Book and Movie Reviews by MG,Jr. (2017-2020)

1 August 2020, was the 201st anniversary of the birth of Herman Melville. 2019 was my year to be totally immersed in Moby-Dick (for the third time), an awesome masterpiece. This is PERHAPS, the greatest novel yet written in the English language.

I’ve written previously on Melville and Moby-Dick here:

Happy 200th, Herman!
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/08/01/happy-200th-herman/

Moby-Dick
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/08/07/moby-dick/

Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/07/15/ye-cannot-swerve-me-moby-dick-and-climate-change/

The Ultimate Great American Novel
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/09/04/the-ultimate-great-american-novel/

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W. Somerset Maugham’s “Ten Novels And Their Authors”

Maugham wrote a book of this title, describing his picks, ranked as shown below, His essays on each are excellent.

War and Peace (Tolstoy)
Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert)
Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky)
Le Père Goriot (Honoré de Balzac)
Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë)
Le Rouge et le Noir (The Red and The Black; Stendhal)
Tom Jones (Henry Fielding)
David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)
Moby-Dick (Herman Melville)

Read by MG,Jr (from Maugham’s list), so far:

Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert)
The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky)
Le Père Goriot (Honoré de Balzac)
David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)
Moby-Dick (Herman Melville)

I like the following, as SOME of the other novels that I think are “classics”:

The Three Musketeers (Alexandre Dumas)
Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)
On The Road (Jack Kerouac)
Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut)

The Three Musketeers is described here:

My Favorite Classics
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2017/09/18/my-favorite-classics/

Huckleberry Finn and Slaughterhouse Five are described here:

The Ultimate Great American Novel
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/09/04/the-ultimate-great-american-novel/

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Three movies from 2015-2016:

Heal the Living (Réparer les vivants) (2016)

Superb film by Katell Quillévéré (screen-writer and director), about life, death and organ donors. The meditative nature of this film, without excessive pathos, with a lovely piano accompaniment (most of the time except for two noisy rock songs), the lovely crisp photography possible with today’s equipment, and its seamless transitions between wakeful reality and introspective day-dreaming, and back, and its transitioning ensemble – constellation – of collaborative actors (instead of a star in front of background “support”), make this a very thoughtful and artistic film that presents fundamental truths. All these sterling qualities (except for the crisp photography) will make this film largely unpopular for US audiences, especially when spoken in French with English subtitles.
https://youtu.be/otYWveDaplo

Genius (2016)

A superb English film about legendary American authors, particularly Thomas Wolfe (author of “Look Homeward, Angel”) and really about Max Perkins, the Scribner’s (book publishing company) editor who discovered Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and, most flamboyantly, Thomas Wolfe (the movie is ostensibly about him). The heart of the story is about friendship (male friendship) collaborating in the creative artistic process, in this case to produce literary novels. Anyone who likes reading (actual books of literature, in paper), and who strives to produce excellent art that requires collaborators (particularly theater and often music, and inevitably every art) in any medium would like this movie. However, the American reviewers were not keen on this movie because they and most American audiences don’t really like reading and find the movie “slow;” it’s basically a detailed exposition of intellectual processes (and what American wants to watch that?); its lighting is “dark” (which is how it actually looks in downtown Manhattan); Americans don’t like foreigners making movies about American subjects (English actors can do any variety of American accents, but American actors can’t do English, or any other foreign accent); and the movie unrolls like a well thought-out play since it was in fact directed by an English theatrical director (with a story based on a carefully studied biography of Max Perkins).
https://youtu.be/gCvcD3IBSlc

Mr. Holmes (2015)

This is a modern and very clever modern story (i.e., not by Arthur Conan Doyle) of Sherlock Holmes near the end of his life in retirement, living as a beekeeper. The plot, photography, score, and acting by the (largely) English cast are all first rate, naturally. The film has proved popular with English and American audiences, and rightfully so. The story involves Holmes as a 93-year-old (in ~1947) who, despite failing memory, is trying to recall the details of his last case, which ended tragically and caused him to retire. The jumps between “the present” (~1947) and flashbacks (~1912) are clear, as are the transitions to the flashbacks to Holmes’s post WWII visit to Japan (1946/1947). There is enough of the “solve the mystery” element in the film to satisfy most Sherlock Holmes fans, and a thoughtful emotional-psychological thread to the story that was not ruined by an excess of pathos or icky sweetness. Of course the acting, photography and score were good and well-integrated into this polished work of cinema. Overall, nicely paced and good entertainment with wit, polish and good heart.
https://youtu.be/0G1lIBgk4PA

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Some commentary on Anti-War movies and books:

The Pentagon Papers in the Movies
[the 2003 movie is the best, and what a story!]
20 April 2018
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/04/20/the-pentagon-papers-in-the-movies/

Anti-War and Socialist Psychology Books and Movies
23 January 2018
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/01/23/anti-war-and-socialist-psychology-books-and-movies/

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Lafcadio Hearn

Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) was an unusual American who eventually became a Far Eastern foreign correspondent to American newspapers and magazines, and an expert interpreter of Japanese and Chinese stories, legends and fables, as well as a keen observer of how life was conceptualized and conducted in Asia (mainly Japan).

Lafcadio Hearn was born in Lefkada, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea on the west coast of Greece. He had an Irish father and Greek mother, and a difficult childhood filled with rejection. He also lived a very unusual life, for some time a newspaper crime reporter in the U.S.A. (Cincinnati, New Orleans), marriage to a Black Women at a time when mixed marriages were extremely difficult to sustain socially in the U.S., and then moving on to a foreign correspondent role, first in the French West Indies and then in Japan. There, he learned Japanese, taught in Japanese schools, married a Japanese woman and had four sons, and lived out a happy last chapter to his colorful and literary life.

A superb book by Hearn is Kwaidan, which is a book of Japanese ghost stories, and which book was the basis of an amazing 1965 Japanese art film (movie) of the same title by Kobayashi. I think Kwaidan is a masterpiece.

Gleanings In Buddha Fields is a collection of stories (the mythical, legendary and fabulous) and essays (on the realities of life), which in total immerse the reader into the zeitgeist, or context, of late 19th and early 20th century Japan.

Alan Watts noted that Lafcadio Hearn’s book Gleanings In Buddha Fields (1897) sparked (or was one of the sparkers of) his interest in Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy. I read Gleanings In Buddha Fields because I was curious to learn the source (about one of the sources) of where Alan got his Zen.

I recommend Gleanings in Buddha Fields to you (and Kwaidan).

Because some (at least one or two) of Hearn’s references to historical personalities of 19th century (and earlier) Japan are not part of modern memory, you might have to do a little Internet researching to gather some of the historical facts about the incidents Hearn was referring to (in Gleanings…), in order to fully appreciate Hearn’s presentation. But even without such deeper investigation, Gleanings In Buddha Fields is an excellent, informative, thoughtful and Zen-atmospheric book. In discovering it with your first reading, you can also imagine yourself reliving, at least in part, the juvenile awakening to Zen Buddhism experienced by Alan Watts (whose The Way of Zen is a masterpiece).

A modern collection of selected Japanese stories (including some from Kwaidan) by Hearn is the following. It is excellent, and well-researched, with a very informative introductory essay by the editor-researcher, who was Ireland’s ambassador to Japan.

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Cinema Art From 1968 For Today
18 August 2018
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/08/18/cinema-art-from-1968-for-today/

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The Ultimate Great American Novel
4 September 2018
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2018/09/04/the-ultimate-great-american-novel/

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All Quiet On The Western Front

“All Quiet On The Western Front,” by Erich Maria Remarque (22 June 1898 – 25 September 1970), is the greatest war novel of all time. Why? Because it vividly conveys the physical, psychological and emotional realities of being at the front face-to-face with the enemy in an all-out massively industrialized war. “All Quiet On The Western Front” is also the greatest anti-war novel of all time. Why? Because it vividly conveys the physical, psychological and emotional realities of being at the front face-to-face with the enemy in an all-out massively industrialized war.

This novel was first published 92 years ago, in 1928; and its story is set a century ago, in 1918, during World War I. This novel describes the realities of a soldier’s transformation from naïve enthusiastic recruit to hardened emotionally vacant veteran, the deadly and depersonalizing confusion of military operations, the rush and terror of frontline combat, the haphazard allocation of injuries, the slow-motion dread of being in hospital, the brief joys and overwhelming alienation and anguish of home leave, the struggle against insanity, the scant and fleeting serendipitous joys in the field, the loss of a personal past that moored one to a potentially fulfilling future in one’s culture, and the crushing of the lonely human spirit shadowed by the omnipresence of death. The human reality of this novel is timeless. Most of us casually say we are anti-war, but to truly inoculate yourself against any taste for war you must read this book and allow its story, and its feeling, to soak deep into your psyche.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald’s novel Tender Is The Night hit me like a thunderbolt. Fitzgerald drew the title from a line in John Keats’s poem “Ode to a Nightingale.” I’ve written quite a bit about Fitzgerald (follow the links to that). Below are a few of the comments about Fitzgerald and movies about him and his novels.

Appreciating F. Scott Fitzgerald
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/04/24/appreciating-f-scott-fitzgerald/

The Poetry of Disillusionment in “Gatsby” is Beyond the Movies
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2020/04/27/the-poetry-of-disillusionment-in-gatsby-is-beyond-the-movies/

F. Scott Fitzgerald and Lost American Lyricism
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/06/17/f-scott-fitzgerald-and-lost-american-lyricism/

I Learn About F. Scott Fitzgerald
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/03/16/i-learn-about-f-scott-fitzgerald/

Two “F. Scott Fitzgerald” movies:

Last Call is based on the memoirs of Frances Kroll Ring (1916-2015), Fitzgerald’s last secretary, and sounding board, to whom he dictated his last novel The Love Of The Last Tycoon, A Western. Frances Kroll Ring’s book (1985), highly praised by both scholars and Fitzgerald aficionados for its accuracy, detail and sympathy, is about the last two years (1939-1940) of Fitzgerald’s life. Frances Kroll Ring (herself in 2002) appears at the end of the film. A very well made film, as close as we’ll ever get to “being there” with Scott. Jeremy Irons plays Scott, Neve Campbell plays Frances Kroll Ring, both excellently in my opinion. The Cambridge Companion To F. Scott Fitzgerald (2002) is dedicated to Frances Kroll Ring “with affection, gratitude, and respect from everyone who reveres F. Scott Fitzgerald as man and artist.”

