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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The Conquerors Of America

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The Conquerors Of America

Patrick Weidhaas, a colleague of mine from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and also a colleague from the union group there (Society of Professional Scientists and Engineers) sent me a note saying:

You may remember Ben Santer from the Lab, one of the foremost climate scientists. He just published an article in the online Scientific American:

How COVID-19 Is like Climate Change
(Both are existential challenges—and a president who belittles and neglects science has made them both tougher to address)
https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/how-covid-19-is-like-climate-change/

García’s reactions to Santer’s article follow, as responses to some of Santer’s entirely accurate and admirable statements:

“In the Trump administration, the buck never stops at the top.”

Because Trump does not care about the masses of people anywhere. He is merely the figurehead of a plutocratic-oligarchic faction that sees themselves occupying — not representing — the people of the United States, as in a hostile takeover, as in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. It is all about them: their wealth, their take, their bigotry, their personal aggrandizement and their personal safety. All other people are merely impediments, or at best temporarily exploitable resources, like slave labor. As Don Michael Corleone said in “The Godfather,” “It’s not personal…it’s strictly business.” (https://youtu.be/0qvpcfYFHcw) As Don Trump said when he wacked the U.S. pandemic response team: “I’m a business person.”

“And a leader cares more about saving lives than winning reelection.”

Trump, and Biden, are not leaders; they are conquerors. They are on campaigns of conquest for plunder. The lives of the people conquered are not of interest, they are impediments beyond their utility for profitable exploitation. “Reelection” is entirely about maintaining the conquerors’ reign of plunder. That is it.

“And in an abundance of concern for public health, members of the Trump administration should have corrected the President’s misstatements on the seriousness of the coronavirus. Instead, they largely remained silent.”

They made sure to get accurate information for their own safety, and for their insider advantages in stock trading. Their prime directive is: “make money at the expense of everybody else.” Obfuscation and deception to the public are essential to the successes of their conspiracies of plunder. There is no limit to how many “other” people can die to achieve the conquerors’ unquenchable selfishness.

“After years of belittling and neglecting science, Donald J. Trump is suddenly discovering that science is imperative to human survival, and perhaps even to his own political survival.”

For the Conquerors Of America (currently led by Trump and Biden) science is entirely a means for finding patentable items needed and wanted by the masses, so the conquerors can own the exclusive rights to these items and then sell the use of them “at the highest prices that the market will bear.” It is about getting rich off the fears of death by the people, and getting rich off the people’s addictions to drugs and electronics of all kinds. The items the conquerors want their science minions to provide are life-saving and life-extending drugs (“your money or your life” is the supreme moneymaker); and better, faster, more powerful weapons, which can boost the conquerors’ ability to cow and kill rivals and enemies. Their purposes for science are to keep death further away from themselves, to find them novel ways of furthering personal enrichment, and to make it easier for them to rain death down on all others.

“If we truly care about the health of our communities, countries and global commons, we must find ways of powering the planet without relying on fossil fuels.”

“We” might care about that, but our overlords, the Conquerors Of America do not. The conquerors weave their imagined-eternal cocoons of invulnerability out of personal wealth vampire-drawn from the masses, and from their orgasmic fantasies of invincibility.

When all this will change, I do not know; but I fear that if that change ever does occur it will be preceded by a tsunami of blood. It may well be that Pandemic 2020, or a subsequent one, if it readjusts human orientation and behavior across our species for the better thereafter, would be a blessing in comparison to that now-gathering tsunami.

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The Prospect of Death Concentrates the Mind Wonderfully to Socialism

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The Prospect of Death Concentrates the Mind Wonderfully to Socialism

Many people are now writing that COVID-19 has “awakened us” to the realization of how inhumane the entire economic paradigm of the U.S. is, and how structurally weak in its lack of diversification and rootedness in domestic assets (‘native species’), in the same way as vast fields of monoculture agriculture of genetically weak hybridized crops (for “high yield” and easy harvesting). Both the economic and plant monocultures can be devastated by disease germs finely targeted to those highly exposed monolithic weaknesses.

This sounds like an epidemiological Pearl Harbor argument: viral surprise attack on huge vulnerabilities we should have realized long ago, the eruption of fear that we were unknowably living in a house of cards that the surprise viral attack has caused to collapse around us. But in this case the falling cards of our once intact economic erection, though now so apparently flimsy in collapse, are nevertheless so massive as to easily crush us all in this ongoing demolition.

