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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A Strictly Personal Looking Past The Pandemic

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A Strictly Personal Looking Past The Pandemic

This morning there was a Red-Tailed Hawk perched low in the woods outside my window for a least forty minutes. It was a large very calm bird perched not too high up in the trees that were downhill from my window, so binocular viewing was good, but it was too difficult to take a picture today. It was perhaps a young bird since its colors were mainly mottled, grey-brown on top, white with grey-brown blotches below. It had no obvious strong red on its tail feathers, but the wing and tail feathers were very clearly banded, partly like a tartan, and very crisply.

I have a sense that wildlife in general is seeping back into the daytime outdoor spaces they shy away from when humans are active. My neighborhood, in a canyon, is extremely quiet: no buzz saws, no leaf blowers, no house construction noises, very very few cars going down the road, no trucks, Amazon Prime delivery vans are about but again quite rarely (though I notice more of them in general since the lockdown began), very few walkers (with or without dogs), no house party noises, no landscaping services nor tree cutting services around, no water nor phone nor cable utility trucks (Pacific Gas & Electric is supposed to be inspecting power lines for fire safety), and on the weekend no mail nor garbage nor recycling trucks.

I can hear deer clomp and turkeys forage through the leaf litter; but the usual small birds and songbirds of this area seem to be gone today, and have been less in number over the last five years; a climate change die-off? Except for the odd pulses of breeze — rain should be coming later today — it is still and quiet throughout the canyon and the hillsides forming it. The Earth seems to be awaiting humanity’s fate with fatally baited breath: COVID-19.

We humans — the lucky ones that is — are shuffling around in our rooms in our bathrobes and slippers, with coffee and tea mugs or cocktails in our hands, and burrowing our heads into our cross-connected electronic attention-deficit infotainment memory holes. For the luckiest of the hapless people, society as we used to know it is slowly collapsing in on itself; and for the largely unseen and more socially distanced than ever before extremely unlucky people that social collapse is miserable and catastrophic. “That’s the way it’s always been” reflected our Apex Narcissist philosophically, to his cognitive limit in this regard, about these pandemic days.

Richard Eskow wrote a touching and reflective ramble on life and death, from his personal perspective as an older American man during this indeterminate period of the COVID-19 pandemic (COVID in the Web Of Generations: A Faint Hello From the “Only” Ones, 20 March 2020, https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/03/20/covid-in-the-web-of-generations-a-faint-hello-from-the-only-ones/).

Some of Eskow’s thoughts are:

“I’ll tell you a secret now, one that older adults carry with them every day: We walk with the dead. Oh, a lot of us don’t admit it, not even to ourselves. But once you’ve reached a certain age, the dead are with you wherever you go. Your parents are dead. Mine both died in the last couple of years. Your aunts and uncles, the ones who nurtured you and reminded you what sanity was when your parents went off the rails? They’re dead, too… I’m 66. I know now that I walk with the dead, and with death. That awareness is part of the job description, at least if you’re wired a certain way. That said, though, I’m not in any fucking hurry to go. I’ve got 20 good years, if I’m lucky. Maybe 30… This system is dying, infected with a contagion as old as humanity: greed… The time will come, the bell will toll. It sounds obvious, and it is. Until it happens. Then it feels as new as birth, as new as waking up in an unfamiliar room… And so, in the meantime, all I can do is pass on what the survivors of past worlds told me while they lived. They said you can survive by remembering to love. They said you can learn to care, even if caring doesn’t always come easily in this life.”

The present personal isolation people have receded into to avoid contagion can be heaven for introverts who are in safe circumstances. In my own case, it has led me to think back over my life, since I am celebrating my 70th birthday this week.

