Monday, March 29, 2021

Shanna Swan's "Count Down", a book about pollution and declining sperm counts


Ocean City MD, 2014

There are sporadic reports online about shrinking male fertility and even “primary organ” size, as a result of chemical pollution.  TRTWorld proffers the article “What’s behind the epidemic of shrinking genitals and low male fertility?”  It warns that boys are poisoned in the womb, and are growing up with low drive, obesity, diabetes, and lack of masculinity.   

But the article leads to a discussion of a book in GQ, review by Andrew Zalewski, book by Shanna Swan, “Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race”, from Scribner, Feb. 2021, 304 pages hardcover.   Zalewski interviews Swan, who warns we face a dystopian world like “The Handmaid’s Tale” (or maybe the 2006 film "Children of Men").

  Some of her findings are based on an Oxford Update  ("Human Reproduction Update" from 2017), to which she contributed. 

It’s ironic that, with all the talk of non-binary status, gay men desire masculinity and potency from partners strictly out of upward affiliation rather than procreation. Swan may be hinting at what George Gilder had called “Sexual Suicide’ in a 1973 Quadrangle book.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Bret Weinstein effectively reviews new book by Ibram X. Kendi, "Be Anti-racist"


BLM Plaza, Washington DC, June 2020

DarkHorse Podcast Clips with Bret Weinstein offers what amounts to a book review of Ibram X. Kendi’s  Be Antiracist: A Journal for Awareness, Reflection and Action”, from One World, Oct. 2020.

The philosophy of the book forces everyone into a binary state.  There is no in between (not racist and not actively and publicly anti-racist as a public ally).  The video explores the logical contradictions that come from such a position, resulting that eliminating the possibilities that are inconvenient happen only out of seizing power, not out of moral rightness in itself.  Weinstein points out some internal logical contradictions in the idea of equity as compared to equality. Jordan Peterson has done the same in the past. 

I don’t see that this was covered in John Fish’s survey reviewed here June 6, 2020 (even in the comments).

Kendi has many other related books, including children’s, at this Amazon link.

Kendi’s work seems to have taken over the controversial “diversity training” lesson plans from Robin DiAngelo.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Cathy Park Hong, author, interviewed in the Atlantic on anti-Asian racism, and "allyship"


San Francisco

Morgan Ome, assistant editor of The Atlantic, interviews author Cathy Park Hong, “Minor Feelings: As Asian American Reckoning”, in this article saying “this time it feels different’.  The paperback reprint is from One World (March 2, 2021, 224 pages).

Yes, after four years of Trump, and the international politics of COVID.

But before, Hong writes, there was often competition among different minorities, especially in Los Angeles, as they settled different neighborhoods and developed enclaves of business.  Today the idea of expected “allyship” seems to have spread.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

New York Magazine: two big articles on COVID19 ("The Lab-Leak Hypothesis", and "How the West Lost COVID19".


Corcoran Hall, GWU, where I attempted organic chemistry in 1963

Let’s cover two very strong and detailed New York Magazine articles about Covid19, in the Intelligencer series.

The first is Nicholson Baker, Jan 4, 2021, “The Lab-Leak Hypothesis”, with the byline “For decades, scientists have been hot-wiring viruses in hopes of preventing a pandemic, not starting one. But what if…”?

Let me make the biggest observation from this piece of all.  Somehow, he says that Wuhan is the only foreign lab the US has supported for significant time, cut off by Obama, apparently resumed briefly under Trump.

The booklet article comprises fourteen (roman numeral) sections.  The last starts with “Here’s what I think happened”.  It starts with the Mojiang Mines incident in 2012, with a sample winding up in Wuhan Virology Lab (and other places), attracting the attention of Peter Daszek and Shi Zhengli. A SARS-like coronavirus sample called BtCoV/4991 (also called RatG13, as in videos by Peak Prosperity’s Chris Martenson, May 4, 2020) was studied extensively, resulting in papers. However, the Mojiang virus does not seem to have been as transmissible, particularly before or without symptoms, person to person. A change called furin cleavage accomplished that (when the spike protein opens up the receptor).