That previous image has become quite popular in the commentariat during the last few days. However, I think it is more of a cover for chagrin over having avoided acknowledging the truth previously. And that truth is simply that the U.S. economic paradigm has always been thoroughly inhumane, and a complete monoculture of capitalist obsession, with its least barbaric period extending from the Franklin Roosevelt Administration to the first half of the Jimmy Carter Administration.

During that milder interregnum the claws of American capitalism were clipped and rounded somewhat by the social programs softening the bitter disappointments Americans bore through the Great Depression, World War II and the Korean War, and which social programs offered the prospects of greater popular comfort, entertainment and consumerist happiness, and somewhat assuaging the stresses and agonies of civil rights aspirations and the stings of the various wars of empire of the 1960s and 1970s, most notably in Vietnam.

I think that the years 1976-1977 was the time of peak American peace, popular prosperity, and general societal wellbeing; this was post-Nixon and pre-Reagan. In 1978 Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Advisor, steered Carter rightward away from his more humanitarian inclinations and towards Cold War vengeance and Vietnam War payback by suckering the Soviet Union (the Russians) into their Afghan War quagmire. With the rise of Margaret Thatcher in the U.K. in 1979, and Ronald Reagan in the U.S.A. in 1980, neoliberal economic and nationalist ideology came to dominate our paradigm, and capitalism’s claws were lengthened, sharpened and dug in much deeper into the tender flesh of civilization. That cruel regime has continued in the U.S. to the present.

So, there is no logical reason why it should now come as a surprise to any honest commentator that our economic paradigm is so structurally and operationally inhumane. You didn’t need COVID-19 to suddenly awaken you to this long evident fact. What has actually happened is that the entire pandemic crisis, even catastrophe, has made it impossible for anybody to hide themselves from the undeniable fully exposed truth of our economic and societal inhumanity. Any well-educated thinking person, like the members of the professional commentariat, can only feel somewhat embarrassed (the most decent ones would feel ashamed) at having consistently avoided stating the socio-political facts-of-life to their public audiences in the past, but of course that camouflaging avoidance was precisely what they were being paid to do.

And so, “the best and the brightest” were surprised by the appearance of COVID-19 to the structural weakness of inhumanity in our economic system, and we their grateful audiences are now instructed to be surprised as well. And this surprise leads perforce to fear: how else can we preserve our hierarchical system of rigged prosperity from destruction by pandemic economic collapse, than by implementing socialist financial relief measures of the Bernie Sanders and FDR type that we can’t allow ourselves to make permanent, since that would in itself be a collapse of our raw capitalist paradigm into redistributive socialism.

Notice, that of ideological necessity the “surprise” leads to the realization of a needed socialist correction as a “fear,” because the inhumane truth was always out there in plain view, and the recognition of that truth at any time could have been the source of great joy: we don’t have to suffer, we can change this now!

It is easy to see the personification of this ideological duel in the persons of Donald Trump and Joe Biden, who are the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of an essentially unified presidential campaign championing the preservation of the neoliberal paradigm (“surprise” by COVID-19 and “fear” of chronic socialism); and presidential aspirant Bernie Sanders and his many young acolytes, who champion the socialist correction of the long-standing — and by Sanders long recognized and decried — economic inhumanities.

COVID-19 is only authentically a surprise in the sense that any new infection is a surprise to a person who finds themselves suddenly miserably ill, and the societies that find themselves infused with new runaway contagion. But the long-known truth is that such diseases erupt periodically, inconveniently, and with damaging and deadly consequences, so any humane economic paradigm must include persistent scientific efforts to anticipate, prepare for and effectively respond to epidemics. Obviously, this is (or would be) a socialist element of any government and international association of governments.

Surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the economic frailties of our capitalist economies is really fear by the capitalist elite, and their fake-tough toady flunkies, that socialism will be seen by the masses as the obvious best format for the economic paradigm going forward, because it is the self-evident solution to the immediate problem of preserving society from collapse because of the onslaught of an uncountable number of teeny tiny viruses, each perhaps only tens to hundreds of nanometers in extent, but with embedded programming for eating away your lungs.

