Is Trump Worse Than Nixon?

My friend, Eric Andrew Gebert asked:

“I’ve only read and studied about the Nixon era, and the Watergate scandal (1972 to 1974) that led to Nixon’s resignation. To those that lived through it: is our current state of political scandal worse? The G.W. Bush era was definitely worse than Nixon. Even John Dean called it: WORSE THAN WATERGATE. That was followed up by Obama continuing the War On Terror; putting drone warfare into hyperdrive and going after whistleblowers. And placating capitalist-banksters who should have been prosecuted and put on trial. I feel like we are setting so many bad precedents that our Republic may never recover. This country needs a full-on Democratic reckoning and that doesn’t mean if we just elect Democrats that our Republic will begin healing. Needs to be more than that. It starts with civics and the rule of law.”

Eric, Here is how I remember it.

I lived through the Nixon Administration:

– being 18 in 1968 (and actively sought by the Draft Board for being mulched in the Vietnam War);

– when the Tet Offensive erupted (and the U.S. actually lost the Vietnam War);

– when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated (on 4 April);

– when Bobby Kennedy (who started out working with Roy Cohn for Joe McCarthy, and then for his older brother President John Kennedy, running the covert ‘assassinate Fidel’ CIA program) was assassinated on 5-6 June;

– when horrendous urban riots, outbursts fueled by multi-generational despair, broke out in many cities after King’s assassination;

– when the corrupt Mayor Daley administration in Chicago sent the cops out on the bloody attack on young, peaceful and unarmed demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention (which veered to the Johnson Administration’s man, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and away from the antiwar egghead Eugene McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy having been removed a month earlier);

– and when Dick Nixon invented and used the “southern strategy,” which is the standard Republican strategy of today (consolidate the bigot vote), to win the 1968 election as the “law and order” (White Supremacy) candidate.

Nixon, with Henry Kissinger (National Security Advisor, and later Secretary of State), had sabotaged Johnson’s peace initiative with the Communist Party of Vietnam (the “North Vietnamese”) in 1968, with about 30,000 American soldiers already dead from the Vietnam War at that point; by having Madam Chennault (a Chinese woman associated with the Chiang Kai-shek Nationalist Chinese regime-dictatorship in Formosa) make secret contact with the North Vietnamese government leaders and tell them not to accept Johnson’s peace terms, so Nixon could get elected (because Johnson would be seen as a failure), and Nixon would give them better terms.

Five years later, and with over 20,000 more Americans dead (and millions of Asian dead), the North Vietnamese accepted the exact same peace terms from Nixon that Johnson had offered them. The U.S. military pulled out in 1973, prisoners were repatriated, and Nixon poured money into the corrupt South Vietnamese regime for arms, but so much was funneled into pure graft, and that regime collapsed in 1975 from the combination of rampant corruption, lack of popular support, and cowardice in the field (and the Communist forces were very good militarily).

From 1969, Nixon and Kissinger secretly expanded the war into neutral Cambodia. The U.S. bombing of Laos and Cambodia (along their eastern border areas adjacent to Vietnam: the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail) had been so massive and genocidal to Laotian and Cambodian peasant societies that the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime resulted in Cambodia: an insane nihilistic death cult. The “Secret War in Cambodia” was exposed in 1970, and that ignited ferocious protests in the U.S., one of which led to the killing of unarmed students by National Guard troops at Ohio’s Kent State University.

Nixon won a landslide reelection in 1972, over anti-war Democrat (and decent guy) George McGovern (a WWII B-17 pilot and combat veteran). Part of Tricky Dick’s M.O. was covert “dirty tricks,” like the Watergate Break-in to the offices of the Democratic National Committee, in June 1972, to spy on the Democrats’ plans. I graduated college that year. A similar dirty trick had been the break-in to the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist to look for blackmail material against one of the men who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971 (Anthony Russo was the other leaker, and it was he who recruited Ellsberg to the effort).

