Thursday, August 26, 2021

"A Science in Shadows": Washington Post piece on gain-of-function research and relevance to COVID19


Cafe at NIH Bethesda MD 2015-3

David Willman and Madison Muller discuss the whole issue of “Gain of Function” research in a long Washington Post pieceA Science in the Shadows”, Aug. 26, 2010.   The tagline, “Controls on ‘gain of function’ experiments with supercharged pathogens have been undercut despite concerns about lab leaks”.

The basic takeaway is that these dangerous experiments have been going on in several labs around the world, including two in the U.S., and at one time the US supported Wuhan on experiments with coronaviruses (if it really stopped is a little unclear).

The article links to another story by Ellen Nakashima, Yasmeen Abutaleb and Joel Achenbach on Biden’s receiving the intelligence review, which is not yet available, awaiting redaction of classified materials.  Some of the motivation for this comes from reports of workers from the Wuhan lab being hospitalized in the fall of 2019, but in China people go to the hospital more quickly than in the IS.

But the report seems to be inconclusive.  I tried to explain the big picture with a comment of my own:

“I've read comments by experts that "furin cleavage" and "receptor binding domain" changes do happen naturally with coronaviruses. But I've also read expert comments that this particular virus's change is still unusual in nature from the viewpoint of the details of the biochemistry. Unfortunately, we need a trace of the virus's evolution back to an animal (whether or not humans intervened with GoF, which sounds plausible -- as does accidental US co-culpability extending back for years even if it did happen in a Wuhan lab).  From a practical viewpoint, Americans (and those everywhere) face a severe curtailment of their freedoms for a common good due to an unpredicted "force majeur" event, and we need to think that idea through as to how we view our freedoms. (Look at what is going on in Australia with lockdowns and "zero Covid", v. counting on vaccines.)”

Update 8/27:  ABC News reports in some detail on the intelligence report, article by Sasha Pezenik,Sony Salzman, andKaitlyn Folmer.  Four intelligence elements said with low confidence that the pandemic came from natural zoonotic spillover, one said with moderate confidence that it was a lab leak.  No one believes it was intentional or weapons development, and does not believe the Chinese realized the seriousness of the epidemic until toward the end of 2019, although there are events (Military olympics, communications shutdown in early Oct., database closure in Sept 2019, and even hospital parking lot use, as well as some specific information about a virus in one cave in southern China) that suggest they could have been aware of a potential problem.  (Reports of wastewater near Spain in March 2019 are interesting.)  It seems as though that near Wuhan the virus started to exponentiate maybe in early December 2019, maybe with scattered cases before. But some private American citizens seem to have become aware of something going on, at least by mid December.  There is an unclassified summary, linked by Fox News's story (similar to AP and ABC), here

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Rob Wallace and his "Dead Epidemiologists: On the Origins of COVID-19"


Minneapolis 2019-9

Eamon Whalen offers us in The Nation (paywall, and fortunately this site remembers my logon pretty well) “The Unemployed Epidemiologist Who Predicted the Pandemic

This article is a short bio of Rob Wallace, from a Minnesota family that also provided scientists as parents.  Rob has a book from October 2020 “Dead Epidemiologists: On the Origins of COVID-19”, from Monthly Review Press", 260 pages.

Rob’s main thesis is that concentrated agribusiness by its nature increases the risk of new pathogens and pandemics.  That can be true in the United States, but in China it has also compounded itself by driving smaller farmers into moving into riskier outlier areas (maybe near bat caves).  China’s socialism has not provided a panacea for this problem Furthermore, in China small farmers may live very close to their farm animals, which is particularly a risk for new influenza strains.

Rob buys the idea that a novel coronavirus jumped species in a small operation and was accidentally taken to Wuhan, among other larger cities to the north.  But he doesn’t explain why outbreaks didn’t happen in other cities.  Maybe the way superpreader events work?  Of course, there is some sporadic evidence (like wastewater) of earlier cases around the world, maybe even in the US, in the later part of 2019 that were usually mild and did not lead immediately to pandemic.  The idea that it could have changed radically inside an immunocompromised human (or animal) seems possible.  (But this never really happened during the AIDS epidemic with other infections, for example, at least not in a way that ignited a secondary pandemic.) Rob does not deny that a Wuhan lab leak is possible, and also considers much research dangerous.  But he still thinks agricultural practices are a far bigger risk.

Rob lost a job because of outspokenness in circumstances that sound complicated, but managed to turn a blog into a book as a collection of essays in 2016, titled “Big Farms Make Big Flu: Dispatches on Influenza, Agribusiness, and the Nature of Science”, from Monthly Review Press in June 2016, 400 pages, paper.