According to Boswell, Samuel Johnson said: “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” And so with us, the people of Planet Earth in the year 2020, the possibility of death by highly contagious viral disease overrunning the world has wonderfully concentrated our minds on a sought-for safe harbor for protection and salvation, and — surprise! — that safe harbor is socialism. What happens beyond this point is entirely a reflection of our individual and collective moral characters.

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Humans Are Toxic

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Humans Are Toxic

Maybe COVID-19 fear will stop jury duty, I wouldn’t mind that. I expect gun murders soon, in fights over grabbing toilet paper packs at the stores. Nature’s vote on humanity is global heating and COVID-19. Who knows what kind of new vote on us It might have up its infinitely imaginative sleeve.

By the way, the reason to vote for Bernie is not for your ***** *****, but for the benefit of the younger generations. Tragically, and damnably, a sense of responsibility for them by “the adults” has been lost. Slavery is so much more easily enabled by the acquiescence of the slaves. Such acquiescence is marketed as identity politics (e.g., “I’m not going to be the kind of person who falls for ‘that’ [i.e., voting on the issues]; I don’t want to be embarrassed later by being known to have voted for a loser”). Tragically, most Americans deserve Trump, who is killing them.

In today’s run to the food stores (for ingredients to make meatballs), there was no: toilet paper, paper towels, paper napkins, powdered laundry detergent, hand soaps; those shelves were empty; highly depleted are bottles (plastic) of bleach, canned soups, vinegar, canned tuna. Items now gone for weeks: isopropyl alcohol (will have to use vodka, I guess), throat lozenges with zinc, plastic gloves, hand sanitizers, “baby” (alcohol) wipes. Items gone since who knows when: face masks. Time to call out the National Guard to screen-protect the convoys of toilet paper trucks. What is your Plan B for ‘no toilet paper’?

Humans are toxic. Slavery through “social distancing” – fear, fear, fear – (and publicly funded stock market bank bailouts, which is high-end hoarding) seems to be the overwhelming consensus, instead of liberation through socialist universality. (However, I do approve of the indefinite self-quarantining of Republicans and DNC Dems, preferably in a new tent camp at Manzanar). The headline in the New York Times today (13 March 2020) is about the COVID-19 panic-driven cratering of “the economy,” the biggest stock market drop since the 1987 crash. Trump’s message to America and the World: ‘stay home and die (away from ‘us’), and don’t cost the owners any money, (and vote for me so I can keep fucking you over).’ Nature has got us right. Morituri te salutamus.

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Some déjà vu:

Industrialized Greed Produces Pandemics
11 October 2005

I have a sideline answering questions about radioactivity. Recently, a friend asked: does prolonged exposure to radioactive weapon residue (like depleted uranium dust) lead to outbreaks of mutated strains of viruses, such as Avian Flu?

This leads to the further question of why pandemics, like the killer 1918 “Spanish Flu” — which originated in the United States — arise in the first place.

Avian Flu occurs naturally as several families of viruses in birds, who often do not get sick but merely host the disease, like Typhoid Mary. It is noted that certain of the Avian Flu virus types are evolving — adapting — rapidly. One of these strains, H5N1, was able to make a jump to humans and overpower the human immune system. This was the outbreak of 1997.

While the 1997 outbreak killed millions of birds and scores of people, this particular strain of the virus had not acquired the genes necessary to make it similar to the usual human flu viruses, and so it was not easily transmitted from person to person. If — or when — an Avian Flu viral strain does combine with a typical human flu virus, gaining the genes needed to make it easily infectious by breath: sneezes, coughs and exhalations, then we might see a pandemic. Since the Avian flu that has infected people since 1997 is quite lethal (up to 50% mortality) as compared to the mild forms of human flu we are accustomed to, an easily transmitted form could produce another great killing like that of 1918-1919. Such a bird-carried, human-infecting disease would have a vast incubator in the many industrial concentrations of domestic fowl maintained for human consumption.

I’ve not seen any credible connection between radioactivity and Avian Flu.

In these last few days it has been announced that researchers have been able to replicate the 1918 flu virus, H1N1. It is kept under tight security in government laboratories. The raw material for the replication was viral RNA extracted from lung tissue of 1918 flu victims; some of this from preserved specimens, and some from cadavers buried in Alaskan permafrost (and none too soon, as it’s starting to melt up there).