The Watergate caper unravelled in 1973, and led to televised Congressional impeachment hearings in 1974. I was then in graduate school, and we grad students would pass much time every day watching the hearings (on TVs in graduate housing common rooms), and the months-long cascade of damning revelations. Now, and this is a key point: there were vigorous Republican investigators in both the Senate committee (like Senator Howard Baker) and House Committee, and they focussed on crimes against the Constitution of the United States, which in the case of Nixon were direct violations of laws passed by Congress, of which the invasion of Cambodia was the most egregious example (a military invasion of a neutral country, without a congressional declaration of war).

While there were certainly many Republicans anxious to avoid electoral losses because of the deterioration of the Nixon Administration, and who soft-pedaled Nixon’s crimes, there were enough of them faithful to the idea of “defending the Constitution” to make it inevitable Nixon would be impeached if it came to a vote — as Barry Goldwater personally told Nixon it would. That is why Nixon resigned (his VP, Spiro Agnew, had resigned earlier because he was caught in a corruption scandal; Gerald Ford was the new VP, and ascended to the presidency when Nixon resigned, and soon enough after pardoned Nixon, which is why Ford was soundly defeated in the election of 1976 by Jimmy Carter).

The first half of the Carter Administration, 1977-1979 (or 1976-1978), was the peak of American political decency combined with freedom from foreign wars (what is conventionally called “peace”), at least since the late Eisenhower Administration (after the Korean War and McCarthyism). After that, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s NSA Director, took the Carter Administration back into Cold War nastiness, by setting the Afghan trap that sucked in the Soviet Army, and was the major disaster that led to the downfall of the U.S.S.R, from 1989-1991.

The year 1979 is when the UK inflicted the world with Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan’s campaign to ‘make America great again’ took off, and he won the presidency in the 1980 election. Carter was undone by the external circumstances of austerities imposed on Americans by the energy crisis (Arab Oil Embargo) and stagflation, and by the embarrassment to national pride of failing to negotiate the extraction of American hostages from Islamic Revolutionary Iran (and also having a military rescue raid fail), since Reagan had made a Nixon-type deal for post-election hostage release with the Iranian theocracy (what a guy). Reagan’s win in November, and then the murder of John Lennon in December, marked the coup de grace of postwar (WWII) American liberalism.

The “conservatives” had been gathering strength through think-tanks (for policy formulation and capital accumulation) since at least 1971 (after the “Nixon Shock” of dropping the gold standard, the Bretton Woods Agreement on currencies); to conservatives during 1968 to 1971, it had looked like a left-wing “revolution” might succeed in the U.S.

Trump is just the latest manifestation of that Reaganite neoliberalism that erupted and gained ascendancy during 1979-1981. Along the way we’ve had a string of neoliberal presidential tools: G.W.H. Bush, W. Clinton, G.W. Bush, B. Obama, and finally the Maddest Hatter of them all: Donald J. Trump.

So, is Trump worse than Nixon? Is 2020-2021 worse and more dangerous than 1968?

What was worse in 1968 was the magnitude of the foreign slaughter inflicted by the U.S. military, and that operation’s huge suction of young American men into psychological and physical destruction (about 58,000 of them got their names chiseled on a Black Wall as a consolation prize), and the massive loss of public trust in government, which was exposed as being manned by too many callous lying careerists. This rupture of public trust has never been repaired and is a direct cause of the ongoing degradation of American public life. The American people as a whole have paid a terrible price for the self-induced bloody catastrophe of the Vietnam War (not to negate the genocidal magnitude of its cost to the Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians), and compounded that tragedy by never having internalized the lessons of that war, by a transformation of American society in the same way that Germany (as an example) has transformatively and truthfully faced its Nazi past. Americans chose denial, and let themselves open to repeating similar catastrophes; though for a time there was a strong resistance to mounting subsequent foreign military adventures until Reagan and subsequent neoliberal presidents (all of them) rehabilitated militarized American imperialism with the now (from 1973 on) “volunteer” (or, economic draft) military.