His parents (Deborah and Rodrick Wallace) had written a book in 2001 “A Plague on Your Houses: How New York Was Burned Down andNational Public Health Crumbled (Haymarket Series)”, Verso, 242 pages.  The South Bronx crumbled because NYC reduced fire services in poor neighborhoods after 1969 based on a study from Rand Corporation (which interviewed me for a job at the end of 1969 as I was leaving the Army, like I might have wound up in California.)

Monday, August 23, 2021

Laurie Garrett in Foreign Policy, “The Science Says Everyone Needs a COVID-19 Booster Shot – and Soon”


Gateway Regional Park, Fairfax VA, 2021-8

Here is a formal Argument by Laurie Garrett in Foreign Policy (paywall), “The Science Says Everyone Needs a COVID-19 Booster Shot – and Soon”, link 

The tagline, “the biology of the delta variant has made mass revaccination an urgent necessity.”

Garrett goes on and describes the various layers of defense in your immune systems the vaccines (especially mRNA) activate, and why they can wear off.

Eight months for a lot of us will be too long.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

A fresh take on Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged", as reviewed on Prageru


NYNY 2015-11

I had talked about Atlas Shrugged here May 16, 2009, but I thought I would share a review by PragerU with Michael Knowles and Eric Daniels.

They talk about the idea that the driver of the plot of the 1200 page novel is an unwinding of the relationship between two heroes, Dagney Taggart (who runs the railroad) and Henry Reardon (who makes the school).  Heroes disappear, and go on strike, to leave the mooches to flounder and let the world fall apart.  Interesting is that it isn’t driven between heroes and villains (although the end of the three-part movie was indeed, as I remember).

Daniels also talks about the moral basis of marriage and children, which is that is should be seen as a process that should increase personal agency.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Ezra Klein interviews Spencer Ackerman, about his "Reign of Terror" book, and what Trump understood about 9/11


Freedom Tower tour, 2014/6

Ezra Klein previews the book by Spencer Ackerman, “Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump”, from Viking Press, 445 pages, e-book and hardcover, somewhat pricey.

Ackerman has written for The New Republic, Wired, the Guardian, and the Daily Beast.  This is his first book.

The (New York Times) review consists of a podcast here commentary and interview, where there is also a text transcript offered.  Reading a transcript goes faster than listening to a podcast.

Klein feels that Bush painted this as a battle against the “other”, that wants to change us to be like them, which could play even into the race card (“brown people’).

The actual interview starts out by talking about birtherism and Obama.

He then gets into the scale of the surveillance state that Bush started building and had constructed fully by 2008, before Obama ran – who could be presented by neoconservatives as an enemy because of how he looks. 

Klein says neocons thought they could harness the fear of the “others”, but Trump took it further, into an “aggrieved, vengeful patriotism”.  We must not only confront the enemy, but dominate them, those who seem different from us.  That leads to a culture of soft fascism.  It also leads to ideas at the fringe (like replacement theory), like what we saw at Charlottesville and then even January 6.  These ideas included “nativism” which excludes those who weren’t part of the chosen tribes that formed America (??). I note that on p. 2 of my second DADT book (2002), in a Foreword called "The Winding Road Toward Liberty", I wrote, regarding 9/11, "We have a feral, viral enemy that seems diabolical enough to use the opportunities id our own technological society -- particularly those related to mobility, communication and self-expression -- to destroy our modern world by clandestine and asymmetric attacks from within."

The video above is from a Cato Institute book forum with the author on August 13.

Monday, August 09, 2021

The IPCC of UN issues its alarming official report on climate change


Mild January day in Mt Vernon Ohio in 2018 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued a formal report (in my sense, a "book"), which the press has picked up as quite alarming and “code red”.

The main page for loading the reports is “The AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis”.  This breaks into three major reports:  “Summary for Policymakers” (39 pages)

The second section is “Technical Summary”, 150 pages,  all preliminary that say “do not cite, quote or distribute”m after the first 41 page summary/ . 

Then there is a “Full Report” that combines everything, mostly preliminary with the same disclaimer, 3949 pages.

There is an executive summary, six pages.  Warming of the Earth from the start of industrialization has been 1.1 degrees C (almost 2 degrees C).  Limiting total warming to 2 degrees C will be very challenging.

There is an executive summary, six pages.

Sunday, August 08, 2021

Robin DiAngelo's sequel "Nice Racism", well it sounds rather gratuitous


Selma, AL, 2014-5

 A sequel to “White Fragility”, Robin DiAngelo offers “Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetual Racial Harm”, from Beacon Press, 220 pages.

One of the most common ways is deliberately bringing up other people’s (or one’s own parents”) racism gratuitously. 