Since 2009 I’ve played the game of remembering where I was and what I saw “fifty years ago.” For me, the years 1959-1962 had to do with Cuba (which I visited twice to see my grandparents), the Revolution (which I saw in its glory of triumph), the Bay of Pigs, and the Missile Crisis (which nearly killed us all). 1963 was about JFK, 1964-1967 about dreading the Vietnam War draft while in high school, and having so many dreams about my “future.” 1968-1969 was about my roller-coaster ride in college, the highs of really getting into the science and chasing girls (who were always way smarter and more mature than I was), and the lows all 1969 of fending off the draft board while I was 1A (my deferment had been revoked in error, and they refused to correct that error). 1970-1972 was a combination of being a psychological wreck after surviving the December ’69 draft lottery, and the super-high of imagining an abundant Green Energy future after that first Earth Day on 22 April 1970 (perhaps the greatest day of my life). 1973-1976 was getting past Nixon, and the graduate school grind. 1976-1978 was in my view the peak of collective life in the U.S., including the first two years of the Carter Administration, and I had the illusion that that Green Energy future was about to begin and I would become one of the first generation physicist-engineers running its new-style engines, like Montgomery Scott in the original Star Trek science fiction television series. I was wrong.

During 1979-1980, President Jimmy Carter was pulled to the right by Zbigniew Brzezinski, his National Security Advisor, who laid the trap of the Afghan War quagmire the Russians sank into (and then later and still now the U.S.!), and then that bastard Reagan gained power in November 1980, and John Lennon was assassinated a month later by a gunshot to the chest fired by a narcissistic asshole, and Lennon’s death seemed emblematic of the instant death of all my illusions and those of the youthful “Imagine” dreamers of my age. It has been neoliberally downhill since.

After 1980, I realized that the best I would probably ever be able to do was to support my family. There was little chance I would change any part of our society — let alone government policy — toward green energy, environmentalism, energy efficiency and all that (even though I’ve tried doing so to this day). The political power people just wanted bombs, and my science employers just wanted more government subsidies.

For the biotech and computer people it was all an obsession with patents and getting rich off the need, addictions and misery of the masses. It is so damnably telling about our mercenary times to remember that doctors Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, each a developer of a polio vaccine (by 1955 and by 1960), put their discoveries into the public domain, giving up many billion in royalties and saving billions of lives since. Frederick Banting, who with the help of a few others invented the process for synthesizing insulin, patented it in 1923 for a token payment of $1.00 so as to ward off all other patent attempts by drug companies, and put the use of the method into the public domain.

So, even with numerous bumps in the road, humped over with the help of a Faustian bargain for brainy employment, I’ve managed to support my family, get three kids decently — though not always perfectly — cared for and off and independent for the two oldest, and well on the way to that for the youngest. And, I’ve got my little beat-up house in a reasonably pleasant hilly spot, and still have a little bit saved up (of which college tuition and a major and unavoidably necessary house-property repair three years ago took half). I’m banking on my okay pension and social security allotment for the duration, so I’m at the mercy of the thugs in Washington as regards the future of my social security.

When it comes to dying I’m just hoping that I go out like my father, a massive hemorrhage suddenly wiping out the brain, and the body dying off in just a few days. That way I won’t have the indignity of a long lingering death as a cripple during which all my remaining money will be drained away to the point of bankruptcy. My quick death is the only way there will be anything left (in the way of financial assets) for me to pass on, at least hopefully this house if I get to pay it off. It’s all quite a poker game, isn’t it?

It’s not hard to look back on my parenting and see many things I could have done much better. Hindsight is 20-20. But I’m glad that many of the efforts I made were good ones, and that my kids are all good and strong people, in many ways all smarter than I am. In my own case the work I put into helping raise the kids, despite many errors with each of them, is pretty clearly the best work I’ve done at anything in my life. I can accept being a failure at all else, but would hate being a failed parent. So, their successes are my consolation for everything else. I’ve had my fun and some high points with technical stuff (physical science, energy advocacy) and writing (ranting and bad poetry), but nothing in the world has changed because of it, and that’s okay because I can feel good about the kids.

I only wish I had been more perceptive way back when, to better appreciate the people who were kind, accepting and tolerant of me, who gave me help that I did not always recognize, and who graced my fairly clueless young adulthood when I pursued my simplistic dreams of sports cars, girls in miniskirts, protection from the Vietnam War, achieving science learning highs (and being high while learning science), and visions of saving the world through science by finding sources of unlimited electrical energy.