What was better in 1968 (to about 1971 really, and at most to about 1977) were the economic conditions for working people. Up to the recession of 1971, jobs could be gotten, a man could work as a janitor in a school or office building and support a stay-at-home wife with children in a house with a front lawn! Recession and inflation came in 1971 and after, because of government waste-spending on years of war on top of trying to maintain Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” and the implementation of the Civil Rights Laws (of 1964-1968): “affirmative action,” and the social concerns of the Office of Equal Opportunity (EEOC).

So the economic situation deteriorated significantly and quickly for many people, and the neoliberal movement (non-liberal Republicans, social and economic conservatives, and hardened corporatists) pushed on those economic conditions with initiatives of austerity: dump the little wage-slave guy to preserve the gain expectations of the bigger capitalists, and demonize the welfare-needing poor to redirect the anger of the increasingly impoverished wage-slavers onto the welfare-needing, and away from the exploiting corporatists and stock speculators. This remains Republican Party orthodoxy. And, as already mentioned, back then there were still liberal Republicans (people like Jacob Javits) and “defend the Constitution” Republicans capable of turning on Nixon. But all that liberalism was decaying along with the economic conditions — lots of good jobs — that were necessary to support it.

What is worse today is the complete putrification of the Republican Party into a completely anti-democratic organized conspiracy for gaining political power for purely factional aims of plunder to the benefit of high-end classists (the rich) and an overtly White Supremacist tribalism. Certainly such people existed back in 1968 and worked for the same ends as such people pursue today, but the broader extent of the relative prosperity offered by the economic system back then meant that there was less atrocious squeezing of the poor by the rich in order for those rich to lard themselves to their satisfaction at the national expense.

The whole idea today of giving workers, in or out of work, $2000 survival checks from the government during the pandemic, and extended unemployment insurance, is a specific indicator of the vastly impoverished national economy and economic management of today as compared with 50 years ago. The resistance to providing that economic relief today is because of a fear by the economic gatekeepers employed by the 1%, of reigniting memories of broader systems of economic equity and prosperity that obviated the need for such piecemeal and episodic economic survival crumbs-to-the-masses, like one-time $2000 checks. This realization is what Bernie Sanders tapped into, a return to FDR’s 1944 proposals of essentially expanding Social Security, with job and healthcare security for all. So far, such “socialism” is rationed to the U.S. military (and not all that generously for the rank-and-file), the political elite, and the corporate insiders.

Another clear degradation since 1968 is in the intellectual quality of much of American society and certainly of the American political classes; all coincident with the withering of educational quality over the decades, but ameliorated by a broadening of educational access to underserved communities (but again, not nearly enough of that, and over time increasing closed off by increasing costs-to-participate). So “leaders” like Trump and George W. Bush are clearly stupider than earlier generation leaders like Kennedy and even Lyndon Johnson. Leaders back then were hardly moral, so one can’t say that today’s political actors are vastly more immoral, though Trump does seem hellbent on pushing the envelope negatively in that regard. However, it is important to remember that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were/is truly evil because they were/are so intelligent and thus extremely capable of really well-thought out malevolence. Trump is closer to being a very maladjusted 3-year-old of 74 years of age and with no functional intellectual machinery, nor impulse control nor conscious moral ethics: he is just a destructive incompetent.

So from my perspective, the improved technocratic systems and technological machinery of government and the American industrialized civilization of today would be better able to address the physical and political challenges of today — primarily global warming climate change and the gross inequalities of standard-of-living (wealth, income, education, economic opportunity, job and health security) — IF we had both better government people to manage public affairs AND such politicians and technocrats (which includes the corporate sector) along with the majority of the American public had the desire and intention to implement a wholistic approach to managing the country for the benefit of all, rather than classistly (just for the 1%), tribally (just for White Supremacy) and factionally (competitively between narrowly defined special interests).

