Wednesday, June 23, 2021

"How a Conservative Activist Invented the Conflict over Critical Race Theory" (Christopher Rufo)


Selma, AL 2014

Benjamin Wallace-Wells offers a surprising eyecatcher in The New Yorker, in the “Annals of Inquiry” column, “How a Conservative Activist Invented the Conflict over Critical Race Theory”, with the tagline, “The Christopher Rufo, a term for legal scholarship looked like the perfect weapon”, link .

I have to admit, I had not heard much about critical race theory until shortly after George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, when I noticed Robin DiAngelo appearing in the media and lecturing us on our own subconscious inherited racism (us white older men like me).  I reviewed her book on Wordpress on July 21, 2020, after a few personal walktrough’s of Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington DC. 

All the sudden I realized “allyship” could be demanded of all of us, maybe as a condition to stay online at all some day.

Appealing young white male YouTubers or otherwise public figures from the university or college worlds (the corporate Left’s “Smart America” in George Packer’s parlance) would stumble into this.  John Fish would promote BLM in a conspicuous video, without first realizing there’s a huge difference between supporting Bryan Stevenson’s work (“Just Mercy” which I support 100%), and supporting Robin DiAngelo’s mandatory collective guilt trips (which have hoodwinked corporate HR departments).  Jack Andraka (famous for inventing a pancreatic cancer test for a science fair and active in coronavirus work at the time) would support it dutifully on his own social media, and then stop posting altogether. People put black pages in their feeds.  Capitalistic people, not noticing the Marxist origins of this ideology.  Then they would find out.  Screenwriting guru Tyler Mowery, at least, keeps all of his videos very abstract and in terms of “first principles” without having to use any loaded terms at all, as he calls out behaviors on the far right and far left about equally. Well, so does Tim Pool. 

In Washington, BLM would replace June gay pride, which would get canceled because of the pandemic, which had created enormous ruptures in complacent “liberal” “smart” society, meritocratic people largely escaping the virus themselves who thought they were simply color blind, officially, but not when doing personal dating.

And now Karlyn Borysenko is trying to sever critical race theory (which she defines reflexively) from “anti-whiteness”, which she says could cause a new white supremacist blacklash.  

The Washington Post wrote up Rufo with a long article by Laura Meckley and Josh Dawsley June 22 (with links) and then walked back some of it, according to Dave Rubin. 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

How do you organize a lot old books, if you move into a smaller space (as of 2017 for me)?


book collection

Here’s a provocative (for me) article, “Why bother organizing your books?  A messy personal library is proof of life”, by Mark Athitakis, Washington Post

This has also been true of CD and vinyl record collections, for those of us who came of age decades before the Internet and cloud storage were around.  When I was writing my first three books (1997, 1998, 2002) I needed to keep old periodical hardcopies around that had been reference material, too. That’s not necessary now.

I usually order physical books that I want to read from Amazon (right now I am half-way through Connor Franta’s “A Work in Progress”, 2015, how to write a book about yourself – and he has two more to follow).  It’s easier for me to find stuff and experience it rather than finding something on a Kindle or Nook.

When I move into a place, usually I can keep my most important books organized.  When I moved into the Churchill Apartments in Minneapolis in 1997, I placed all the hardcopy books on gays in the military in the low case right next to my bed, because that was what I was working on.  But many other older books (outside of some special ones from the family) get randomized.

Furthermore, some of the book cases are old.  Stacking them in a smaller apartment now (during downsizing, which I did in 2017, out of a house) could actually create hazard of collapse.  Younger people seem to be better at assembling new kits than I am.


Sunday, June 13, 2021

“The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America”, by Carol Anderson, previewed on CNN


Atlanta, 2004

John Blake reviews a book by Carol Anderson (Emory University), “The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America”, published by Bloomsburg, 272 pages.  The book sees the Second Amendment in terms of support of white supremacy in the early 19th Century. 

The review contains some questions to her, about the focus on anti-blackness.

Back in early times, in southern states, white men were required to join militia to help stop slaves from escaping.  It’s true, I haven’t heard this argued before.

She mentions Philando Castile, and several other controversies. 

She says the Texas bill will lead to a “slaughterhouse.”

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Vox now offers the penultimate examination of the lab leak hypothesis for coronavirus

Pride 2019 DC

Vox now has a penultimate booklet article, by Umair Irfan, “The Lab-Leak Hypothesis, Explained”.  The tagline is “We may never know for sure if the virus that causes Covid-19 leaked from a lab. But that won’t stop the debate.”

