 82, Time offers a circle color chart allowing you to track virus samples to countries by color code, and this technique (if programmed) might give an exact account of how the mutations evolved and where.
   
The article more or less supports conventional ideas that, although the virus patient zero probably did not come from the Wuhan wet market, that place may have helped spread;  it also supports the idea of an intermediate animal like a pangolin.
   
The article doesn’t explain how a Seattle teenager (Avi Shiffmann) knew enough in early December 2019 to be motivated to spend scores of all-nighters setting up his coronavirus tracker, one of the largest sites in the world.  Sometime individuals, even very young ones, tech savvy, find out things our entire intelligence apparatus overlooks.
  
The July 6-13 issue has a special set of essays "America Must Change". There is an important essay June 25 (for this group) about the Hmong (by Viet Thanh Nguyen), as a "model minority", and I became familiar with it when I lived in Minnespolis-St Paul 1997-2003 (partly through someone in the Libertarian Party who ran for office). 
   
I also want to refer the visitor to a June 8 an article in Time by Brooke Cunningham, in a series called “America must change”.  It is “Protesting Police Brutality and Racial Oppression is Essential Work”.  Yes, “protesting” is a job.  Interesting view. Ask journalists who film them, like Ford Fischer and Alejandro Alvarez.  And notice also that so far protesters (congregating outside and sometimes using masks) and their journalists have remained rather healthy in the Covid world.  It may well be that very gradual but repeated exposure to germs outdoors enhances natural “T-cell” immunity which does protect (younger people at least) against COVID in practice (NIH).

The artwork picture is from the eastern shore of Maryland, June 2017. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

"A Vaccine Reality Check": Major free coronavirus coverage in The Atlantic

Capacitação dos profissionais da Saúde que atuarão nos terminais de ônibus - 49667698972

Sarah Zhang writes a long article July 25, “A Vaccine Reality Check”, in the Atlantic (coronavirus coverage is free). 

Most likely a vaccine will not be as effective as, say, measles, because this is a respiratory disease. It may require a booster, and be given every year.

It is likely that many vaccines will protect your internal organs and blood vessels but not stop the virus from colonizing in your nose and throat and being passed to others who aren’t vaccinated.

Also, the vaccine is likely to work only with people with normal or strong T-cell immunity, which forms a kind of “cloud backup” for neutralizing antibodies which disappear.

Some people seem to have a lot of latent or abstract immunity now with their T-cells.  This may help explain the large number of totally asymptomatic cases.

Generally, when there is a mass spreading event, every one gets infected (like in a family).  But members of a family cohort tend to react similarly;  in some families no one gets sick but do test positive. Most professional athletes have few symptoms, but Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves was quite ill and had a 104 fever.

Derek Thompson asks “How Long Does Covid Immunity Last?”   The basic answer is, well, T-cells. Don’t become immunocompromised. Covid-19 is starting to act like a semi-opportunistic infection. (If you think about it, several of the OI’s associated with AIDS in the past could devastate multiple organ systems).

There is also a link to a big photoessay, “Coronavirus in Brazil”, by Alan Taylor, with people sewing masks and preparing mass graves for Bolsonaro’s “little flu”. (Picture above from Wikipedia, embed, click for attribution.) 

On April 21, Connor Friedersdorf had written, “Let Volunteers Take the COVID Challenge”, young and healthy volunteers who would get infected deliberately if they got the placebo. There is a risk of a lifelong disability if something goes wrong.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

"What the Hell Is Happening in Portland?" Now (The Cut in New York Magazine narrative)


Madeleine Aggeler writes a long account of the violence this week in Portland Oregon after Trump sent in federal troops, apparently to protect ICE or federal buildings and monuments, in New York Magazine (digital subscription $50 year now), a column called “The Cut”. The article is titled "What the Hell Is Happening in Portland?" (Now) 

The article includes graphic accounts of injuries to protesters, including a skull fracture.

The political leadership of Portland has condemned the federal intervention, but in many confrontations in the past local law enforcement was unable to protect private businesses, which seem to be extorted to join some sort of Marxist revolution which despises private property and business and wants everyone to join their “suffering” (Maoism).


Video: Gutfeld from Fox: "Jim Jordan blasts Portland leadership" 

Portland Independent Documentarians has a lot of short clips on Twitter of the newest riots. 

The article has a detailed depiction of the “Wall of Moms” protecting protesters.

 Wikipeida picture: By Ted Timmons - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=91121562

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Bruce Feiler writes about his "Life Is in the Transitions"


Bruce Feiler speaks in a Wall Street Journal article July 10 (my birthday), “Leaning to Conquer Life’s Crises   This is a preview of his new book “Life Is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age”, published today by Penguin, 368 pages.  The book is a compendium of interviews of dozens of people facing life changing events and existential changes in sense of self as a result. 