I see the failures of the management of American public life today as being primarily due to the poor moral, ethical and intellectual quality of the people doing that management, and the utter pettiness of their motivations and visions, rather than because of an overwhelming intractability of external circumstances, or technical deficiencies in the machinery of political management. Fifty years ago there was probably a greater fraction of better people in those roles (even though still with many, many horrible ones in place) but the magnitude of the military and financial disasters they had gotten themselves into (the Vietnam War, 1970s stagflation) were so great that they undid their more valiant efforts (like the War On Poverty, and Affirmative Action).

The neoliberal program, from 1979 onward, gained more control over of the catastrophe-prone external circumstances — like war, economics and welfare — by using improvements in technological knowledge and economic systems management to relentlessly impoverish an increasing proportion of the American public, from the bottom up economically, in order to preserve and grow the wealth of the wealthy. In a sense, the societal chaos that erupted in 1968 was natural and spontaneous, but today American society is so tightly controlled by being so thoroughly micro-managed to its impoverishment, that societal chaos is now an entirely managed effect, like the flow of a river throttled by the programmed releases of impounded water by hydroelectric dam engineers. The Trumpist Putsch of January 6, 2021, was just such an incompetently (thankfully) managed ejaculation.

So, which was/is worse: Nixon’s 1968 or Trump’s 2021?; or perhaps G.W. Bush’s exploitation of 2001’s 9-11, and his Iraq (and Afghanistan) War?

From the perspective of foreigners, Nixon was worse than Bush who was worse than Trump: 3 to 4 million dead in Indochina (plus all the bombing, land-mining and chemical defoliation); versus many hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq and with millions made refugees; versus thousands droned to death under Trump. But Trump gains many extra negative points for his tireless efforts to destroy the climate and ecosystems of Planet Earth, which ecocide directly cause fatalities.

From the purely selfish perspective of the American people, things have gotten steadily worse since Nixon because of the unrelenting vampirism by the 1% on the American economy, with its attendant impoverishment of wage-slaves (who too often contribute to their own enslavement by their myopic bigotry, anti-intellectualism and anti-environmentalism).

So in the grossest possible characterization:

– back in 1968-1971 the external circumstances of war and economics were worse and better, respectively, than today while the quality of the political class was better intellectually and professionally; in general society was freer because the economy was more expansive and supportive of popular aspirations despite still having many specific inequities (e.g., racist and sexist practices); also Earth’s climate and ecosystems were far healthier than today;

– today the external circumstances of war and economics are better and worse, respectively, than 50 years ago because the political class, despite being so much worse intellectually and professionally and so much more a captive appendage of corporate marketing departments, has a much tighter grip on external circumstances through a greater understanding of the levers of economic control; and society is more controlled and restrictive for “the working class” because their economic confinement and impoverishment is the mechanism by which the political class manages national affairs to further the enrichment of capitalist wealth, their patrons; and that intentionally worsened and worsening economic situation for “the working class” (the 99%) in order to exponentially enrich the wealthy is paid for by the now little-reversible ecocide and global warming destruction of the climate system.

In any case, we can’t go back. The best we could do — if we dropped the totality of capitalist neoliberalism (“fascism”) and its foundation of White Supremacy, and developed the moral character required for fashioning a wholistic “all in” national society — is to learn from the history of our national mistakes, and then apply those painfully gained insights to implement a societal transformation that adequately and equitably meets the existential challenges of today: the sustainability crisis with its global warming climate change, and nuclear disarmament.

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Guy de Maupassant, and America Today

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Guy de Maupassant, and America Today

Having now read 98 of the 290 short stories written by Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893), from 4 English translation anthologies with many repeats between them, I am convinced that he was the best short story writer ever. The quality of his stories range from “good” to “masterpieces,” there are no mediocre nor bad ones.

Any writer aspiring to be a literary artist must read and learn from de Maupassant. He was a master of economy of style, brisk pacing, even-tempered wit, deep insights into human psychology that remain entirely relevant to this day, and of devising imaginative plots with deliciously apt denouements (endings).