For me, enlightenment came through caring for my family and helping to raise children, along with a little bit of reading about Zen Buddhism. But having children was the touchstone of my essential insights. A Skinnerian behaviorist might say this is all just a genetically programmed self-delusional sense of fulfillment in male human drones to ensure the propagation of the species. Maybe so, what’s it matter? The same would then be true of that Red-Tailed Hawk who winged through this patch of its forested domain, and perched in dappled shade to regard its territory with such majestic calm.

And the same would be true of our two young cats, who move between periods of lying about sprawled out resting before the heater or curled up in a cardboard box in absolute luxuriant comfort, or rolling over and wrapping their legs and paws about my forearm as I massage-pet them while they stretch and purr, as I draw my nails along their upturned throats and the lines of their their thin lips, which they sometimes open to knead my hand with their strong sharp fangs, with exquisite precision. Our cats will burst into activity out of their keen vigilance of human activity in the kitchen when food bowls are presented, and from there gleefully go frolicking out onto the wooded hillside, delighting in their primordial wildness.

I have had too much knowing eye-to-eye personal contact, and traded too much hand-and-body-to-body personal touch with other living creatures, each with their own warmth, elegance and intent, to ever believe any of us are mere generic behavioral biological machines, though I know that fundamentally we are each unique gene colony organisms whose evolutionary role is to transmit genetic programming for birthing and animating through a lifespan future and always subtly unique examples of our particular kind.

What is not biomechanical about the more brainy creatures, which can include humans, is that we can become aware of our role in the great chain of being, the propulsive urge of life to continue on Planet Earth, by both our conscious actions emanating out of our cerebral cortexes, and our embedded instincts and emotions emanating from our limbic systems, instincts and emotions we share with so many of our fellow heterotrophs.

So, like everyone else I want to continue healthily so I can keep enjoying the greatest show on Earth: life. While I have many many preferences on how other people should think and behave so that show will unfold as I believe best, I realize I have infinitesimal power to mold reality to my vision, and trying to force that conformity can only drive me mad and destroy me. Thus I have to tread that knife-edge between letting go and giving up, and my compass for determining that pathway is how fares the wellbeing of my family.

To frolic like the cats and soar like the hawks with calm and elegant self-assurance, while finally remembering with appreciation long-lost friends as I should, dumping all lingering superficial careerist ambitions of a clueless past, and being grateful for having been able to move the next generation of my family (and others) forward into their own fulfilling independence, is what I now take with me as I look past the pandemic into my own uncertain yet hopeful future.

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ADDENDUM, 25 March 2020

Raymond McConnie Zapater
25 March 2020
FELIZ CUMPLEAÑOS MANGO GARCÍA

Dear Dr. García:

Some of us ageing fools can relate to your feelings and past experiences as humane baby-boomers. I also had to dodge the draft for three years while bumbling in North American and European Universities and not being able to shed a 1-A classification. I had to flush the god-dammed card down the toilet to wash out that stain without having to embarrass my Dad furthermore. After the Complutense in Madrid was shuttered and the youthful leaders and “foreign interlopers” of the revolt were chased down by Franco, without considerable funds, I wandered alone hitching rides across Southern Europe and the wondrous Islamic world of Southwest and Central Asia before settling in a secluded hamlet with the Pashtun, deep in the Hindu Kush, “somewhere ‘they’ can’t find me”, hearkening that old song by The Moody Blues. Who would have known then that those valiant, elegant, generous, hospitable successors of the lost tribes of Israel and the Scythian and the Parthian would become the more recent targets of the “bastards from Washington” in their ceaseless search for enemies. Actually, Pashto is a Semitic language with a Persian script.