Getting Straight is a fun movie of college life and protest in 1970, and centers on a much put upon ex-activist and graduate student of literature (“Harry,” played by Elliot Gould) who ultimately gives it all up (except the girl) in a very spirited defense of the art and spirit of F. Scott Fitzgerald. This movie was approvingly pointed out by Ruth Prigozy, the editor of The Cambridge Companion To F. Scott Fitzgerald. I was surprised at how many references Harry makes to characters and incidents in both Fitzgerald’s novels and in his life (with Zelda and then Sheilah Graham). The movie can be fun without having to know all these references, but it is much funnier being in the know. I thought, my god!, this bright, breezy, light-hearted confection from 1970 would be over the heads of the illiterate comic-book-cartoon-movie-consuming popular audiences of today: we’re doomed!

Last Call (2002, trailer)
https://youtu.be/uzxx8C2xWDc

Getting Straight (1970, stills and music)
https://youtu.be/vWER0TLWLuo

The Crack-Up
F. Scott Fitzgerald
[originally published as a three-part series in the February, March, and April 1936 issues of Esquire.]
https://www.esquire.com/lifestyle/a4310/the-crack-up/

The Moment F. Scott Fitzgerald Knew He Was a Failure
By Lili Anolik
Sep 22, 2015
https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/a38113/f-scott-fitzgerald-1015/

“It was a gorgeous evening. A full moon drenched the road to the lustreless color of platinum, and late-blooming harvest flowers breathed into the motionless air aromas that were like low, half-heard laughter.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, from The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, section V.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, from The Crack-Up, part I, 1936

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My Wicked, Wicked Ways, by Errol Flynn

A mostly honest book. I have always loved Flynn in the movies. A very engaging character, with his own flaws and tragedies despite all the glamour and antics. What I most like about him is that despite everything, he always sought to enjoy, to laugh, to be happy and make others happy; but a major prankster.

I think he knew he was doomed to a short life from very early on; he had contracted tuberculosis and malaria as a teenager prospecting in New Guinea in the late 1920s very early 1930s. So, he enjoyed his smokes and booze and morphine, and most of all women, who shamelessly threw themselves at him, especially after he made money but even before when broke and homeless. Besides, he pursued them very keenly, too.

Alan Watts mentioned that some Zen master from the past had said that there were two paths to enlightenment: the path of thoughtful study, meditation, good works, piety, humility and patience; and the path of debauchery leading to exhaustion of that attitude leading in turn to an awakening. This in fact is the main comparison presented in Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. But, Watts continued, the first path is by far recommended even though its “success rate” is not particularly high, because the second path can easily be fatal (in every way) though it was considered a “sure thing” and “quicker” for gaining enlightenment: if you survived to getting to that point! The story of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) is in fact of a life of renunciation of a princely life of luxury and dissipation to first seek meaning through asceticism, which was ultimately found to be arid, and then to settle on the “middle way,” between asceticism and dissipation: which for today we can think of as consumerist materialism (dissipation, that is).

So, Flynn’s book was fun for me to help reflect on these ideas. Besides, it is a fun book on vignettes and quips about “golden age” Hollywood.

Errol Flynn starred in the 1938 movie, The Dawn Patrol, about WWI British fighter pilots in France. This is an anti-war movie. I describe it here:

Criminalated Warmongers
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2019/11/11/criminalated-warmongers/

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Magister Ludi (The Bead Game)

Herman Hesse received the Nobel Prize for Literature for Magister Ludi (The Bead Game). Interesting book (long), but sometimes a bit remote/slow for me. The “three tales” appended at the end are superb. I wonder if the whole big book before it was really just an enormous lead-in to them. Hesse put tremendous thought and work into this book, there are many undercurrents and subtleties that I may not have fully appreciated. I think it is basically a book about religious feeling (existentialism?) in a non-religious way; similar to the orientation of Carl G. Jung’s psychology. Both Jung and Hesse were born in religious/missionary families from Switzerland (Jung) or southwest Germany near Switzerland (Hesse, who spent much of his life till the end in Switzerland). I think Hesse was working from a view of life like looking at the Swiss Alps from a remote chalet (which is in fact where he lived).

Excerpts from Magister Ludi (The Bead Game), (1943)

He had also made the discovery that a spiritual man in some curious way arouses resentment and opposition in others, who esteem him from afar and make claims on him in times of distress, but by no means love or look upon him as one of themselves and are more inclined to avoid him. He had learned from experience that old-fashioned or home-made magic formulas and spells were more willingly acceptable to sick people or victims of misfortune than intelligent advice. He had learned that man prefers misfortune and external penance rather than attempt to change himself inwardly, and had found that he believed more easily in magic than in intelligence, and in formulas more readily than in experience — many things in fact which in the few thousand years that have elapsed have presumably not altered so much as many history books would have us believe. He had also learned that a man in quest of the spiritual should never abandon love, that he should encounter human desires and follies without arrogance, but should, however, never allow them to dominate him; for, from the sage to the charlatan, the priest to the mountebank, from the helping brother to the parasitical sponger, is only a short step, and people fundamentally prefer to pay a rogue or allow themselves to be exploited by a quack than to accept selflessly offered assistance for which no recompense is asked. They would not readily pay with confidence and love, but preferably with gold or wares. They cheated each other and expected to be cheated in return. One had to learn to regard man as a weak, selfish and cowardly being, but one had also to see how greatly one participated in all these characteristics and urges and longs for ennoblement.

We must no longer rely on the fact that the cream of the talented from out there flock to us and help us to maintain [our society]: we must recognise our humble and heavy responsibility to the schools of the world as the most important and the most honourable part of our task, and we must elaborate it more and more.

Times of terror and the deepest misery may arrive, but if there is to be any happiness in this misery it can only be a spiritual happiness, related to the past in the rescue of the culture of early ages and to the future in a serene and indefatigable championship of the spirit in a time which would otherwise completely swallow up the material.

Siddhartha

I love “Siddhartha” by Hesse; easy to see why that book of his is so popular. It is an “awakening” story similar to the life of Buddha, who appears as a support character to the protagonist. I said more about “Siddhartha” in my comments on Errol Flynn, above.

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After The End of The World: books by George R. Stewart, and Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Here are two classic “after the end of the world” books. In Earth Abides, George R. Stewart’s end-of-the-world is by pandemic!, and in A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller Jr.’s is by post nuclear war taking America back to a Medieval Period, and then eventually over a few millennia to a new rocket and nuclear age, which ends as one would expect.

Stewart was an English professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in the 1930s-1940s, and his book here is from 1949. Amazingly prescient, realistic “speculative fiction” about the subsequent lives of the few survivors of the nearly overnight pandemic.

Miller’s book is definitely different, but there are no cheesy sci-fi gadgetry nor “special effects,” despite the strangeness of the worlds he portrays. Interestingly, the monastery life that is the center of Miller’s book is similar in many ways to the monastery life that is the center of Herman Hesse’s Magister Ludi (which is also a sort-of after the end of the world book, really of a “distant” future after the end of the fascist world).

I cannot imagine Miller’s vision becoming reality, but I can easily imagine Stewart’s coming about.

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The Twilight Zone

A PERSONALLY IMPORTANT LIFE GOAL OF MINE MET!

During this 2020 summer of hiding out from the pandemic, I watched all 156 episodes of the anthology TV show, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, which originally ran between 1959 and 1964. This feat was accomplished by seeing 2 to 6 episodes a night on consecutive nights over the course of several weeks.

This show is a collective work of TV art, guided by Rod Serling, who wrote 59% of the episodes. Amazingly, despite this show being in the neighborhood of 60 years old, its anachronisms relative to today’s typical attitudes and technological paraphernalia are infrequent (as regards the attitudes) and not distracting (as regards the technicalities). But it really shines in its depiction of the inner workings of human hearts and minds, and also human heartlessness. In this most important artistic-literary aspect, The Twilight Zone has not been surpassed by television shows since.

The Twilight Zone is a sequence of — usually — morality tales (interspersed with occasional comedies) whose telling is freed imaginatively and dramatically by allowing for the arbitrary actions of mysterious metaphysical forces. It’s as if Lafcadio Hearn, Ambrose Bierce and H. P. Lovecraft had been transported 60 years into their futures to write for television. One of the most thrilling aspects of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone is the intense social consciousness, and anti-war, anti-greed, anti-bigotry and anti-cruelty attitudes nearly every minute of the entire series exudes. The acting, by many many actors, is uniformly excellent; and the production values of all the technicalities are also very good, but also very obviously more modest than in the costly productions of TV fare today.

In seeing the entire 156 episodes in one concentrated period of time, I have gotten a very clear appreciation of The Twilight Zone’s beauty and value as art. Without intending to be blasphemous, pretentious or dumb, let me say that I can see The Twilight Zone representing, for discerning American (and beyond?) viewers of the 1960s, a thought-provoking and socially instructive film-electronic art form in the same way that the plays of Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes were thought-provoking and socially instructive theatrical art forms to the Fifth-century Athenians.

The bubbling cauldron of social tensions, aspirations and fears of dynamic yet troubled societies were artistically abstracted and polished into the diamond-sharp facets of intense dramatic plays, reflecting the whole of contemporary society back into itself through the fascinated gaze of its individual people. If “the eyes are the mirror of the soul” then The Twilight Zone, through TV screens, was the mirror of the collective or societal American soul, which soul is always hidden behind a flashy loud and positivist front.

If you see the whole series, looking past the incidentals of its presentation, but deep into the essence of its conception, literateness and soul, you will see and hear as sharp and accurate depictions of the personalities and preoccupations of our society today as was the case for the American society of the early 1960s, during the show’s first run 61 to 56 years ago.

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John Keats, poet

Much feeling here, combined with a tremendous amount of work to present that feeling with refinement and grace of language, without dilution of the emotion, and without making it all seem a labored construction. Also wonderful feeling for nature and the natural world. I can’t criticize anything here, only try to learn from it. To my mind, Keats is to English poetry what Mozart is to music. Keats was a major influence on F. Scott Fitzgerald, who I see as an American “3rd generation” English Romantic poet who expressed his artistry in prose.

I have to dig into Shelley next (I have a huge tome), who was more “ferocious” than Keats. Both were very focussed artists. I’m struck by the idealism they felt and worked from.