He was superb at describing food, dining and cuisine, and also of sensory impressions like smells, with vividness. Also, he was a lyrical artist with his many passages describing natural settings: the sky at various times of the day and during various seasons, river environments, the woods, open hilly grasslands and plains, and weather day or night. The best equivalent I can recall in American literature is Mark Twain’s lyrical passage in “Huckleberry Finn,” on the early morning mists on the Mississippi River.

It is easy to find critics, from de Maupassant’s day to ours, who dislike him. This is because he was so truthful, and so matter-of-fact about it; never an appealing trait for people protecting cherished illusions and prejudices. Indeed, Guy de Maupassant does not show any prejudices, except perhaps for a marked dislike of cruelty, and a marked enjoyment of life, from which springs his enormous compassion for the very very flawed creatures that we human beings are.

Reading Guy de Maupassant as a social critic of the French Second Empire (1852-1870) and Third Republic (1870-1940), it is easy to see why that Third Republic fell in 1940. Jean Renoir’s 1939 film, “The Rules of the Game,” is a gem in this regard. The health of a nation is based on the attitudes of its people, and the attitudinal corruption riddling the Third Republic, despite its wonderful cultural elegance peaking during its Belle Époque (1880-1914), undermined its political strength against the subsequent assaults by fascism.

The attitudinal weakness and sociopathology of Americans today, as say compared with the awesome fortitude of the Russians of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) during the 2 year 4.5 month siege of that city during 1941-1944, or of the Cuban population for over half a century since 1961, is similar to the classism and dissolution of the French bourgeoisie during the Third Republic. But, today’s Americans are practicing their dissolution and societal enervation without the culture, grace or elegance of the 19th and early 20th century French.

That 70 million Americans could vote for Donald Trump in 2020 is the saddest commentary one can imagine on the abysmal state of the American Public Mind. While I have now read many thoughtful and statistically supported analyses, from November 2020, of the erosion of Trump’s political support and the electoral collapse of his regime, I remain convinced that his appeal was always based on one factor: bigotry by white people (and minority individuals who hankered to join the capitalist übermensch club) whose xenophobia is expressed as fear of being economically swamped by demographic dilution.

I acknowledge that Marxist analyses of the November 2020 election, based on their economic focus using their class analysis dissection of American society, are excellent; and that perhaps a few of the pop-psychology and ‘cultural’ commentaries on that election’s aftermath also offer some insights; but I think it all boils down to identity politics (voting for the projected ‘me’ reflected by a candidate), electorally, and gut “race-consciousness” emotionalism, which is stronger the less educated the individual. That very highly educated very rich people would also vote consistently for Trump and the Republican Party is entirely a function of their parasitism, but even with them gut-level racism is a factor in their sociopathological outlook on human society.

What is wonderful in Guy de Maupassant’s stories is that they are filled with a wide variety of characters, and many of these reflect the attitudes I just described with respect to American voters in 2020. So, one gets sharply drawn personified images of the many shades of those attitudes. Another aspect of his sharp insights into human nature is that we are not strictly governed by our rational minds (which rationalist-materialist stricture I see as the biggest gap in the Marxist analysis of human society), because humans in fact are much compelled by genetically programmed behaviors and tendencies erupting out of our ancestral evolutionarily honed instincts: our monkey genes. It is so easy to see Trump’s rabidly naïve functionally psychotic evangelically bigoted zombie horde as a purely reactive monkey troop defending its imaginary territory from “them!”

As regards American society in November 2020, the best that I can see is the growth of refreshing and enlightened attitudes in so much of the young population (under 45 years old), which was crucial to the electoral defeat of Donald Trump; and the best I can hope for is that a revival of real education occurs so that an increasing fraction of our younger citizens can learn how to better enjoy life by developing their minds beyond the limbic tendencies embedded in our monkey genes. It is such people who will propel any economic and political improvements that may occur in American society in the coming years, and which are absolutely essential for making credible organized responses to the challenges posed by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the destruction of world environments and the loss of biodiversity, and the overarching threat from global warming climate change.