Now other sources have told me that furin cleavage does occur in nature, even in influenza, particularly in persons or animals with more than one simultaneous viral infection. And there is other evidence that humans, in China, maybe Europe and even the US, had mild cases in late 2019.  It ‘s possible that the virus was transmissible among humans by the early fall of 2019 if accidentally introduced, and that increased contagion happened with a mutation in a human, maybe immunocompromised.  We’re seeing that pattern with variants, which have become more troublesome since this article was published.

Still, workplaces have accidents.  In my own career in IT, there were two mishaps that were particularly troubling, one in 1976 and another in 1991, and either one might have become career ending.  Lab accidents will inevitably happen.

And there is a lot of other reliable reporting of coincidental news from China in late 2019, including the October 2019 communications blackout at the virology lab.

Personally, I was a klutz in the lab myself, dropping chemistry (at GWU) as a major in late 1963 (just before the assassination) after an accident where I cut my hand severely, while working in my first job in rheology at NBS at the old Van Ness Street location. I wound up in math. The computers.  Then my own brand of journalism.  But I remember the trips with a dolly to the oil shed.

The other big article is more recent, March 15, 2021, “How the West Lost COVID19”, by David Wallace-Wells.  The byline is “How did so many rich countries get it so wrong? How did others get it so right?”

One important point:  the real lighter for the epidemic in the west was northern Italy.  It spread out much more quickly than from China.  In Italy, the virus had a minor mutation (from a “D” to “G”) which seemed to make it more amendable to superspreader transmission events, although it didn’t change the clinical course.  That says that the virus is capable of engineering itself a lot to escape defenses, just in nature.

The countries that suppressed the virus quickly were either (1) isolated (New Zealand) or relatively low population density countries (Australia), or (2) willing to subject citizens to automated contact tracing and mandatory strict quarantines and isolation (South Korea, Taiwan), or frankly authoritarian (Vietnam, besides China itself).

Just how remarkable is SARS_CoV2 for a respiratory virus for causing long term damage to many organs in protracted cases?  Measles can do that, but our vaccine for it is nearly 100% (I got measles in 1950 before my 7th birthday;  maybe it did affect my coordination and strength later).  But most viruses that cause long-term damage and auto-immune disease are enteroviruses (sometimes arboviruses).  

The regard that governments should have for disruption of individuals, suddenly, is something we haven’t covered systematically enough.  It goes beyond surveillance, as Electronic Frontier Foundation would see it.  It certainly causes job losses.  In China and maybe other countries, it has led to personal property destruction, too. The argument for becoming so strict on individuals, rather than hoping for herd immunity and vaccines, is what if the virus really is much more deadly, down the road.  What if it caused an airborne-transmitted variety of "AIDS"?  Or maybe sterility in most people? ["Children of Men", 2006 film.] Or inevitable intellectual decline in most of the infected?  We don't know that this couldn't happen.  (But arguments like that were hurled by the religious right at gay men in the 1980s.  You can't prove a negative, and "there is always a first time".)  We were shocked by how quickly we were thrown into personal crises by unimagined circumstances, and that we could individually be held responsible for the possibility that our contaminated bodies had become deadly weapons (the mask issue). Perhaps that could force us into top-down localization, which China already has. 

The far Left, Umair Haque of Eudaimonia, has scolded Americans for their hyperindividualism and unwillingness to identify with the common good of the larger group, and blamed capitalism.  Indeed, it’s quite disturbing, that in retrospect, the whole pandemic, with its Goldilocks property of being a mild disease for maybe a majority of people but deadly for some, and catastrophic life long for others (the long haulers), could have been imagined as designed to conquer the West with communism with a plausibly deniable biological attack.  That is what drives some of the fury on the right, having lives they did not earn taken away from them.  There is also the implication that letting people make up their own minds as to how to behave (like on masks) could have resulted in a "survival of the fittest" scenario which can be viewed as a preview to eventual fascism. 