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In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World, by Ian Stewart

Hello math lovers! (sic),

At one time or another a member of my family or friends has expressed an interest in:

Pythagoras’s Theorem (triangles, distance, areas, surfaces), or

Calculus (rates of change of anything and everything), or

Newton’s Law of Gravity (planetary motion, satellite trajectories), or

Pure Math (Napier’s Bones, the weirdness of the square root of -1, and Möbius Strip topology), or

Normal Distribution (the probability distribution of IQ, and “The Bell Curve” book), or

The Wave Equation (tones, semitones, musical scales, even tempering, beats within harmony), or

Fourier Transform (sines and cosines, single frequency/pitch modes and equalizers, digital camera images), or

The Navier-Stokes Equation (fluid flow, aerodynamics, F1 car design, global warming computation), or

Maxwell’s Equations (electricity, magnetism, radiation, wireless communication, TSA body scanners), or

Thermodynamics (entropy, efficiency of engines and renewable energy technology, disordering of the universe), or

Relativity (curved space-time, bent light rays, black holes, Big Bang, dark matter, dark energy), or

Quantum Mechanics (Schrödinger’s Cat, many parallel worlds, semiconductor electronics), or

Information Theory (codes, coding, data compression, digital communications), or

Chaos (species population dynamics with explosive growth and collapse, erratic unpredictability), or

Black-Scholes Equation (insane financial speculation, options, futures, derivatives, credit default swaps, the banking/real estate/financial crash of 2007-2008).

Because of that, here is my review of Ian Stewart’s 2012 book: In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World. Stewart says of his book: “This is the story of the ascent of humanity, told through 17 equations.”

This is an excellent enthralling book: interesting, very informative, very well written clear explanations of the mathematics and the applications of that mathematics to: classical mathematical calculations, lots of physics and related technology, information theory (codes and computers), chaos (wild swings in species populations), and the insane 21st century finance economics of our previous financial crash and its inevitable successors. This brief description does not in any way convey the complete range of this book.

On the front cover you can see the 17 (sets of) equations, which Stewart describes (and their many uses) over the course of 17 chapters. Of the 13 equations I feel confident about knowing something about (all “basic” math and/or mathematical physics), I find Stewart to be accurate and masterfully clear in his descriptions.

My only quibble is where he states about the main causes of global warming being the production of carbon dioxide and methane (gases) that: “These are greenhouse gases: they trap incoming radiation (heat) from the Sun.”

This is a collapsing of the actual mechanism, which is: the the capture of outgoing heat radiation (infrared radiation) by CO2 (most importantly) and CH4 (along with other heat-trapping molecular gases in trace amounts in the atmosphere), which upward radiated heat energy is derived from the earlier absorption (by the oceans and lands) of incoming light energy; a necessary process for cooling the Earth and stabilizing its temperature (if we didn’t mess with the process). So I would rephrase the Stewart sentence quoted as: “These are greenhouse gases: they trap outgoing radiation (heat) from the Earth.”

[If you think about it you will see that wherever the biosphere captures the incoming LIGHT from the Sun — in the air, lands or oceans — it ultimately heats to the same degree; but when our pollution intercepts and stores a greater portion of the re-radiated outward going HEAT (infrared radiation) from the biosphere than would be the case “naturally,” that the Earth’s “cooling system” is impaired and the biosphere warms up steadily, for an Earth out of heat balance.]

Regardless of this quibble, Stewart knows much much more about all the mathematics he presents and all the uses of it than I do. The 4 equations I knew nothing about (and learned about from Stewart) are: #1 Euler’s formula for polyhedra (topology); #2 information theory; #3 chaos theory (I know a little a bit about nonlinear dynamics, sensitivity to initial conditions, and limit cycles: similar to the “butterfly effect”); and #4 the Black-Scholes, or “Midas” equation that was heavily abused to produce the financial meltdown of 2007-2008. On these four, I learned a great deal from Stewart (basically everything I know about them now), and in the reading of this book I gained a sense of trust in his descriptions and pronouncements.

My only other critique of the book (and a minor one) is that there are a number of proofreading lapses (both of text and substance) that show up as typographical errors, and/or what I presume to be mischosen words (some obviously errors, others didn’t make sense to me). The few instances of these errors occur most frequently in the later chapters of the book, and none is fatal (especially if you don’t notice them). So, I agree with the praise for the book highlighted on the back cover.

I especially recommend the book for its explanation (in 8 chapters) of the physics of: classical gravity (Newtonian mechanics), waves, heat flow, fluid flow, electrodynamics, thermodynamics (entropy), relativity and quantum mechanics. I also appreciate his logical and scathing take-down of the modern hyperactive derivative-based financial speculation that dominates and threatens the world’s economies today. For me, the 8 physics chapters are superb; but there is no part of the book that is weak: “a wonderfully accessible book.”

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Upanishads

Juan Mascaró was a superb poetic translator. His selections from the Upanishads is enthralling. His translation of the Dhammapada was also wonderful:

“As the bee takes the essence of a flower and flies away without destroying its beauty and perfume, so let the sage wander in this life.” — The Dhammapada, 49

Joseph Campbell (author of The Hero With A Thousand Faces, editor of Heinrich Zimmer’s book The Philosophies of India) said of the Upanishads: “It’s all there.”

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Books I must add to my list of essential classics:

History of the Peloponnesian War (Thucydides, translated by Rex Warner)
The Plays of Euripides
The Plays of Sophocles
L’Avare (The Miser, a play by Molière)
Phèdre (Phaedra, a play by Racine)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)
The Moon and Sixpence (W. Somerset Maugham)
The Razor’s Edge (W. Somerset Maugham)
Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
Homage to Catalonia (George Orwell)
1984 (George Orwell)
Collected Essays (2002, George Orwell)
Bhagavad Gita (Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood)
Bhagavad Gita (Juan Mascaró)
Memories, Dreams, Reflections (Carl Gustav Jung)
The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Malcolm X, with Alex Haley)
Cadillac Desert (Marc Reisner)

…and others as I think of them.

Thoughts on the George Floyd Riots

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Thoughts on the George Floyd Riots

Yesterday, a friend wrote me: “I really don’t know how we are going to come out of this. For a while I was okay. Over the last week I have grown more desperate with each day as the news develops.” I am trying to answer him here.

Many of my social media friends have expressed their anger, outrage, sadness and disgust at the lynching of George Floyd by a white supremacist cop in Minneapolis on May 25th (8 days ago as I write this). That lynching was carried out by an arresting cop kneeling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds on the right side of George Floyd’s neck while the handcuffed Floyd was lying face down on a city street. Floyd kept pleading for relief because he could not breathe, but the killer cop continued his kneeling choke-hold for 2 minutes and 53 seconds after Floyd had become unresponsive. Three other cops participated in the lynching: one holding Floyd’s back, another holding his legs, and the third looking on and preventing intervention by a person who stood nearby, watching in horror. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killing_of_George_Floyd)

The country has blown up, large protests and riots now fill the streets of many cities and towns in America, and have for the last week. “A riot is the language of the unheard,” as Martin Luther King, Jr. said about the expressions of that truth in 1965 (Watts, Los Angeles CA) and 1967 (Newark NJ, Detroit MI, and 157 other places). That truth again erupted into view in over 100 cities in the United States after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on 4 April 1968, with “the greatest wave of social unrest the United States had experienced since the Civil War,” before it finally flamed out on 27 May 1968. And that truth was again acted out during 6 days of riots (29 April to 4 May) in Los Angeles CA in 1992, after the four cops who had savagely beat Rodney King in 1991 were acquitted of any crime.

“We are witnessing America as a failed social experiment,” Dr. Cornell West said on 29 May, as he preached on CNN television with crystal clarity on the massive and systemic failure of America — as a society, an economy and a tangle of governments — to protect and defend all of its people. Listen to Cornell West for yourself to unflinchingly face the reality of America (https://youtu.be/cs3jdyfx_fo), a reality that had been made plain by Malcolm X by 21 February 1965, when he was assassinated.

People are in the streets because the George Floyd murder was the last straw on their unbearably strained patience in waiting for justice in America. They blew up because they saw that justice in America will never arrive. Their many pent-up disappointments and frustrations came to a head on seeing the video of the George Floyd murder. Those disappointments and frustrations include experiences of victimization — many fatal — by racist policing, as well as economic victimization by a structurally racist and fundamentally rigged economy.

So, the victim populations of the race war against Blacks, Latinos, American Indians, and others disfavored by white supremacists; and the class war by the rich and powerful against: wage slaves, the unemployed, youth without prospects, and the 99% of Americans who are outsiders from the con games and self-aggrandizing capers of the economic insiders, just went ape-shit on seeing the Floyd murder and its obvious acceptability to the Trump-led bipartisan power structure. That is why I call it a lynching.

All this is happening during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has paralyzed society with its obvious deadliness, and that in turn has collapsed any hope of financial security for so many people who were already in the bottom tiers of the fundamentally heartless American economic system.

Many of these people are faced with sudden devastating losses: of health and life to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and of being cast into bankrupting debt by the medical bills for having survived COVID-19; of confidence in remaining healthy while on jobs they need for economic survival; of income when their jobs disappear, and with it their health insurance if those jobs even provided it; of housing with the inability to pay rent; and even of ready access to food. The pandemic has also interfered with the most fundamental source of solace we all rely on in our times of despair: sharing the company of our families and true friends. So going out into the streets now to protest is natural for many who want relief from the unbearable suffocation of the choke-holds on them, and for some of those people who feel they have nothing left to lose, to even riot.

Unfortunately, there are rotten malevolent scumbag bigots who are taking advantage of the street protests to act violently and destructively in the hopes of provoking a much wider race war of oppression by white supremacy. And there are too many cops and government people (the cop employers) who are obsessed with control and domination instead of public and individual welfare, and they too create more hurt and provoke more reactive rioting by their heavy-handed cop-riot “law enforcement” actions.

So we get a vicious cycle of violence begetting violence. The best way to break that cycle is to quickly legislate substantive social and economic improvements that clearly address the underlying distresses of the people protesting visibly, and the people despairing silently and invisibly. The blinded-by-bigotry Trump-type people don’t want to enact those long-needed reforms because it would mean cutting back on their money-making schemes and their biased administrative actions.

I am guessing the current cycle of unrest will wind down simply because of exhaustion on the part of most of the people in the streets, coupled with heavy suppression by militarized police and federal troops. That won’t end the problem, but just make it more “invisible” to the authorities and simply delay its resolution, which if not forthcoming will simply mean another outbreak is inevitable.

I think things will get back to “normal” in time (within weeks?), but the “normal” that we had before late May was toxic. It carries within it the makings of more, longer and worse future riots if we let it return and continue unchanged.

A Bernie Sanders presidency aided by a helpfully supportive Congress would have been a potentially mild reform of our toxic “now,” but that reform was forbidden by the corporate-owned bipartisan power structure through its Democratic Party wing, with the full concurrence of its Republican Party wing. So now we have the George Floyd riots because people don’t feel like compromising any more, or of waiting for the Godot of American justice, or of turning the other cheek of a failed Christianity.

I don’t know and can’t really guess what’s coming next, or of how things will play out for the rest of this year.