And, so it went … This long story pertains to all of us rebels of good-will still trying to survive as fugitives in Junk Terror Acropolis even though the Vietnamese people did get rid of the North American hordes and established their own stupid criminal regimes. At least, it was their own bitter wine. I almost vomit when the other night I heard right off in the first episode of Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” that the United States had gotten involved in that genocidal venture “with good intentions”. Even though the sixteen installments that followed belied that initial assertion absent any allusion to it, I couldn’t explain to my thirty-three year old PhD candidate living at home and his mother why the statement was yet another lie by the national security state. It’s unconscionable that Geoffrey C. Ward (the writer of the series) set it forth as a salvo revisionism, and that Burns would allow it if he were paying attention. I had escaped watching that series in honor of my Puerto Rican friends who were drafted and never returned and of one in particular, who, as a green beret, was dropped in a black parachute into the thickness of northern Laos on reconnaissance, but who found for himself a Buddhist monastery, took refuge there and remained to train monks in the arts of modern warfare, so they could defend their communities from the Americanos. Manny was MIA for years during the war until he surfaced in Saigon where he boarded one of the last helicopters out of that quagmire after treading the Ho Chi Minh Trail with other fellow monks and soldiers. Once in the “Land of Liberty”, Manny served five years in Attica (under the Rockefeller laws) for dealing an ounce of pot to a friend turned informant. Thereafter he became a candlemaker and sculptor in San Juan where he died.

After graduate school, my long-standing girlfriend cum wife and I left the perfumed colony of Puerto Rico to settle in Philadelphia where we raised four boys against all odds, and with a little help from our friends. The intention had been to spare our kids a colonial mind-set and still preserve the Spanish language as the Lingua Franca home and country. They are doing pretty good with that. It’s easier to live in the trigger of the Gatling gun than in the target. Puerto Ricans of the diaspora have learned that lesson.

I also walk among the dead especially when I endeavour to visit my one-hundred year + old aunt in Ponce. She is my link with the past generations. I go every three months to see her at a convent of Catholic nuns who look after the elderly. Everyone else is gone: those who haven’t yet among my family, relatives and friends are queuing up with me. The pecking order is up for grabs.

Our boys are strong decent upstanding citizens. They made it through college and graduate school facing their own provocations unlike those contended by their father. Three of them crossed the vastness of North America seeking the promised land in California while the more sensible one thought that the East Coast was a better option for him and his Puerto Rican live-in girlfriend who’s attending medical school. Like you, raising a family alongside their mother has been my saving grace. Who knows how and where I would have ended up? I also loved drugs, sex and cheap thrills not unlike Janis Joplin. Thankfully, my mistakes are solely mine to contend with going forward. I’m chastened by my karma and the teachings of the Buddhadharma, for sure.

Although I have a few solitary retreats under my belt, this quarantine is driving me overboard into the ocean of nirvana and samsara.

Beg your pardon for the long-winded screed!

Allow me to say the following without being trite – I love you!

May you have much health, happiness and a long life.

Respectfully,

– Raymond McConnie Zapater

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Manuel García, Jr.:

Dear Señor Zapater,

My favorite joke on the “Dr.” thing (from the New Yorker): Maître d’ of a fancy restaurant, on the phone: “Yes, doctor, a reservation at 7:30, and may I ask, sir, is that an actual medical degree or merely a Ph.D.?”

Yours is one of the best letters I’ve ever received in my life. I believe what you have recounted would be a wonderful contribution to human (and even Americano) consciousness.

First, your adventure through life has been much more dramatic, exciting and scary than mine. So, I salute you for surviving with such verve and elegance, and I commend you for la familia. You are clearly very well put together, as is shown by your excellent and vivid writing, and by your evident knowledge of cultures, philosophy and life.

My impression of the Ken Burns TV series on the Vietnam War (the “American War” for the Vietnamese) is that the reference in the first episode about ‘America getting into the war inadvertently and with good intensions’ (despite the rest of the series entirely belying that canard) was a sop to one of the Koch Boys, who was a generous financial contributor making possible the production of the series. You know, “and now a word from our sponsors.” I’m guessing that Koch Boy just wanted to plaster his name-tag on an artful electronic edifice he thought might last, and thus be a pedestal to his self-imagined glory. There are a lot of pedestal seekers and pedestal self-polishers in this world; the former throw their money at their vanity, and the latter usually try to write and publish themselves into popular acclaim.