The enclosed video comes from New York Magazine on April 30, 2020, when students volunteered to be infected with SARS_CoV2.  The magazine is definitely defined as part of mainstream media commentary, and is not advancing extremism in broaching a very sensitive topic for some people. 

Friday, March 12, 2021

"Unlocking the Mysteries of Long COVID", long article in Atlantic by Meghan O'Rourke


NYC 2015

Meghan O’Rourke authors a long article in the March 8 Atlantic, “Unlocking the Mysteries of Long COVID”, link   

The narrative begins with the work of a physician Zijian Chen, at Mt Sinai in NYC, after he was appointed to be in charge of post-COVID care in the spring of 2020. He saw many more patients than he had expected, including other physicians and professionals (one was a dietician).

Many of them were relatively young (even under 40) and many were women, who were not supposed to be as vulnerable to severe COVID as men.  They reported having “mild” cases.   But they seemed to have trouble with breathing and heart rate, “brain fog” and muscle pains, sometimes digestion. 

The underlying problem is dysautonomia, abnormal function of the autonomous nervous system. The virus seems to damage the peripheral nervous system even in mild cases, maybe through autoimmunity. The article also discusses a condition called POTS, “postural orthostatic tachycardic syndrome”. Of some help in therapy is retraining patients to breathe more deeply, which may be difficult because of some lung scarring. 

It is unusual for a respiratory virus to cause so much systemic damage (enteroviruses are more likely to do this) but that is partly because the virus can lock onto receptors that many tissues have, especially ACE2,  a capability that evolved with bats, with their high metabolisms.

We could have a public health problem for years, where 10-30% of those with noticeable disease fight off the disability caused by “long hauler COVID”.  Who pays for this.

You have to wonder, when people belligerently say they won’t wear masks, if, outside of possibly believing in the hoax theory, simply believe in “survival of the fittest”, literally, that the disease is a purge of the unworthy whom the virus has tested, and that belief certainly comports with fascism.  It certainly can drive the angry indignation of the “left”.


Thursday, March 04, 2021

Jack Edwards: "A day in the life of a book research assistant" with a major trade publishing house

British recruits August 1914 Q53234


Perpetual student in the UK Jack Edwards entertains us with “A day in the life of a book research assistant: Work in publishing”.

I didn’t know large trade publishers assign research assistants (who are contractors) to assist authors in getting together all the research material, to target potential audiences and bookstore marketing.

During London’s second big lockdown over the new variant, he works at home in an immaculate flat (you have to have a clutterless space, and I am too old school), and he gives us a desk tour.

He also pitches a book he is reading, a self-help book, “Think Like a Monk”, by Jack Shetty (Sept 2020, Simon $ Schuster), Google books link for preview.

Wikipedia embed picture: British recruits during WW1, p.d., Wikipedia embed, click for attribution.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Dr. Seuss foundation removes six books over racial sensitivity; more on "Little Black Sambo" and the history is more complicated than you think


book pyramid at Ford's Theater

ABC News and the Associated Press report that six Dr. Seuss children’s books will be removed from publication by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the trust that preserves his legacy, story by Mark Pratt.  The books were felt, however unintentionally, to preserve racial and gender-related stereotypes by the cultural standards of today.  The book series publisher is Random House Children’s Books.

I see also in the story that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” novels have fallen into cultural disfavor over portrayal of native Americans.  I remember the series for Michael Landon, who had a premature death from pancreatic cancer in the summer of 1991 at age 54, and there are new stories that he may have been exposed to carcinogens at a filming site in California.  He became ill on a ski trip in early 1991. 

I remember the Little Golden Book “Little Black Sambo” (author Helen Bannerman, illustrator Gustav Tenggren) as a boy, and today the title sounds racist. There is also a “ Story of Little Black Sambo”, the only “authorized” hardcover.  The original book stems from 1922, and the Little Golden Book came out in 1948.

Wikipedia explains the long history of the controversy over this book, which went through some changes, and it is more nuanced than you would think.

Here also is the Wikipedia article on book censorship in the US.