We need a lot of wise leadership — which is obviously entirely lacking from the Trump Administration, from the U.S. Congress, and from many governors and elected politicians — and we need a lot of steady confident calmness that holds off from violent actions, by governors, mayors and police forces, who would in turn all be supported in that type of compassionately wise response by those wished-for intelligent and unbiased Federal authorities, for this national crisis to be calmed down quickly and humanely; and to then be permanently resolved by essential social and economic reform legislation, which was assiduously enforced thereafter.

The slogan “no justice, no peace” says it all. We’ve always known that, and the Kerner Commission Report spelled it all out after the riots in 1967 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerner_Commission), but it was ignored.

This crisis will be fixed for real when justice in America is established for real. I don’t know when or if that will ever happen. But I just wish it would soon.

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For America today: shamrock = lily; Erin = Freedom.

Steeling Ourselves to Reopen

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Steeling Ourselves to Reopen

“So, the country is steeling itself for its Great Leap Forward: coming out of our underground bunkers, our bomb shelters, our foxholes, our caves, where we have been hiding out from the tenuous invisible virus-laden fog of everyone else’s exhalations. We are being steeled to open air-tight hatches and climb out into the wreckage — unseen but wrecked — of our old world. But the air of that old world is now no longer the same; it is infected, and that infection washes in and out of human bodies that wither in many ways in the wake of the viruses’ passing, to hang in the air waiting for new hosts to house, feed and transport them on their constant wanderings to reproduce. And we, the humans weary of protecting ourselves from infection by hiding out in our private dens and burrows, are now being mesmerized by the slowly rising crescendo of suggestive siren songs, sad wails, ominous warnings, frenzied exhortations all saying the same thing: open up! leave your hiding! burst into this new air, join humanity once again, forget your fears, and gratefully, with energy, with enthusiasm: go to work! Yes, that is what is needed, work! work! work! Be happy in your work! You are wasting your lives hiding, and by doing so you are losing all that is most dear: income, employment, and all the good things you deserve, but which must be paid for! Why, that is essentially death! No!, it is time to rejoin the human race, and go out into the world without concern of our invisible invaders, and take back command of the world by stepping out into it! Yes, it takes strength to be a real man, a real woman, who can take charge of their lives and go and make something of them, by working and earning, and clearly justifying their place in our civilized world. These are the kinds of people who make up the strong healthy body of civilized humanity, the human force that pushes forward and survives, that creates the future. But not everyone has that courage, that drive, that worthiness; some are weak, outdated, unworthy; essentially deadwood, an unnecessary overhead expense on the virile core of humanity, the workers essential to the steady functioning of our way of life. So strength, now with a clearer understanding of freedom after having brushed aside the fears of this virus, is now ours, and the strong essential people understand that because they have the courage to break out back into the busy world that we must quickly revive, together shoulder to shoulder, that we can waste no sympathy on the unnecessary old, weak and cowardly. People are always dying, old, young, it doesn’t matter, so hiding away from a remote chance of death is wrong, especially as doing so has let all our work and prosperity fall into ruin. No!, we move forward, and we do so with confidence in our own strength of purpose, our own drive to gain the prosperity we deserve, our pride in supporting our families, and in helping to advance great commercial enterprises of social necessity! So, go out, fear not, some small number of you will always be surprised by an early death, but this virus will focus itself on the old and non-essential and the weak. Forget about them!, that kind of concern only holds you back from devoting yourself to what is most important and gives you your meaning in life: your work! So let the old and the weak and the undeserving sicken and die, do not worry about spreading virus germs to these non-essentials. We will be better off without them, the emotional drag on us of all their worries, and the wasted costs of their upkeep will be cast aside once the virus prunes them away from the real virile core of humanity. Then, think of the kind of world we will be building!: one of drive without restraint, of prosperity without cost, of work without stop, of people steeled to their tasks and moved past their childish sentimentality and fear, of people past caring for those who don’t deserve to live if they try to stand in our way and hold us back, especially holding us back from our freedom and obligation to work, which gives us all we were ever meant to be and to have. If you work hard, you will be treated well; if you do not work, you will be punished! So fear not! Live and let die! Join together, and work! work! work! Be happy in your work!”

And so the Maximum Leader spoke to his people to fill their spirits with his disease, and steel them to re-emerge into the pestilence of his reign, and maintain it.

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Moon Gliding Over a Time of Stillness

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Moon Gliding Over a Time of Stillness

The Moon rose large over the forested far slope of the canyon, shining its cool reflected effulgence from a pastel blue evening sky down through faint high wisps of nebulous mist and into the otherwise invisible water vapor filling the air to glow with a plush soft burnished halo around that majestically floating orb of crisp ghostly luminosity bringing to sharp silhouettes the forms of branches and leaves interposed between us, as an expansive polyphony of sparkling birdsong gradually diminished toward silence as pools of darkness swelled to merge into a night stillness cored by a tunnel of clarity between that Moon’s silvery pockmarked hemispherical surface in vivid sharp relief, and and my enchanted eyes.

The myriad meshed wheels of the unimaginably vast machinery of the Heavens and of the Earth, from the astronomical to the subatomic, continue their many cycles indifferent to the stoppage of humanity’s wheels of thoughtless contention, what we call civilization, now brought up short by the collision of all our ambitions into the stark terror of an erupting plague, a pandemic of an uncontrolled, evasive and pervasive deadly virus. Many of us hide from each other hoping to avoid chance and fatal infection, and waiting fearfully hoping for the conjuring of a magical medical salvation soon, it can never be too soon. Others hide from reality burrowed into their shaky fantasies of imperviousness and longings for illusions of self-importance, angrily protesting their mandated self-incarceration from a now shattered and scattered society, an anger that is really the roiling surface of the deeply suppressed realization of being inconsequential and superfluous. And then there are those who walk through the undefined extent of the valley of death each day: to battle the virus, attend to the sick, bury the dead; or forced by the needs of their own survival to labor blindly through the pervading pestilence; or moved by a higher calling sacrificing themselves to be of service to others.

For some it is a time of being terribly tested and of exhibiting great nobility, for others of being cravenly malicious parasites taking advantage of a prostrate humanity. It is a time when the contours of authentic merit and of the foulest degradation within the usually amorphous mass of humanity are brought into the sharpest contrast by the glaring light of pandemic circumstances. It is a time when the best hold solidarity with all and affirm life, without denying and being disheartened by the indeterminate inevitability of death. It is a time to savor the great and mysterious gift of life, of consciousness along a stream of time; but in truth it was always that time, now only sparked into many minds by the viral invasion of our human meshwork of flesh, blood and behavior.

How should I conduct the uncertain continuation of my survival? In what form will humanity emerge from this winnowing, and when if ever? I suspect this pandemic is but a skirmish in a much larger and longer war against the unrelenting forces of overstimulated entropy, evolution and extinction. Human consciousness is an evanescent field of scintillating glints flashing off the rippling surface of the deep black night of nonexistence towards which our human world of tragic innocence, of blithe self-absorption and of damning hubris, inexorably drifts.

Millennialist dreamers, both romantically religious and technologically ideological, envision humanity’s future to be a unanimous transformation of attitudes and behaviors that coalesce as a new self-perpetuating good life of affluent coexistence, a hoped-for transformation of our civilization prompted by the finally awakened realization of its self-caused catastrophe of increasing inhospitability to our form of life, as well as to that of many other organisms, by this Planet Earth.

I would wholeheartedly welcome such a transformation, but I suspect such a desirable outburst of human behavioral evolution as the endpoint of our old paradigm inflecting into the gateway to an imaginary new utopia, will never occur. I expect the actual finish of our human world will be, metaphorically, as the ending of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick: The brute force of Nature stoves in our obsessive, exploitative, narcissistic, predatory collective boat and it plunges to oblivion, with Tashtego — the “native” worker whose life was a struggle for survival against extinction, by being carried along as an underling in the Great White Conquest of the Living, to Gain Wealth — climbing the sinking mainmast in a vain attempt to evade engulfment, and finally — as the last gesture possible from the Earth-connected people of his kind — nailing the American Sea Eagle bannering master-race illusions to the mast-top, so it too would vanish with those it had entranced, and those enslaved to that entrancement, to their self-imposed and necessarily collective doom.

But why give oneself over to such thoughts, even if ultimately true? One’s life will have its extent, and between its dawn and dusk spans a spectrum of opportunities to apply one’s energy and talents to the creation of beauty, dignity, truth, healing, and noble connection, all independent of fate’s hazards and happenstances. It is from each individual’s weaving of all these efforts that whatever fulfillment is possible for them will be found. And the commitment to this attitude forms the center of gravity, the stillpoint of a calmed awakened mind, of a life of balanced openness and worthy purpose though immersed in the endless uncertainties, luckless cruelties, and constant flux of unfolding existence.

The Moon has arced far across my night thoughts, dispelling my illusions of judgement and knowledge while infusing me with a wordless sense of acceptance, of trust, in just being. In this I may have finally achieved after seven decades the intrinsic wisdom of my self-assured night-ranging cats, of my feisty day-flitting hummingbirds, and of all the lovely Sun-soaked non-human life I will see and hear all along my wooded canyon when day comes. Life continues by being, not wanting. It is only our wanting that is extinguishing itself in the flood of its own excesses, and there is no necessity that we extinguish ourselves by only being our self-absorbed wanting.

A White-throated Swift twitters at the first blush of eastern light, rippling the once glassy surface of the evening silence as the cool ghostliness of moonglow fades into the dusky shadowless twilight before dawn, and a Chestnut-backed Chickadee then lilts its pulsating greeting to the day seeping up from the horizon into the sky. Goodnight Moon.

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Most COVID-19 Contagious People Are Asymptomatic

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Most COVID-19 Contagious People Are Asymptomatic

Most COVID-19 contagious people (carriers of the SARS-CoV-2 virus) are asymptomatic: they show no symptoms.

Social distancing is essential to slow the pace of the pandemic since neither you nor anybody else will know who is a carrier that crosses your path. This has been amply shown by the exemplary and highly effective Vietnamese response to COVID-19 (https://consortiumnews.com/2020/04/16/covid-19-vietnam-winning-new-war-against-invisible-enemy/)

A Reuters news story of 16 April 2020 (Coronavirus clue? Most cases aboard U.S. aircraft carrier are symptom-free, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-military-sympt/coronavirus-clue-most-cases-aboard-u-s-aircraft-carrier-are-symptom-free-idUSKCN21Y2GB) notes:

Sweeping testing of the entire crew of the coronavirus-stricken U.S. aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt may have revealed a clue about the pandemic: The majority of the positive cases so far are among sailors who are asymptomatic, officials say. Roughly 60 percent of the over 600 sailors who tested positive so far have not shown symptoms of COVID-19, the potentially lethal respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, the Navy says. The service did not speculate about how many might later develop symptoms or remain asymptomatic. “With regard to COVID-19, we’re learning that stealth in the form of asymptomatic transmission is this adversary’s secret power,” said Rear Admiral Bruce Gillingham, surgeon general of the Navy. The figure is higher than the 25% to 50% range offered on April 5 by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force.