This article pretty much covers everything.

If points out that there were two slightly different variants in Wuhan in January 2020.  Had a lab leak started the pandemic, that sounds unlikely.

On the other hand, the article really doesn’t address the claim by some recent experts (like Quay in the WSJ) that the PRRA insert into the genome, allowing the spike protein to perform furin cleavage, was unknown in coronaviruses and hasn’t been seen even in the closest bat viruses (the Majoing Caves variant in 2012).  It’s important to nail down when this codon was first seen.  Some virologists say that such an insert could happen in nature if an immunocompromised animal or human were infected at the same time with an unrelated virus with the cleavage.

Looking back in time, it sounds as though having a large portion of people infected with HIV might have exacerbated other infections or viruses – but in fact there’s no real evidence that it actually did.  That’s a speculation the religious right could indulge in the 80d.

It’s also curious to remember that there was more than one HIV, and there are other retroviruses around that infect humans (and other mammals).  One was HTLV1, which caused a T-cell leukemia and otherwise caused AIDS-like immunosuprression, and was prevalent in Japan in the early 1980s and apparently disappeared.  It never became a big epidemic.  What you wonder is, could there be some other bizarre agent out there in nature that caused the SARS cleavage that we don’t know about yet.

Update:  Daily Beast has a long piece by Harry Siegel, "Dr. Larry Brilliant spoke with Harry Siegel about why it’s too late to hope for herd immunity despite the “magic” of vaccines, and much more."  Larry was the driver of the smallpox vaccination decades ago.  Brilliant points out that the virus is moving between humans and many animal species, which increases the possibility of radical mutations. 

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

George Packer: "How America Fractured into Four Parts" (like the four temperaments: free, smart, real, just)


Rehoboth, 2021/6

OK, read George Packer’s Atlantic manifesto, “How America Fractured into Four Parts”, with the tagline, “People in the United States no longer agree on the nation’s purpose, values, values, and meaning.”  Is reconciliation possible?  

First, there are two Americas:  Free and Real, and then Smart and Just.  Well, those break into the four parts. “Real America breaks down the ossified libertarianism of Free America” and “Just America assails the complacent meritocracy of Smart America”.

The most telling part is the last one, the Just, where he defines identity politics, intersectionality, and effectively critical theory.  But the most notable part of the Just America paradigm is that it seems to defeat the idea of assessing an individual’s place outside of a group at all;  it would have no part of Maoist China’s social credit scores, which give grades to individuals, after all (and maybe could put them on the block chain, which probably most alien civilizations have done).  There is no recognition of reason, just the “’lived experience’ of the oppressed”.  Then the essay goes on to admit that “identity politics inverts the old hierarchy of power into a new one: bottom rail on top”. And “oppression” is not an individualized experience, but a shared “alienation” from “constant exposure to the dominant culture”.

He also writes “Structural racism …. Is real.  But so is individual agency, and in the Just America narrative, it doesn’t exist”.  You wonder if Packer has been reading Tyler Mowery’s YouTube series “The Writer’s Mind” (esp. Episode 29).

He writes that things started to change in 2014 (the year Ferguson happened), the time I released by DADT-III book.  I saw my position in the world in terms of an expectation that the world’s moral frame was fixed, it was up to me, as an outlier who was ironically privileged anyway so as to be able to outflank others and get indirect power of reach, to fit in with some degree of individual social credit after all.  But “Just” America made it all about groups, pure communism.

A world in which my own identity was hopeless and hanging on to “living experience of oppression” would give me no reason to continue my own life.  And yet that is what solidarity “on the bottom” demands.

Look at this Twitter thread by Karlyn (and me) 

Update: June 13:  George Packer has a new book "Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal" from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 226 pp and it is reviewed today by William Galston.  The reviewer feels Packer is wrong on why the white working class turned away from the Democrats, among other things. 

Monday, June 07, 2021

Major paper on "Alpha" coronavirus variant; new book "The Plague Year" previewed


Reboboth, 2021/6, recent visit

Biorxiv has a preprint of a major article on the “UK”, or now "alpha" coronavirus variant “Evolution of enhanced innate immune evasion by the SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7 UK variant”, Thorne et al, PDF here. 