The 1918 influenza virus is one million times more virulent than the usual human flu viruses of today. Fortunately, people today will have some immunity to the H1N1 family of viruses (how much?). H1N1 is an Avian Flu, which appears to have made a direct jump from birds to humans in 1918 and then raced through humanity without first acquiring some genes from human flu viruses. This is a surprising short-cut. Usually, flu viruses which jump species then mutate slightly by acquiring some genes of viruses already in the new host so they can operate — reproduce and avoid the immune system — in their new organism.

The 1918 pandemic seems to have started in Haskell County, Kansas in January 1918, becoming a serious Army manpower issue at Fort Riley, Kansas in March 1918, and spreading throughout Army camps in the U.S. during March and April, and along the routes of military transport within the U.S. and Europe; recall World War One was in its fourth year. In late August and early September it broke out in Boston, Brest (France) and Freetown (Sierra Leone).

H1N1 killed up to one third of those stricken, October 1918 being the deadliest month of the worldwide outbreak and of US history, during which 195,000 Americans alone died of influenza. Wikipedia notes that, “Global mortality rate from the influenza was estimated at 2.5%–5% of the population, with some 20% of the world population suffering from the disease to some extent. The disease spread across the world killing twenty-five million in the course of six months; some estimates put the total of those killed worldwide at over twice that number, possibly as high as 100 million.”

The entire H1N1 outbreak was over within 18 months.

What are the prospects for a similar outbreak today? Mike Davis has a recent book on today’s Avian Flu, describing the potential for a pandemic.

Though no life-scientist, I note and find it interesting that a number of fatal respiratory infection viral diseases are carried by wildlife that permeate the human environment, specifically birds, deer mice, pigeons and bats: Avian Flu (wild fowl and chicken coops), Hanta Virus (desiccated mice droppings, pulverized and airborne), Legionnaires’ Disease, (pigeon droppings in ventilator ducts), SARS (horseshoe bats — a species native of Southeast Asia — as the initial carrier, then also civet cats who may prey on bats; the bats and civets finding their way into exotic cuisine, while bat droppings may be used as fertilizer and in medicinal or other concoctions).

The Ebola Virus, again a family of a particular type, is suspected of jumping species from monkeys to humans in Africa. Transmission between humans is by contact (say with infected blood), and transmission by respiration is unknown with the possible exception of one case. Some suspect that humans were first infected by slaughtering and consuming “bushmeat.” The same can be said for AIDS, probably of simian origin.

All of these diseases and epidemics seem to spring from the friction of human poverty grinding into the natural world. An unsanitary push against Nature by crowded poverty in search of food causes disease to invade humanity.

Can it be that overcrowding and poverty are much more potent as causes of disease than radioactivity or even chemical pollution? The need for food by the masses in Southeast Asia fuels the operation of crowded and dirty poultry operations. Having smelled some US fowl and poultry operations from the roadside, and been to small farms, I have trouble believing there are completely sanitary industrial concentrations of birds anywhere. Researchers often use chicken eggs to grow experimental cultures (and vaccines) in, so I suppose Nature can use the whole chicken coop world to grow viruses designed for wide transmission, as well.

These diseases may be less those of “the poor and backward,” because poverty and backwardness are ancient yet the diseases are new, and more accurately recognized as the diseases of those left behind by the acceleration of industrialized greed, which we choose to call “globalization” to spare the feelings of those who enjoy the benefits of the system they manage, which is “capitalism.”

The natural thrust of capitalism is to push into the natural world with haste, so as to win in the race to exploit; and the natural product of capitalism is a wealthy elite and a mass of poverty. Disease springs out of the struggles of poverty. The profit motive obstructs any downward transfer of wealth in the form of subsidies for better living conditions and for the free worldwide use of medical and pharmaceutical advances. Expending the elite’s wealth to subsidize disease prevention and treatment generally is anti-capitalism, by ideological definition it is communism. Under capitalism the existence of disease is perfectly acceptable if it is a source of profit for some, as only winners matter.

The existence of these new diseases is a reverberation from the natural world of the human obsession with capitalism; a sickness of the individual and collective mind is reflected by Nature as disease, a consequence of our actions in conducting human affairs on this planet. Global Warming is another such reverberation. The kernel of disease is the idea that our greed and our bigotry can be practiced in isolation, and that this justification sanctifies the practice. Behold the genius of the marketplace.

Industrialized Greed Produces Pandemics
11 October 2005
http://www.dissidentvoice.org/Oct05/Garcia1011.htm

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