A Boston25News story of 15 April 2020 (CDC reviewing ‘stunning’ universal testing results from Boston homeless shelter, https://www.boston25news.com/news/cdc-reviewing-stunning-universal-testing-results-boston-homeless-shelter/Z253TFBO6RG4HCUAARBO4YWO64/) reports a similar finding, that: ‘1.5 weeks ago’ (in the first days of April) testing revealed 146 positives out of a population of 397 in a Boston homeless shelter. That result indicates a rate of 36.8% positive for infection AND being asymptomatic. Those positives were then quarantined separately. ‘Now’ (15 April 2020) only one needs hospital care, while many of the other positives still show no symptoms.

If there is a ~2 week (or more?) delay between infection and outbreak of symptoms (during which time the person is invisibly infectious), then that is a long latency as compared to colds and flu (days). SARS-CoV-2 is a positive-sense single-stranded RNA virus; and by my understanding of such +single-stranded RNA viruses, they get inside infected cells, commandeer the messenger RNA manufacturing machinery and thence the protein manufacturing machinery (ribosomes) of the cell to produce the viral components (viral RNA = virions, and protein capsules to encase them) that are assembled into new viruses that exit the cell (killing it, when a large outflux), and tearing off some of outer cell lining to wrap themselves in a lipid (fat) cover.

For details about viruses and the diseases they cause I highly recommend the 1994 book, Invisible Invaders, Viruses and the Scientists Who Pursue Them, by Peter Radetsky. It is an excellent book, well-written, with a wealth of information, and fascinating reading. It spans 200+ years of viral infectious disease discovery and vaccination development history; most of it for the 20th century.

Coronaviruses in general seem to have a very complex chemical process for coursing through their human hosts. A very technical summary of all this is given in a 2015 National Institutes of Health (NIH) paper, conveniently posted online (Coronaviruses: An Overview of Their Replication and Pathogenesis, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4369385/). The relative lengthiness of this process will account for some of the ‘delay’ or ‘latency period’ between initial infection and outbreak of symptoms.

Another and more insidious factor that could contribute to that delay is this, as described (in one sentence) in the NIH paper just noted (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4369385/):

“In several coronaviruses, S protein that does not get assembled into virions transits to the cell surface where it mediates cell–cell fusion between infected cells and adjacent, uninfected cells. This leads to the formation of giant, multinucleated cells, which allows the virus to spread within an infected organism without being detected or neutralized by virus-specific antibodies.”

In other words, some of the viral goop inside an infected cell bonds it to adjacent healthy cells into which the virus can then penetrate stealthily, out of “sight” of the antibodies of the immune system floating in our bloodstream. In that way many cells can become invisibly infected, as regards our immune system’s “radar,” — thus our asymptomatic latency period — before all viral hell breaks loose from all those “sleeper cells,” and the victim is obviously in full-blown disease.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus initially causes an upper tract respiratory disease in its infected human hosts, but it can migrate deeper down the airway, then into the lungs, and down very deep to lodge in and damage the alveoli, the ‘air sacs’ where air/oxygen enters the bloodstream through capillaries. From there it can drift along with the blood to arrive at (and possibly infect) the heart and the kidneys, these latter being another type of “spongy” organ for osmotic-type transfers (of oxygen into the blood with the alveoli, of liquid wastes out of the blood for the kidneys).

Several reports, one from 12 March 2020 is cited and quoted here (Are Kidneys Targeted by the Novel Coronavirus?, https://www.cathlabdigest.com/content/are-kidneys-targeted-novel-coronavirus), show that kidneys have been infected by SARS-CoV-2, and a significant fraction of survivors have lasting kidney damage requiring dialysis thereafter. This paper notes (in the following consolidated paragraph):

New data on coronavirus disease include some startling revelations: Kidney involvement seems to be frequent in people who have been tested positive and have developed symptoms. Two studies showed a high rate of renal abnormalities in corona-positive patients: Admitted to hospital, 34% of the 59 patients developed massively elevated levels of albumin in urine (=proteinuria), a symptom of kidney damage 63% of the study patients developed proteinuria while in hospital, and many of them also had blood loss in their urine (hematuria). Kidney function was impaired in 27% of the study population and in 66% of the patients who died from the coronavirus infection. These findings are supported by a second study involving 710 hospitalized patients: On admission, 44% had hematuria and proteinuria (26.7% had hematuria only), and kidney function decreased in nearly 15%. “This shows that COVID-19 also attacks the kidneys, not just the lungs”, explains Professor Carmine Zoccali, President of the ERA-EDTA. [ERA-EDTA is one of the biggest nephrology associations worldwide leading European nephrology and one of the most important European Medical Associations.]

Some recent news stories voice concerns that, after ventilators, kidney dialysis machinery may be the next area of medical equipment shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

People who died of “complications of COVID-19” might have succumbed to pneumonia (drowning because of fluid filled lungs); or hypertension heart attacks, exacerbated by obesity, where the heart was pumping furiously to try to capture and circulate oxygen from lungs that were clogging up and choking off that gas flow; or kidney failures; or any combination of these. “Old people” are more susceptible because they generally have weaker immune systems and more underlying conditions (e.g., hypertension and heart diseases, diabetes, airway constrictions/emphysema, obesity).

Many people are curious as to how COVID-19 might be similar to, or different from, the H1N1 avian flu that caused the 1918 pandemic. In particular, some observe and ask: ‘the 1918 flu targeted its fatalities in a far younger population, why?’ The culprit was “a cytokine storm in the body,” an effect that also certainly occurs to some COVID-19 unfortunates. This article on H1N1 (Influenza A virus subtype H1N1, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Influenza_A_virus_subtype_H1N1) notes (in the following paragraph) that:

The 1918 flu caused an unusual number of deaths, possibly due to it causing a cytokine storm in the body. (The current H5N1 bird flu, also an Influenza A virus, has a similar effect.) The Spanish flu virus infected lung cells, leading to overstimulation of the immune system via release of cytokines into the lung tissue. This leads to extensive leukocyte migration towards the lungs, causing destruction of lung tissue and secretion of liquid into the organ. This makes it difficult for the patient to breathe. In contrast to other pandemics, which mostly kill the old and the very young, the 1918 pandemic killed unusual numbers of young adults, which may have been due to their healthy immune systems mounting a too-strong and damaging response to the infection.

The article Cytokine Release Syndrome (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cytokine_release_syndrome) describes cytokine storms in greater detail (the next 2 paragraphs):

Cytokine release syndrome (CRS) or cytokine storm syndrome (CSS) is a form of systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) that can be triggered by a variety of factors such as infections and certain drugs. It occurs when large numbers of white blood cells are activated and release inflammatory cytokines, which in turn activate yet more white blood cells. CRS is also an adverse effect of some monoclonal antibody drugs, as well as adoptive T-cell therapies. Severe cases have been called cytokine storms. When occurring as a result of drug administration, it is also known as an infusion reaction.

CRS occurs when large numbers of white blood cells, including B cells, T cells, natural killer cells, macrophages, dendritic cells, and monocytes are activated and release inflammatory cytokines, which activate more white blood cells in a positive feedback loop of pathogenic inflammation. Immune cells are activated by stressed or infected cells through receptor-ligand interactions. This can occur when the immune system is fighting pathogens, as cytokines produced by immune cells recruit more effector immune cells such as T-cells and inflammatory monocytes (which differentiate into macrophages) to the site of inflammation or infection. In addition, pro-inflammatory cytokines binding their cognate receptor on immune cells results in activation and stimulation of further cytokine production. This process, when dysregulated, can be life-threatening due to systemic hyper-inflammation, hypotensive shock, and multi-organ failure.

So, some COVID-19 fatalities may be due to over-acting immune systems that cause massive inflammation in response to the infection, and consequently excessive cell damage to the unfortunate human victims. As auto-immune diseases demonstrate, it is possible for people of any age to have a trigger-happy immune system.

Viral particles ride on tiny droplets (aerosols) released as part of infected breath. Given the uncertainty on the scope of infection in the population you live among, and their degree of contagiousness, both because of the asymptomatic latency and the limited extent of testing (especially in the USA), your best tack is to stay away from other people’s “breath plumes,” the clouds of vapor and water droplets that expand from their mouths and noses as coughs, sneezes and exhalations (which are stronger and of longer range when exercising or under physical strain). Eventually such droplets fall to the ground. Face masks are helpful for limiting the outward range of plumes expelled by an emitter, and also for shielding impacted passers-by, by filtering the wafts of an emitter’s infected breath (hopefully attenuated by an emitter’s mask) before it reaches their own noses and mouthes.

Over time, aerosolized virus is eliminated and destroyed by the combination of sunlight, heat and humidity. These three weather-related virus-destroying factors are noted in an 11 February 2020 report, which otherwise seems overly optimistic about when SARS-CoV-2 will “go away.” (https://www.accuweather.com/en/health-wellness/coronavirus-expert-says-the-virus-will-burn-itself-out-in-about-6-months/679415)

Sunlight, as ultraviolet (UV) radiation, ‘bleaches’ or ‘oxidizes’ the virus particles; heat can cook them to death (breaking them apart; heating is a technique that has been used to make weak-germ and killed-germ vaccines); and humidity can “rain out” virus particles from the atmosphere, washing them away in ground runoff, eventually to break apart. Flu is seasonal because of these effects: it expands through its human hosts in the fall and winter (in the northern hemisphere), and dissipates when sunnier warmer weather arrives (by retreating into asymptomatic wildlife hosts, usually migratory birds and also bats).

So to recapitulate, most people infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic at a rate of 60%. (The two ‘full population testing’ studies cited here reported rates of 60% from over 600 infected on a US Navy aircraft carrier ship, and nearly 37% from 146 infected in a homeless Bostonian population housed in a single shelter.) For the SARS-CoV-2 virus, “stealth in the form of asymptomatic transmission is this adversary’s secret power.” That stealth, in the form of its asymptomatic latency period, seems to be due to its lengthier chemical process for reproducing itself in human host cells and then expelling itself from them, and probably also with the added subterfuge of ‘glueing’ infected cells to adjacent healthy ones, which the virus then penetrates and infects without going outside the cells so as to not alert the human immune system antibodies coursing through the bloodstream.

Social distancing and face masks — inconvenient, uncomfortable and unpopular — are essential behaviors to limit the expansive speed and range of this SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. This disease can be fatal, and it has been shown to leave lasting damage to the hearts and/or kidneys of a portion of its survivors. People most susceptible to succumbing fatally to COVID-19 are older, and/or have underlying medical conditions that weaken the operations of the lungs, and/or heart, and/or kidneys, and/or the immune system. Another morbidity factor, which can occur in people of all ages, is having a overly aggressive immune system that would unleash a cytokine storm in response to this viral infection.