Carl Zimmer of the New York Times offers a review of the paper (how the virus variant became "powerful"), explaining in layman’s terms how the variant delays a productive immune response by manipulating some obscure proteins, making the symptoms (nasal and throat) more explosive when the body kicks in, making the virus more transmissible.  It is still interesting to wonder why it took us until late 2020 to recognize it. 

The article sounds scary, yet the major vaccines seem to be pretty effective against it, even if you need two shots.

Furthermore, Carlos Lozada reviews a new book “The Plague Year: America in the Time of Covid”, by Lawrence Wright, from Knopf, 322 pages, in the Washington Post.  The book seems to have a “protagonist”, Matthew Pottinger, deputy national security adviser in the Trump white house, who says he understood the problem in January 2020.  We all know this missteps by the CDC and WHO in the early days.

But one problem you keep hearing from the moralistic Left – American individualism and selfishness on issues like masks, vaccines, and even accepting lockdowns, allowing the more vulnerable to die (having to go to work, living in large households, more health problems) when it is looking more like China’s Wuhan lab leaked the virus indeed – a foreign enemy, comparable to war?  Well, the US had subsidized their gain o function work as had other countries.   (Only two labs in the US can do it, in Galveston TX in hurricane country, and in Chapel Hill NC, maybe at UNC). 

Three mistakes:  denial of entry into China, failure of a testing plan (and to understand asymptomatic spread), failure with early mask use.

Wright had authored “The Looming Tower” about the early warnings before 9/11. 

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Vanity Fair surveys all the theories about COVID, including lab-leak; a preview of Michael Lewis's "The Premonition"


NIH Clinical Center, 2004 

Vanity Fair treats us to a booklet-length survey ("The Lab-Leak Theory: Inside the Fight to Uncover COVID19's Origins") of the history of all credible theories about the origin of SARS-CoV2, by Katherine Eban (paywall).  And she does trace the gradually re-visit of the lableak theory as one that must be looked at, however politically dangerous.  She also provides embeds of several partially redacted PDF’s of internal papers along the way.

The article has twelve Roman chapters, and closes with an invocation of Nicholas Wade’s Medium essay on the likely origins of the virus, in which he makes a strong case that the furin cleavage might have come from gain-of-function research, reviewed here May 7.  That idea had been expressed by Peak Prosperity (Chris Martenson) on YouTube as early as May 4, 2020. 

The conclusion also refers to Donald MacNeil’s quirky Medium article May 17, 2021, a takeoff of Strangelove, “How I learned to stop worrying and learn to love the lab-leak theory”.  MacNeil had originally offered a paper (not published) supporting the natural theory, and now slides toward accepting Wade’s ideas.  It was a complicated process in his mind, that even crisscrossed the idea that SARS_CoV2 might even share the immune-destruction properties of HIV, as a contagious form of AIDS, an idea that the religious right (thankfully unsuccessfully) had tried to spawn in the early 1980s to shut down gay male life forever (it didn’t work, again thankfully, but I remember those days in Texas).  In fact, somewhere else I’ve read that the virus can enter some T-cells (sometimes) but does not reproduce inside them.  MacNeil even resurrects an old article from late January 2020 from the Washington Times speculating about bioweapons.

But then there was an article in Nature in Feb. 2020 that mentioned the bat cave virus from the Mojiang Mines

The Vanity Fair article covers this in detail, in Part VII, about the Mojiang miners (you need to remember the spelling).   The virus involved, RatBtCov 4991, is the closest virus in an animal so far to SARS_CoV2 and raises the idea that the virus could have jumped from bats directly without an intervening animal. Possibly in one immunocomproised person a major cleavage insertion could have happened from another virus. 

On the other hand, cleavage has definitely been done in labs with other viruses and is considered a major tool in gain of function research.  Scientists now sympathetic with the lab-leak theory point out that there are very small parts of the SATS-CoV2 genome that are very hard to explain naturally.

But, of course, scientists from around the world probably have visited the mines and caves in past years, which could explain occasional findings of SARS-like antibodies in European wastewaters.

I just received a hardcopy of Michael Lewis’s new book, “The Premonition: A Pandemic Story” from Amazon, USPS this time, WW Norton, Introduction (romans), Prologue, Epilogue, 304 pages, no index or endnotes.  It’s more like a non-fiction novel, story-telling for a movie.  Nicholas Confessore reviews it for the New York Times May 6) as “Michael Lewis Chronicles the Story of Covid’s Cassandras”. Fareed Zakaria has interviewed Lewis on GPS.