During my time in college, in 1970, I met an absolutely beautiful woman in one of my basic science or mathematics classes. She was very friendly in a most upstanding way, and I was smitten and daydreaming of much closer contact. She asked me if I would help her understand some of the assigned work, which Mister Science Boy was delighted to do. She was a Puertorriqueña, and her English was good, but a second language. We arranged for her to visit my dorm-apartment room one day to get on with this work. Somewhere in the subsequent verbal exchanges over this it emerged that she was married! So she brought her husband with her to my apartment, and we ended up having a wonderful time learning about each others’ lives.

She was enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania (in Philadelphia, your home-away-from-home town!) on her husband’s GI veteran’s benefit, going for a degree in nursing (I think). She introduced her husband: Patrick Murphy. He was a recently discharged Vietnam War veteran, and had become a repair technician for the Sweda Cash Register Company. So, he worked at a wage-paying job during the day while his wife went to college. When I first spoke with Patrick Murphy he didn’t quickly understand me: he was pure Puertorriqueño and spoke minimal English! How the hell was that? It seems his grandfather or great-grandfather had been a US sailor in the Great White Fleet during the Spanish-American War, and had jumped ship in Puerto Rico in 1898, stayed there, married, and fathered children, who had their own children one of whom was this wonderful guy with his family-traditional name: Patrick Murphy.

He was a veteran of the US Marine Corps, into which he had been drafted in Puerto Rico (as you know, Puertorriqueños living on the island can’t vote for voting representatives in the US Congress, or for the US President, but they are more than welcome to fight and die in the front lines of America’s imperialist wars). I thought during the Vietnam War we boys could only get drafted into the US Army, but I was wrong (I’ve been wrong about a lot of things). He told his story. At the boot camp that the Boricua recruits had been taken (I’m guessing in North Carolina) they and the other mainland recruits were lined upon arrival. The Army drill sergeant facing them barked out “All of you who speak Spanish take one step forward! Left face! Forward march!” And there before the line of Spanish-speaking recruits was the Marine drill sergeant.

So most of those boys ended up in the forward deployed combat units of the always-first-to-attack Marine Corps in Vietnam during the height of the ground war (for the U.S.). Patrick Murphy, though deployed in Vietnam, was shunted into a mechanics role, probably because of some manual dexterity aptitude that emerged from his testing, and that exposed him less to the hazards of combat patrols, which along with surviving the various shellings of the bases he was stationed at, got him through the war alive. I would look at his lovely lively wife as we three enjoyed each others’ company, and think “he really deserves her.” Patrick Murphy told me of a common experience of US Latino Vietnam War soldiers on combat patrols during the war: their platoon commander (the usual white First Lieutenant West Pointer or maybe ROTCer) would call out one of his ‘spics’ (Spanish speakers, a.k.a. ‘no-speak-eh-de-inglesh’), like “Rodriguez, go out on point!”, to lead the file of soldiers into the jungle, and thus be the most likely first killed in the inevitable ambuscade by sniper or mine. Patrick Murphy and his lovely wife (Linda?) will always live in my memory of a sunny day in 1970 when we all felt a resplendent future lie just a few years ahead for all of us young Americanos.

My own hodge-podge memorial of the Vietnam War is posted here:

Haunted by the Vietnam War
22 February 2015
https://manuelgarciajr.com/2015/02/22/haunted-by-the-vietnam-war/

I understand exactly how you feel about your mother. Mine is 95, and living quietly, independently and happily in Santa Rosa. I was lucky in the parents I was given: papá Cubano-Español, y mamá puro Boricua.

And now, I must steal from you to complete my reply:

“Although I have a few solitary retreats under my belt, this quarantine is driving me overboard into the ocean of nirvana and samsara.

“Beg your pardon for the long-winded screed!

“Allow me to say the following without being trite – I love you!

“May you have much health, happiness and a long life.”

With deep appreciation y cariño,

Manuel García, Jr. 

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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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