The appropriate political response by the survivors of this pandemic is to support national universal healthcare, and to support the just and generous remuneration, job security and workplace safety of the frontline medical personnel attending to the sick and dying, not just during this pandemic but thereafter. Also, we must support the robust financial support of epidemic and pandemic response planning agencies, beyond the cheapskate, ‘just in time’ high-profit business-wise lower levels of support reluctantly agreed to by reactionary neoliberal privatization freaks like Donald Trump.

While several prototype vaccines and cures for COVID-19 are currently in clinical trials, it is not yet known if the SARS-CoV-19 virus will be able to be warded off once and for all with one or two antiviral vaccine “shots,” or if it will become another of the seasonally recurrent viruses, like the cold and flu viruses, that mutate (by viral “drift,” a small change in the surface H gene; or “shift,” by forming a new strand of RNA) too quickly for our medical science to ever devise an unchanging vaccine that affords us a permanent immunity.

Given this COVID-19 global experience, will humanity now find common cause to alter its various regional behaviors that in aggregate give rise to such insidious viral pandemics? We’ll see. I suppose that a science-fiction writer could craft a dystopian tale from the individual human and societal failures that we are yet likely to witness, in which our atmosphere is routinely contaminated with disease-causing viruses like SARS-CoV-2, along with our usual copious greenhouse gas and fossil fuel carbon particulate pollution, so that the human denizens of Planet Earth would then have to move about clothed in hazmat space suites with oxygen tanks, and with their livestock housed in large controlled atmosphere feedlot bubbles; and tough luck on the wildlife.

On the prospects of humanity changing its ways after this round of COVID-19, I am reminded of the last scene in the 1959 movie On The Beach, of the empty windblown streets of post-human Melbourne, Australia, with a slowly fluttering Salvation Army street banner that reads: “There is still time…Brother.”

I am grateful to Katje Erickson for pointing me to the two ‘full population testing’ studies cited here.

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Drawing by Babak Kateb, MD

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Asymptomatic COVID-19, a Long Latency Period to Evade the Immune System?

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Asymptomatic COVID-19, a Long Latency Period to Evade the Immune System?

1.5 WEEKS AGO: testing revealed 146 positives out of 397 population (in a homeless shelter in Boston) = 36.8% positive AND asymptomatic. Those positives were then quarantined separately.

NOW: only 1 needs hospital care, while many still show no symptoms.

CONCERN RAISED: very possibly many infectious asymptomatics out and about in the general population. (https://www.boston25news.com/news/cdc-reviewing-stunning-universal-testing-results-boston-homeless-shelter/Z253TFBO6RG4HCUAARBO4YWO64/)

If there is a ~2 week (or more?) delay between infection and outbreak of symptoms (during which time the person is invisibly infectious), then that is a long latency as compared to colds and flu (days). SARS-CoV-2 is a positive-sense single-stranded RNA virus; and by my understanding of such +single-strand RNA viruses, they get inside infected cells, commandeer the messenger RNA manufacturing machinery and thence the protein manufacturing machinery (ribosomes) of the cell to produce the viral components (viral RNA = virions?, and protein capsules) that are assembled into new viruses that exit the cell (killing it, when a large outflux), and tear off outer cell lining to wrap themselves in a lipid (fat) cover.

Coronaviruses seem to have a very complex chemical process for doing all this (according to the 2015 NCBI paper PMC4369385 = https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4369385/) and my surmise is that that may account for a relatively long latency period between initial infection and outbreak of symptoms.

Another factor for such a delay could be this (from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4369385/):

“In several coronaviruses, S protein that does not get assembled into virions transits to the cell surface where it mediates cell–cell fusion between infected cells and adjacent, uninfected cells. This leads to the formation of giant, multinucleated cells, which allows the virus to spread within an infected organism without being detected or neutralized by virus-specific antibodies.”

In other words, some of the viral goop bonds the infected cell to adjacent healthy cells into which the virus then penetrates stealthily, out of “sight” of the antibodies of the immune system. In that way many cells can become invisibly infected as regards our immune system “radar,” – our asymptomatic latency period – before all hell breaks loose from all those “sleeper cells” and the victim is evidently in full-blown disease.

These articles are interestingly suggestive; but beware that I have injected my own speculations here.

CDC reviewing ‘stunning’ universal testing results from Boston homeless shelter
15 April 2020
https://www.boston25news.com/news/cdc-reviewing-stunning-universal-testing-results-boston-homeless-shelter/Z253TFBO6RG4HCUAARBO4YWO64/

Coronaviruses: An Overview of Their Replication and Pathogenesis
12 February 2015
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4369385/

Invisible Invaders, Viruses and the Scientists Who Pursue Them, by Peter Radetsky (1994), is an excellent book, well-written, wealth of information, fascinating. Spans 200+ years of viral infectious disease discovery and vaccination development history; most of it for the 20th century.

Viruses are ever changing to evade immune systems, and reliably persistent at seeking to infect animal and human hosts. Humans can be amazingly clever in deciphering viral codes and schemes — giving us the cures and vaccines we have gotten so far — but for the most part are unchanging as regards being petty and conniving in the extreme, all for the sake of seeking approval, recognition, and to profit financially from their otherwise humanitarian efforts. Behaviorally, on average we are a monoculture, and monocultures are much more easily penetrated by viral diseases, whether physical (like COVID-19), or mental (like money-making one-upmanship, a.k.a. capitalism, neoliberalism).

While I have explicitly speculated here, please note that I defer to the medical experts, like Dr. Fauci, on “what it is,” and “what we should do.” My own best estimates are informed by the articles noted above, and the following, particularly Radetsky’s book (described above and in the pictures).

Three questions by Henry Coulter, and my “answers” follow.

1. “Is this virus compatible to the one of Spanish Flu fame?”

It is somewhat similar (a positive sense single strand RNA virus for SARS-CoV-2, and maybe also for H1N1 1918 Flu), both causing (initially) respiratory diseases. SARS-CoV-2 can migrate deeper into the airway, then lungs, and down deep there in severe (life threatening) cases. Now reports (mainly from China) have emerged that for severe cases (survivors) something like 30% (??) of them develop heart damage and permanent kidney damage thereafter requiring dialysis.

MY SPECULATION: is that once the virus is deep deep in the lungs, and damaging the alveoli (where air/oxygen enters the bloodstream through capillaries), that it may drift along with the blood to arrive at the heart and the kidneys (another “spongy” organ for osmotic-type transfers), and in that way infect and damage them. People who have died from “complications of COVID-19” MIGHT then have gone because of pneumonia (drowning), or hypertension heart attacks where the heart was pumping furiously to try to capture and circulate oxygen from lungs that were clogging up and choking off that gas flow, or kidney failures.

The “old” are more susceptible because they generally have weaker immune systems, and more underlying conditions (e.g., heart diseases, diabetes, airway constrictions/emphysema, obesity).

2. “If we simply have much better communication channels to mitigate the spread.. thus lower the impact on the population.”

See the story about Vietnam’s response to the pandemic. It shows exactly that, and much more (important story).
https://consortiumnews.com/2020/04/16/covid-19-vietnam-winning-new-war-against-invisible-enemy/

3. “The Spanish flu targetted a far younger population.”

There is an extreme immune system response called a “cytokinetic storm,” and is POSSIBLY (MY SPECULATION) more likely to occur with strong young adult (not child) immune systems:

From “Cytokine Release Syndrome,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cytokine_release_syndrome, (next 2 paragraphs):

Cytokine release syndrome (CRS) or cytokine storm syndrome (CSS) is a form of systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) that can be triggered by a variety of factors such as infections and certain drugs. It occurs when large numbers of white blood cells are activated and release inflammatory cytokines, which in turn activate yet more white blood cells. CRS is also an adverse effect of some monoclonal antibody drugs, as well as adoptive T-cell therapies. Severe cases have been called cytokine storms. When occurring as a result of drug administration, it is also known as an infusion reaction.

CRS occurs when large numbers of white blood cells, including B cells, T cells, natural killer cells, macrophages, dendritic cells, and monocytes are activated and release inflammatory cytokines, which activate more white blood cells in a positive feedback loop of pathogenic inflammation. Immune cells are activated by stressed or infected cells through receptor-ligand interactions. This can occur when the immune system is fighting pathogens, as cytokines produced by immune cells recruit more effector immune cells such as T-cells and inflammatory monocytes (which differentiate into macrophages) to the site of inflammation or infection. In addition, pro-inflammatory cytokines binding their cognate receptor on immune cells results in activation and stimulation of further cytokine production. This process, when dysregulated, can be life-threatening due to systemic hyper-inflammation, hypotensive shock, and multi-organ failure.

4. Henry: Stay away from other people’s “breath plumes,” the clouds of vapor and water droplets that expand from their mouths and noses on exhalations (stronger and of longer range when exercising/under physical strain), coughs and sneezes. Eventually such droplets fall to the ground.

The aerosolized virus is eliminated and destroyed by the combination of sunlight, heat and humidity.
https://www.accuweather.com/en/health-wellness/coronavirus-expert-says-the-virus-will-burn-itself-out-in-about-6-months/679415

(But that report from February 2020 may be too optimistic about when SARS-CoV-2 will “go away.” We’ll see.)

Sunlight, as UV radiation, ‘bleaches’ or ‘oxidizes’ the virus particles [MY CHARACTERIZATION]; heat can cook it to death (breaks it apart, a technique often used when making weak-germ and killed-germ vaccines), and humidity can “rain it out” of the atmosphere (on to the ground, and washed away in runoff).

FINALLY: I AM NO MEDICAL NOR VIROLOGY NOR EPIDEMIOLOGY EXPERT!! But (since I’ve been explicit with my caveats), you can share this commentary as/if you like.

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Bernie’s Triumph, and All The Failed Red Moses

Over the last five years, Bernie Sanders has awakened every single mind in the United States of America to the following 12 ideas, which in the American political orthodoxy of 2015 were ‘known’ to be so ultra-radical that they were deemed politically impossible forever, and thus dismissed without further consideration:

— healthcare as a human right, implemented by Medicare-For-All;

— raising the minimum wage to $15 and hour;

— free education at publicly funded colleges and universities;

— cancellation of all student loan debt;

— a transaction tax on Wall Street trading, and prosecution for economy-crashing Wall Street fraud;

— revoking tax breaks to corporations and the extremely wealthy, and inverting both the tax code and the political campaign contribution system to the benefit of wage earners;

— transitioning from fossil fuels, and investing in infrastructure revitalization in a trillion dollar jobs-rich program;

— accepting the 11 million undocumented residents into a citizenship program, abolishing the ICE concentration camps, and reforming the immigration and political asylum system by humanizing it;

— reforming the criminal justice system to eliminate its evident racial bias and persecution of poverty;

— assuring women’s rights to equal pay for equal work and to abortion: keeping women in control of decisions regarding their own bodies;

— the abrogation of job and manufacturing outsourcing “free trade agreements”; and

— the regulation of drug pricing by pharmaceutical corporations.