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Death-Grip by Fungal Ideas

Ants biting the underside of leaves as a result of infection by O. unilateralis. The top panel shows the whole leaf with the dense surrounding vegetation in the background and the lower panel shows a close up view of dead ant attached to a leaf vein. The stroma of the fungus emerges from the back of the ant’s head and the perithecia, from which spores are produced, grows from one side of this stroma, hence the species epithet. The photograph has been rotated 180 degrees to aid visualization.

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Death-Grip by Fungal Ideas

On 4 November 2020, Jeffrey St. Clair wrote:

“I keep hoping that one day there’ll be a presidential candidate who just says very plainly: I don’t want to invade anyone else’s country or drone their wedding parties; I don’t want to torture anyone; I don’t want your family to go bankrupt from the bills for your daughter’s chemo; I want you to be paid fairly for the work you do and not be preyed upon by bill collectors when you’re unemployed; I want you to have a roof over your head and clean water to drink; I don’t want your kids to go hungry at school or be thrown in jail for smoking grass or be shot by the police while walking home from the 7/11; I want you to have time off to enjoy your life and not worry about your house burning down in a wildfire or being swept away in a hurricane. Is that too much to ask? Where is this person?”
— Jeffrey St. Clair (4 November 2020)

“People in hell want ice water, too.”
— Wendell “Moe” Beecher (1974, Gas Dynamics Lab, Princeton University)

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus

A Scientific American article from 2009 describes the following [1]:

The Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus infects Camponotus leonardi ants that live in tropical rainforest trees. Once infected, the spore-possessed ant will climb down from its normal habitat and bite down on a leaf, with what the authors call a “death grip,” and then die.

After the ant death, the fungus begins growing hyphae inside the insect’s body; in a few days, the hyphae would emerge from the exoskeleton—”always … from a specific point at the back of the head,” write the authors of the study, which was led by Sandra Andersen of the Center for Social Evolution at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Within a week, the fungus had grown to about twice the length of the host ant’s body and had started sexual reproduction. Meanwhile, “the ant cuticle is … remodeled into a protective case by reinforcing the weaker parts,” and the parts of the fungus inside the ant’s body appear to differentiate into separate functions, write the researchers.

When the fungus releases spores, it creates what the authors describe as “an infectious ‘killing field'” about one square meter below the ant body that could infect C. leonardi ants or similar species that are unlucky enough to walk there.

Much more about the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus is given in [2].

Alcon Blue Butterfly

Caterpillars of the Alcon Blue Butterfly have developed an outer coat that tricks ants into believing the young are their own because it smells like ant grubs, duping the ants into carrying the larvae back to their colonies to feed and care for, even at the expense of their own grubs since the Alcon Blue caterpillars smell like queen ant grubs, so the worker ants feed them preferentially. The Alcon Blue caterpillars grow fat in their ant nests, pupate, and then fly away to reproduce and continue their species’s parasitic life cycle.

Alcon Blue Butterflies are found in Europe and across the Palearctic to Siberia and Mongolia. They occur on damp meadows where Gentiana (Marsh Gentian, a purple 5-petal flower) grows; they are plentiful in such places, sometimes even in abundance, from the end of May into July, but in the North not before the end of June. [3]

SARS-CoV-2

The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, has blindly evolved an ingenious strategy for perpetuating itself — perhaps indefinitely — through its host population: riding on human stupidity, impatience and selfishness.