He talks about two kinds of events:  “disrupters”, which happen every 1-2 years, and “lifequakes”, 3 to 5 times in a lifetime.  For most of us, the coronavirus is indeed causing a “lifequake”.

In my own life, I would say the “lifequakes” subdivide into “disrupters”.  The first quake arguable was my William and Mary expulsion in Nov. 1961.  There were disrupters (my first job in 1963, the “scandal” with my teaching assistantship at KU in 1966, and getting drafted in early 1968).

My first layoff in 1971 (and there would not be another one until 2001) was a near quake, but I settled in and lived a stable life until 2001, and then had another kind of stability afterward, too dependent on family wealth, with mother’s surgery producing a “disruption” in 1999, and another one with her passing in 2010.

Actually, the AIDS epidemic provided a life quake from about 1983-1986 when I was living in Dallas (with its two-year delay) but I never got infected.  There was a kind of new normal.  But the coronavirus threatens to force a change on me -- if I live long enough -- that really is existential and indeed ironic, maybe one my writings set up as a potential perfect storm. 


Monday, July 13, 2020

Toby Ord warns us about our civilization's "making it" in "The Precipice"

As a globalist who doesn’t feel allegiance to any particular minority, I do think more about existential threats to “our way of life” and the meaning of my own (schizoid) “independence”.  I think the power grid (or the pandemic) is a more important issue than bathroom bills – although the pandemic and anti-racism do come together.

(Interview video above is at the Future of Humanity Institute.)

Fahreed Zakaria has recommended Toby Ord’s “The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity”, published in May 2020, 480 pages, from Hachette.

The book apparently starts with the first atomic bomb test in New Mexico in 1945 for the Manhattan Project. People didn’t know if it could start a chain reaction to destroy the world (like a strangelet).

Stepan Jerabek provides a nice overview in Science Magazine.

There is a tendency when you look at your own life to realize that if you avoid death by one means (your own health) you face more risk of an end brought on by the actions of potential enemies.  The perception of the greatest risk changes. 

Ord apparently does fear a deliberately introduced pandemic based on political motives, one that is like Covid (asymptomatic people spread it) but much more inevitably deadly, like a casually contagious form of AIDS.  He also fears runaway artificial intelligence.  A virus, after all, is in a sense, a kind of chemical intelligence, evolving ways to reproduce itself merely through quantum opportunity which we seem to have underestimated.


Saturday, July 11, 2020

Izabella Hickle's Summary of Robin DiAngelo's 'White Fragility'

It isn’t real common that a controversial book gets summarized by another writer.  Jordan Peterson summarized his own “12 rules”.  No one has done me that honor with my three “do ask do tell” books.

Izabella Hickle apparently has written these for a few controversial books.  I’ll briefly go over her “Summary: White Fragility: Why It’s do Hard for White People to Talk About Race”, 62 pages, ISBN 9798661267184, 12 chapters, paper.

First, as to the writing.  Sometimes it is hard to tell if she is restating what the white person feels (as an assertion, in subjunctive mood, which is much easier to do in most foreign languages than in English), or stating Diangelo’s prescriptions. 

The sin of the white person is not their own decisions or actions in the normal sense of individualized personal responsibility;  it is the historical fact that they have unfairly benefited from systemic racism hardwired into the economic and social system and must now take responsibility to pay something back for this ancestral wrong. Many examples include segregated schools, redlining real estate, and especially police profiling, which seems to result from a mental reinforcement of past ideas.

In Chapter 2 she does provide some interesting detail about physical attractiveness, mentioning skin color, (scalp) hair texture, and eye shape.  It is not clear from what is given whether she (or Robin) thinks it is “wrong” to refuse to date out of your race (if you are white). One artifact on skin color;  Caucasian skin is generally not as thick.  The only reason for the difference in skin color is adaptation to distance from the equator.  People who live with a lot of sunlight need the pigment to protect them from too much ultraviolet light;  people with less sunlight need to make Vitamin D.   The hair comment is interesting.  Only whites normally (although not always consistently) have significant differences in body hair between men and women, as a secondary sexual characteristic. Hickle doesn’t mention that.  I’ll find out if Robin did when I read her book on Kindle (I couldn’t get hers in print, which is easier to follow;  I did get Hickle’s in hardcopy.)

My main issue so far is proximity. I do live and work alone and I don’t really have social situations where these issues come up. 

I will review DiAngelo's full book (Kindle) on my featured Wordpress blog as soon as I finish it (next week) 

There is one more book I don’t think has been mentioned here, Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Anti-Racist”, 320 pages, One World Press, 2019.  

There is also “Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism”, here, by Layla F. Saad, 258 pages, Sourcebooks, 2020, and this looks more like a personal instruction manual when looked at on Amazon (mentioned in video).  It reminds me of the Perry-Ellis "Do Ask Do Tell" workbooks on gay rights from the mid 1990s.