She also criticizes white people remaining "comfortable" in a racist culture. 

I can recall conversations with black co-workers in the 1990s, where one of them brought up the fact that I was not aware of the fact that I could pass as a gay man because I was white.  I thought it was rather excessive to say that.  Here is a particularly grotesque quote from her new book, Twitter

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Defense attorney for January 6 defendants recommends history books; there is a favorite of mine (native-American and libertarian) that she could have named


GWU, NW DC, G St, 2007

Caroline Anders has an important piece in the Washington Post about defense attorney Heather Shaner, who represents some of the defendants who were in the Capitol on January 6.

She recommends her clients read certain history books and gives them free copies.  These include “Bury Your Heart at Wounded Knee” (Dee Brown);  Just Mercy” (Bryan Stevenson, well covered by John Fish on YouTube) and “Schindler’s List” (Thomas Keneally).

I would recommend “Where White Men Fear to Tread: The Autobiography of Russell Means” (St Martins), who sold autographed copies of his book at a 1999 convention of the Libertarian Party of Minnesota at Mystic Lake on Highway 160 SW of Minneapolis.  He passed away in 2012.  As for history books, I remember Crane Brinton's two volumes of "A History of Civilization", red covers, from undergraduate days at GWU. 

I need to mention the mainstream media’s condemnation of the book by Joseph Mercola, as in an article by Sheera Frenkel.  Apparently it is #1 on Amazon (at least now) and its title mentions “The Great Reset” and “lockdowns”.  Look for yourself (but believe at your own and others’ peril, perhaps). CNN (today) considers the book unnamable on the air.  

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

House GOP report: “The Origins of COVID-19: An Investigation of the Wuhan Institute of Virology”

Wuhan Institute of Virology main entrance


Here is a House Foreign Affairs Committee Report Minority Staff, with the lead editor Mchael T. McCaul, 117th Congress, authors “The Origins of COVID-19: An Investigation of the Wuhan Institute of Virology”, with pdf link here.

The document runs 81 pages and is in many sections, each with its own conclusions.

The report makes particular use of the day September 12, 2019, which China deleted much of its virology databases.  The writers believe that a leak accidentally occurred, maybe because of a failure of a ventilation system in the buildings. Authorities believes some workers were infected, with or without symptoms.  The report also maintains that a Chinese “military Olympics” for its own military in October went on and could have spread the virus.

It cites wastewater positive tests for the Virus abroad after that, although does not mention such a test near Barcelona as early as March 2019.  Cases did not accumulate in larger numbers until late December 2019.

It believes that the furin cleavage site change was unusual for beta coronavirus in detail, although furin cleavage does occur in nature for coronavirues.

It also chases the “conflict of interest” and email trail of many WHO and other health officials, even Fauci and Daszak. .

Laura Kelly has a story in The Hill that introduces the report.

The report reads like a prosecutorial indictment of China, and it is hard to see how the US intelligence report that Biden has ordered, due late this month, will respond to it.

Embedded picture of Wuhan Institute of Virology, Wikipedia, click for attribution 

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Laurie Garrett in Foreign Policy: "The Science Says Everyone Needs a Covid-19 Booster Shot -- and Soon"


PW County park 2021-7

Laurie Garrett has a booklet-length article in Foreign Policy (paywall) “The Science Says Everyone Needs a Covid-19 Booster Shot – and Soon” with the byline “The biology of the delta variant has made mass revaccination an urgent necessity”.

There is a lot of attention to Israel’s starting its third dose revaccination for those over 60.  She also discusses the UK, which seems to be reversing its rise in Delta cases now (maybe because a longer time before the second shot). 

The basic problem seems to be, if you don’t vaccinate everyone in the world very quickly, selective pressures may encourage nastier vaccine-evading variants. 

For my money, that sounds like pressuring China to take even more responsibility for vaccinating the entire developing world.

Yet the Sinovac vaccine doesn’t sound like it has done as well in preventing serious disease as the mRNA’s.  That’s a soft statement.  In theory, since it seems to use a greater variety of proteins, its protection ought to be more stable.  But that would be a whole new subject for Garrett to take up, what kind of vaccine really will be the most dependable in discouraging selective escapes.  China does sound capable of the mass production and it owes the world this given the origins. 

The world has never tried to vaccinate its way out of public health crisis quickly before (which is what mRNA specifically intends to do).  But the only other alternative would be some mass-produced rapid testing and automated smartphone contact tracing for everyone (Mina’s idea).  Well, plus, more rapid testing and approval of therapeutics to be given by mouth or simple injection right after infection (the “gay medicine” idea).  We haven’t gotten there, either.