Were people everywhere to follow the anti-pandemic protocols of:

– maintaining a greater than 2 meter distance from other individuals in public;

– self-quarantining for 2 weeks to ensure they are not infected before entering a new household or social environment since much viral spread is by asymptomatic carriers;

– wearing masks over their mouths and noses to prevent their breath-plumes, sneezes and coughs from spewing possibly infected droplets into the meters of airspace around them;

– thoroughly washing their hands often with soap and water (preferably hot), especially after contact with strange objects or people;

– avoiding gatherings, especially large ones, and especially for lengthy periods;

then the SARS-CoV-2 virus particles would have much greater difficulty finding and infecting hosts, and that virus species would eventually die out because of the decay and rupture of its particles’s outer lipid (fat) casings exposed to atmospheric oxygen and environmental heat.

Following this protocol requires discipline, patience and intelligence, because it is annoying. Our lack of discipline (to so regulate our personal behaviors), patience (to stick with the protocol for the duration of the pathogen species’s lifespan), and intelligence (to recognize the reality we must grapple with rationally, which has been exposed by scientific research), in aggregate is SARS-CoV-2’s winning strategy. It eats us out through our undisciplined emotionalism and our preferential fantasy ideas.

Capitalism

Capitalism — as championed by the United States and the high-carbon-footprint part of the International Community that surrenders all its mental capacity and moral character into the logic-bubble of Free Market speculation and finance — is a fungal idea among homo sapiens that causes them to destroy the environments and biodiversity of Planet Earth in frenzies of mineral extraction, overfishing, forest clearing, wildlife extinctions and soil depletion, so as to monetize these bites out of Nature for immediate short-term gains, while in the process spewing out enormous quantities of carbon dioxide and methane gases into the atmosphere (~12GtC/y, or ~42GtCO2/y, [4]) as the exhaust pollution of their so-called “economy.” All of this is hidden under the phrase “global warming” (“anthropogenic global warming” if you want to be a smarty-pants).

The rate of humanity’s CO2 and methane emissions is increasing annually, and global warming and ocean acidification (killing the marine food chain) are accelerating. If left unchecked, anthropogenic global warming will ultimately warm the planet and sterilize the oceans, so that the climate is too hot, too parched and Earth too food-depleted for our species to continue in its current numbers, and ultimately at all (if still here, we will know the ultimate trajectory of our fate within 2 centuries).

Is capitalism our Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a mass psychosis causing our species to self-limit or even self-destruct, to open evolutionary space for other species (probably of bacteria) to evolve and explode their populations to dominate Life-On-Earth? Is it all part of Nature’s unfolding — or “God’s Plan” as the ‘intelligent design’ religious cultists would call it — to prod homo sapiens off the stage of Life-On-Earth after its scripted 200,000 year scene?

Why not? It is certainly hard to see humans as entirely self-actualizing rational beings who make logical decisions on the basis of scientifically verified facts, given the obvious zombification of so many of them by the mere presence of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles in the environment, and by the immateriality of the idea of ego-centric capitalist wealth that drives them wild.

Democratic Party

Tracing its heritage back to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison’s Democratic-Republican Party, the modern-day Democratic Party was founded around 1828 by supporters of Andrew Jackson, making it the world’s oldest active political party.

The wikipedia entry for the Democratic Party gives this capsule summary of its history:

Before 1860, the party supported limited government and state sovereignty while opposing a national bank and high tariffs. In the late 19th century, it continued to oppose high tariffs and had bitter internal debates on the gold standard. In the early 20th century, it supported progressive reforms and opposed imperialism. Since Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal coalition in the 1930s, the Democratic Party has promoted a social liberal platform. Well into the 20th century, the party had conservative pro-business and Southern conservative-populist wings; following the New Deal, however, the conservative wing of the party largely withered outside the South. The New Deal coalition of 1932–1964 attracted strong support from voters of recent European extraction — many of whom were Catholics based in the cities. After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the core bases of the two parties shifted, with the Southern states becoming more reliably Republican in presidential politics and the Northeastern states becoming more reliably Democratic. The once-powerful labor union element became smaller after the 1970s, although the working class remains an important component of the Democratic base. People living in urban areas, women, college graduates, and millennials, as well as sexual, religious, and racial minorities, also tend to support the Democratic Party. [5]