Sanders has been able to appeal to people of every racial and sexual distinction, from every Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic religion as well as atheists, and to develop a grassroots political movement, which is both democratic and socialist, from that appeal. No other American, with the exception of Martin Luther King, Jr., has come close to this achievement since the days of Franklin Roosevelt.

People opposed to these 12 ideas, in part or in whole, are possessed by combinations of greed, bigotry and sexism. While such attitudes are repulsive to any decent mind, they are nevertheless common in several wealthy and corporatized constituencies that are inordinately politically powerful by dint of financially patronizing — purchasing — political legislators, policymakers, officeholders, and judges: straightforward political corruption.

The betrayal of public trust by timorous and hypocritical “public servants” who lack authentic moral character and are entirely cultish zealots of lucre is, tragically, all too common in American governance. That the richest and most powerful country in human history can consign so many of its people to abject misery, fear, neglect, financial ruin and death, is an abhorrent testament to the destructiveness of these narcissistic parasites on the American Body Politic.

One sad observation for me about the suspension — the ending — of Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign is the pathetically bitter envy, expressed by isolated politically inconsequential failed leftist ideologues, of the historically major successes at politically bold mass consciousness-raising and organizing achieved by the progressive pragmatic politician Bernie Sanders.

The biting sarcastic glee of numerous self-styled advanced leftist commentators at the suspension of the Sanders presidential campaign are their outbursts of joy at the arrival of this “failure,” which they have been pining for for months, even years, so that now they can finally crow in triumph that they had always been right, that Sanders was merely a sheepdog, a stealth Judas goat and Pied Piper meant to lead the naïve masses into the electoral corral of the Democratic National Committee wolfpack, and away from the true lines of political thought these ideological pastors had stirringly and stridently preached at the inattentive and disinterested masses urging them to cuff their minds in alignment onto the iron rails of ‘correct’ revolutionary tenets inscribed on the Tablets of all these Red Moses, so as to amass the socialist tsunami these commissars-in-waiting wished so delusionally to crown with their leadership.

What pathetic failures of intellectual honesty to admit to their lifelong “revolutionary” ineffectiveness, and what pathetic failures of human decency to acknowledge with grace and gratitude the really incredible societally beneficial achievements of one near-octogenarian Jew from Brooklyn, New York, transplanted to Vermont. It is a fact that Bernie Sanders has permanently altered popular American political consciousness — which had been dominated since 1979 by the neoliberal paradigm — toward the favoring of the wage-earning masses, and that some of his ideas have already been implemented regionally and in several industrial operations.

Can you imagine that the new purely socialist COVID-19 economic relief legislation — however flawed it clearly is as it comes out of the Trump Administration, the Republican dominated Senate and the DNC Democrat dominated House — would be as comprehensive and as reluctantly ‘generous’ as it is at the moment, without the prior popular consciousness of Bernie’s 12 ideas, and without his continuing advocacy? Bernie Sanders has lit a fire in American minds under the age of 50 that will not be extinguished soon. Scores of young people with that fire in their hearts inspired by Bernie Sanders, and which so terrorizes the ensconced political elites, have now gained political office with a drive to change American society.

So to you my friends I say: be grateful for all of that and celebrate the triumphs of a man of integrity who struggles against a corrupted and degenerate establishment, instead of being childishly resentful that your imagined brilliance has perennially and once again been overshadowed.

‘Okay, so I’m a little bit asshole, but friends tell friends the truth’ (https://youtu.be/L8QYgpqbXQQ).

Can COVID-19 Save Lifeboat Earth?

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Can COVID-19 Save Lifeboat Earth?

Harbhajan Singh asks [6 April 2020]: “Could COVID-19 save Lifeboat Earth?”

Many realize that eliminating humanity would make Earth healthier for Nature, plants and animals.

Many also realize that without profound changes to human behavior — by everybody, everywhere; including limiting population growth and ending greenhouse gas emissions — that humanity can not exist in balance with Nature, and both will increasingly suffer, eventually — in a few lifetimes? — fatally.

It is well documented that as human encroachment and destruction of Nature (e.g., environments and biodiversity) advances, that habitability decreases.

That decrease is due to a combination of:

— pollution (bad air, ocean plastic, dead seas, lost topsoil, lost forests, toxic land);

— climate change (and more violent weather, floods, droughts, wildfires);

— food source degradation (inorganic industrial farming, loss of natural varietals, loss of seafood), and

— greater hazards of releasing viruses (epidemics and pandemics) fatal to people.

The scientific reports get very specific on ‘this particular negative effect has this particular [human stupidity] cause’, but in aggregate they show what I’ve just outlined.

More people are realizing that humanity’s accelerating encroachment and destruction of Nature can only cause more deadly virus pandemics to plague us. Hotter environmental temperatures from global warming, and greater particulate and noxious gases pollution from human activity (industrialization, capitalism, militarism) aggravate the severity and lethality of all respiratory illnesses, like COVID-19.

I prefer that humanity became vastly more intelligent, and cooperative, and altruistic, and balances its existence (both individual and collective) with Nature’s timeless rhythms and geophysical limits.

The most important aspect of that wished-for cooperativeness is that we cease viewing each other as deadly rivals in a grim zero-sum game of making-money one-upmanship and competing narcissistic schemes of enslaving others.

Miraculously, the Earth is the most wonderful Paradise we know of in the entire Universe. If we treated it as such, instead of treating it like a garbage dump and sewer, it would return that appreciation, and we would knowingly experience life in this actual Paradise, for ourselves and for endless future generations.

This is not just poetry, it is fact.

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Why Remdesivir and Hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19?

Louis Proyect writes: “I understand the reluctance to put a plus where Trump does, but this article [“How New Jersey’s First Coronavirus Patient Survived,” in the New York Times, ~3 April 2020] indicates that a doctor who was close to death had a miraculous recovery after receiving Remdesivir and Hydroxychloroquine.”

Remdesivir (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remdesivir): “Remdesivir (development code GS-5734) is a novel antiviral drug in the class of nucleotide analogs. Remdesivir is an adenosine analogue, which incorporates into nascent viral RNA chains and causes their pre-mature termination. It was developed by Gilead Sciences as a treatment for Ebola virus disease and Marburg virus infections, though it subsequently was found to show antiviral activity against other single stranded RNA viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus, Junin virus, Lassa fever virus, Nipah virus, Hendra virus, and the coronaviruses (including MERS and SARS viruses). It is being studied for SARS-CoV-2 and Henipavirus infections. Based on success against other coronavirus infections, Gilead provided remdesivir to physicians who treated an American patient in Snohomish County, Washington in 2020, who was infected with SARS-CoV-2, and is providing the compound to China to conduct a pair of trials in infected individuals with and without severe symptoms.”

Hydroxychloroquine (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydroxychloroquine): “Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), sold under the brand name Plaquenil among others, is a medication used to prevent and treat malaria in areas where malaria remains sensitive to chloroquine. Other uses include treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and porphyria cutanea tarda. It is taken by mouth. It is also being studied as an experimental treatment for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Common side effects include vomiting, headache, changes in vision, and muscle weakness. Severe side effects may include allergic reactions. Although all risk cannot be excluded, it remains a treatment for rheumatic disease during pregnancy. Hydroxychloroquine is in the antimalarial and 4-aminoquinoline families of medication. Hydroxychloroquine was approved for medical use in the United States in 1955. It is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, the safest and most effective medicines needed in a health system. In 2017, it was the 128th-most-prescribed medication in the United States, with more than five million prescriptions.”

My CONJECTURE (a non-medical person’s hypothesis) is that the SARS-CoV-2 virus (causing COVID-19) may act in a somewhat similar manner to the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). If so, this hypothetical (and likely only partial) similarity might lead some doctors treating critically ill COVID-19 patients to administer the drug combination of: the antiviral drug Remdesivir to reduce the viral load, and the anti-malarial drug Hydroxychloroquine to buttress the patient’s immune system, which is assumed to be in a pre-existing weakened condition.

My following description of the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) and its several disease-causing effects are drawn from the book The Invisible Invaders, Viruses And The Scientists Who Pursue Them, by Peter Radetsky, (published by Little, Brown and Company, 1991, 1994). Passages quoted from that book are woven into my interpretive discussion, below.

Bone marrow produces a number of kinds of blood cells, including “the B and T lymphocytes, which comprise an essential part of the immune system. Without these disease-fighting cells [we] couldn’t fend off the mildest infection; something as insignificant as the common cold could kill [us].”

The Epstein-Barr Virus is ubiquitous in people (~95%), it invades B lymphocyte cells, but is usually held in check by the human immune system, which produce antibodies to eliminate EBV-infected B lymphocyte cells.

In poor regions with primitive and/or inadequate hygiene (e.g., parts of Africa) children are exposed to EBV early in life (3-4 years) and may only get a mild ‘childhood’ disease of sore throat, cough and flu-like symptoms for a few days, and that’s all. “For some reason, whether because of the immaturity of their B lymphocytes (the cells the Epstein-Barr virus invades) or the immaturity of their immune system as a whole, [most of these] children infected with EBV rarely come down with any kind of obvious illness.” (The EXCEPTION to this will be described further below.) Thereafter, these minimally affected and now recovered children have antibodies to EBV.

In the developed and generally very hygienic countries, children may not be exposed to EBV until much later: adolescence and early adulthood. “But when the virus invades later, the result is usually more severe: a case of mononucleosis. In causing a more serious illness in older people, EBV acts much like other viruses, hepatitis and poliovirus among them. The reason may be that in older individuals the immune system responds inappropriately to infection. In any case, as far as EBV is concerned, at least half of the people belatedly infected with EBV experience significant illness.”

“Mononucleosis is a disease in which blood cells proliferate out of control. Here [is] a virus, EBV, that was first detected in cancer tumors [Burkitt’s lymphoma], and now [has been shown] to be intimately involved in mononucleosis, a common cancer-like disease… Mononucleosis is essentially a disease of developed countries.”

Now for the EXCEPTION.

Denis Burkitt, a Scottish surgeon and physician practicing in Africa during the 1950s and 1960s, first identified the cancer “Burkitt’s lymphoma” in African children, by engaging in a massive study and expedition between 1957 and 1961. In 1963, EBV was isolated by M. Anthony Epstein and Yvonne Barr from specimen tumors sent by Burkitt to London in 1961. If so many African children were exposed to EBV as toddlers with little consequence (and certainly no mononucleosis in early adulthood), why did some of those children develop the specific cancer of Burkitt’s lymphoma?

Obviously, the fundamental factor that can lead to Burkitt’s lymphoma is exposure to and infection by EBV.

The first necessary co-factor to developing Burkitt’s lymphoma is having “been exposed to an unusually heavy dose of the [EBV] virus.”

The second necessary co-factor to developing Burkitt’s lymphoma is “a weakened immune system.”

“It has been suggested…that Burkitt’s lymphoma arises as a result of immunological disorders in children exposed since early infancy to heavy malarial infection.” [Guy de Thé, 1978].

The fact that infection with EBV in an individual with a weak immune system can lead to cancer was proved by the case of David, “The Bubble Boy.” David was born with no immune system and lived in the sterile interior of a plastic bubble (a tent). In 1983, he was given a bone marrow transplant from his healthy sister, but he died in 1984 at the age of 12. The cause of death was cancer, “the B cells that David had obtained through the bone marrow transplant had run amok. He died of cancer of the B lymphocytes, with tumors similar to Burkitt’s lymphoma. All the cancer cells contained Epstein-Barr virus. [David’s] sister had at some point been exposed without harm to EBV; she passed on this otherwise harmless dose to David through her bone marrow.”

Epstein-Barr virus causes a very broad stimulation of B-cell growth. Out of that a tumor can develop if given “some kind of other agent that compromises the immune system… In the case of Burkitt’s lymphoma, that agent is almost certainly malaria.”

Guy de Thé [1984]: “We know that very early viral infection can lead to Burkitt’s lymphoma. It’s a situation exactly like [that of] cigarette smoking and lung cancer. You don’t fully understand the mechanism, but you can measure the risk. Very heavy and early exposure to EBV is as though you were smoking all your life, two packs a day. Then malaria enters at the second level, by promoting further proliferation of the B cells infected with EBV. We’re all infected by EBV, but nothing happens to most of us because our immune system controls the infected B cells. Malaria specifically depresses the part of the immune system whose job it is to control the B cells. And after that, something, possibly a chance event, induced by nobody knows what, causes a change in chromosomes that transforms the cell into a tumor cell.”

Now, recall the CONJECTURE. Hypothetically, a similarity of causes exists between:

— the cause of serious COVID-19 illness and death (by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, plus an assumed immunodeficiency co-factor), and

— the cause of Burkitt’s lymphoma, as well David “Bubble Boy’s” cancer of the B lymphocytes (by the Epstein-Barr virus, plus an immunodeficiency co-factor; which for Burkitt’s lymphoma is malaria, and for David was a complete lack of an immune system).

Some doctors working under the stress of trying to save dying people during the explosive growth of this current COVID-19 pandemic, and who may have made conjectures about causes similar to the one stated here, arrived at the drug cocktail of:

— Remdesivir, to try a direct reduction the SARS-CoV-2 viral load in the patient’s respiratory tissues; and

— Hydroxychloroquine, to buttress an assumed immunodeficiency — as with malaria — of inadequate control of B lymphocyte cells presumably infected with the virus.

So much for my amateur speculations on the Remdesivir plus Hydroxychloroquine cocktail administered to some COVID-19 patients.

What I can see clearly as fact is that doctors and virologists are in a frantic race against death (within days to a couple of weeks for the unlucky patients), to save as many COVID-19 stricken as they can, while yet having incomplete knowledge about the mechanism, and its unknown associated co-factors, by which the SARS-CoV-2 virus actually causes fatalities. Also, they are simultaneously trying to ascertain the details of both the progression of infection and the nature of all associated co-factors that aggravate the disease to the point of fatality, so as to then be able to design drugs that cure COVID-19, and vaccines that can prevent people from developing the disease if exposed to the virus.

Both as individuals and as a society we should be very grateful to the medical people working so furiously — and for many at great personal risk — on COVID-19 today, and on all the as yet little-known and untamed viruses that might infect us in the future; and we should support their work fully (politically and financially) as a matter of public health national policy. “Public” as in Medicare-For-All, and as in drug and vaccine development that is as much a publicly funded and owned service, rather than only a for-profit exploitation of human need by a mercenary pharmaceutical industry.

Acknowledgement: I want to thank Gretchen Hennig for giving me a copy of Radetsky’s book, and for explaining the concept of “viral load” to me.

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Our Virally Porous Walls

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Our Virally Porous Walls

“The Invisible Invaders” is the title of Peter Radetsky’s book on “viruses and the scientists who pursue them.” It is a richly detailed, smoothly written primer on the subject for the non-biochemist. This book arcs through four topics:

first: a history from 1744 to 1930 of the development of the medical science and vaccines aimed at combatting infectious diseases (for smallpox in 1796 by Edward Jenner [1749-1823], for rabies in 1885 by Louis Pasteur [1822-1895]); the discovery of the virus in 1898 by Martinus Beijerinck (1851-1931); and the discovery in 1917 by Félix d’Hérelle (1873-1949) that viruses could attack and kill bacteria — which are living cells;

second: the science of virology, and the present understanding that viruses are parasitic forms of ribonucleic acid (RNA) or deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) that invade living cells and hijack their functional programming, so as to reproduce and expel more viruses;

third: modern-day concerns and discoveries about viral diseases: colds, herpes, flu, hepatitis, cancer, AIDS;

fourth: gene therapy inspired by natural viral action, the intentional manipulation of biochemical dynamics to thwart viral infections and to artificially create designer proteins for desired purposes.

Radestsky states that: “[Most] of us have little idea of the impact viruses have on our lives. For they are not simply dangerous enemies, the only organisms besides ourselves that pose a threat to our survival; they’re our co-travelers in life, our most intimate fellow workers. Viruses are literally everywhere — inside us, outside us, constantly permeating the boundaries of the self… They may swap our genes around, rearrange our destinies, act as agents of the ecosystem. In their admirable simplicity and appalling efficiency, they may be the most successful life-form of all… if they can be said to be alive in the first place.”

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2). We can metaphorically visualize a viral pandemic in a manner similar to the antique and unscientific ideas that the causes of inexplicable epidemics were astrological “influenza,” and bad airs, “malaria,” wafting out of swamps; by imagining viral epidemics as very tenuous and filamentary clouds of sub-microscopic nucleic acid particles, each wrapped in fat and coated with protein, that are all coursing through our atmosphere, propelled by air currents on every scale from weather systems to human exhalations, and despite their extreme fragility have the power to penetrate through our civilization and into our very bodies and once there to penetrate into the core genetic control units of our cellular functioning — and disrupt it.

We can never perfectly wall ourselves off from viruses, to them our bodies and our patterns of living are so easily permeable. Our surest defense against viral diseases for which we have no vaccines is avoidance of infection. Such avoidance if afforded by a combination of distancing from infectious people and environments (whether visibly or invisibly contaminated), and the conscientious frequent application of personal hygienic practices and household and occupational sterilization protocols. Physically, and mindlessly behaviorally, we are an open weave to viruses, a rich meshwork of protoplasm waiting to be virally colonized and explosively exploited.

The reason we have been hit so hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and with its still increasing force, is that the United States is a nation and society structured like a Matryoshka Doll that imprisons its people but is transparent to viruses. We each are walled in by many types of barriers intended to exclude us from the ‘tribal clubs’ of others, those barriers being: ageist, bigoted, cultural, ethnic, financial, intellectual, political, racist, religious and sexual; we humans can come up with an endless array of repulsive distinctions about ourselves.

We have a multiplicity of forms of imposed isolation, of social distancing, each tailored to the individual’s demographic characteristics, to their sociological DNA if you will. We all live within walls, within outer walls, within still outer walls, and so on for many layers of confinement away from the more favored tribes and classes, yet also shielded from the more unfortunate ones. This structure of social fragmentation and hierarchical survival is the embodiment of capitalist civilization. It is the separations and differences and conflicts and jealousies and inequalities that exist among us that create the necessary socio-political spaces and the material opportunities to prosecute individualistic capitalist schemes, those personal drives toward profits — and also for crimes and wars.

That drive towards profits — in its extreme it is pure narcissism — is impossible to even imagine in a hypothetical society of ideal socialism, a society that has been largely homogenized in the sense of eradicating all the artificial exclusionary distinctions that define the house-of-cards capitalist paradigm. That those distinctions were always illusory and only seemed intellectually sacrosanct and physically rigid was because the popular will of the nation’s many individuals had been trained over many generations by pro-capitalist anti-socialist mass indoctrination to unconsciously project the capitalist paradigm that is imprisoning them.

The COVID-19 pandemic has collapsed the illusion of that paradigmatic rigidity, of the reality of capitalism. The viral ‘cloud’ has easily penetrated through not just our bodies, but the exclusionary distinctions we previously thought of as either protective shields or barriers to our aspirations. The collapse of those illusions is experienced by the benefactors of the capitalist economy as fears of economic depression and of political revolt by the laboring masses. The collapse of those same illusions is experienced by the masses excluded from prosperity in the current paradigm, as an awakening to and anger over the unreality of the many strains of slavery we all have imagined ourselves into for so long, and an awakening to the breathtaking proximity to us of the bracingly real alternate and liberating paradigm of socialism. We can actually all live better, happier and more securely starting right away! It is solely a matter of popular will.

During this pandemic many have already stated the obvious: any successful effort to end these epidemics will necessarily be a socialist action, and the more socialist those efforts are, the greater the degree of their ultimate successes. Our exclusionary ‘walls’ and clashes of hoarding behaviors are transparent to viruses, only social solidarity can be made reasonably opaque to them. To effectively combat viral epidemics we must close up the now-gaping weave of human civilization. Such a closing up will encounter much friction and resistance, as each person seeks to preserve their private bubble of self-importance, money-making, irrational fantasy and bigoted exclusivity, which are the forces of repulsion within our atomistic social collectivity. The capitalist benefactors will actualize their resistance to the closing up of the human social weave, their economic collapse fears of the awakened and just anger of the exploited masses, by tossing bribes and police-enforced compulsion at them: the smallest, cheapest weight they can put on the lid of the bubbling cauldron of neoliberal capitalism to keep it from flying off as it boils over.

Despite the widespread and atomizing disorientation of American society in reaction to COVID-19, as if it were some impending apocalypse, it would be wise to become disciplined, rational and socialist, and to realize that this pandemic is but a skirmish in the monumental and unavoidable karmic war we now must face against our own narcissistic desecration of Nature, and which we call climate change.

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