The resentments over the diminished impunity of White Supremacy because of the Civil Rights Movement and Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s, along with the societal trauma of the Vietnam War, and the reactionary backlash to the law-and-order chaos spawned by antiwar sentiment and the massive routine racial discrimination, economic privation and violence against Blacks (e.g., the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April of 1968), which sparked major rioting in numerous cities, along with the economic recession of the 1970s, fueled the expansion of a reactionary, or “conservative” mindset that exploded out of the head of the body politic and into full view like an Ophiocordyceps unilateralis hyphae in the person of Ronald Reagan, the U.S. President inaugurated on 20 January 1981.

The neoliberal regime established by Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom in 1979, and Ronald Reagan in the United States in 1981, continues to this day: few restraints on corporate capitalist exploitation of the public commons (and human misery), with always diminishing support for human needs, and with economic austerity imposed on the wage-dependent public to pay for the enrichment of the wealthy.

To compete against the Republican Party — the shining knights of neoliberalism — in U.S. electoral jousts, the Democratic Party turned to new young leaders, beginning with Bill Clinton (U.S. President from 1992 to 2000), who led it away from concentrating on the defense and representation of the wage-dependent public and instead to seek corporate funding to underwrite the political campaigns and lush careerism of its leadership elite, who instead devoted themselves to facilitating the capitalist ambitions of their patrons.

So, the Democratic Party became the Republican Party of Dwight D. Eisenhower (U.S. President from 1952 to 1960, when the top income tax rate was 90%), while the Republican Party of Eisenhower hardened into the neofascist party of Ronald Reagan (1980-1988), George H. W. Bush (1988-1992), George W. Bush (2000-2008), and Donald Trump (2016-?).

The continuity of the neoliberal regime in the U.S. since 1980 was maintained by the post-1990 corporatist Democratic Party during its command of the White House during the administrations of Bill Clinton (1992-2000) and Barack Obama (2008-2016). In fairness to the Democrats, they were sometimes a little less rabid about forcing socially and behaviorally oppressive policies on the public (of AIDS-denial, and on: birth control, abortion, pollution and unionization, for example).

But, the electoral successes of the Democratic Party steadily declined — despite their acceptability to (or tolerance by) a wider range of Americans beyond Paled-Faced Capitalists — as they became less distinct from the Republican Party by their adherence in both word and deed to the neoliberal orthodoxy. Barack Obama even cited Ronald Reagan as one of his heroes and role models, instead of pissing on the memory of Reagan’s public evil (e.g., PATCO, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Grenada, South Africa, Iran-Contra) as any truly decent socially-conscious human being would want to do.

So, is the Democratic Party of the last 30 years a political Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungal agent whose purpose is to zombify the struggling and not-always-alert wage-dependent American public to allow itself to be remorselessly eaten out for the perpetuation of neoliberal capitalism, which is only enjoyed by a select population of privileged societal Alcon Blue Butterflies (until Biosphere Environmental Collapse occurs)?

If the Democratic Party is intent to continue as a reliable electoral failure, despite toadying zealously for the corporatocracy (e.g., Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Diane Feinstein), then the very least it could do would be to regain its self-respect and fight vigorously in the defense of the wide spectrum of individuals in the wage-dependent public whom it has long abandoned.

As the reelection yesterday (3 November 2020) of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley, along with the election of Cori Bush in Missouri clearly shows, the championing of that public and their human needs against the predations of neoliberal capitalism and its attendant racism can have resounding electoral successes, because: “When you stand for nothing, you fall for everything.” [6]

Once an American mind has been seized by the brain-fever of neoliberal economics, why would it vote for its feeble imitation as the Democratic Party when it can get “the real thing” from the Republican Party, with the added bonus of being able to happily liberate repressed bigotries into the expansive shit-hole of Trumpofascism?

Death-Grip by Fungal Ideas

Our climb to escape from geophysical and socio-economic realities to latch onto self-terminating delusions, with both personal and societal death-grips, is caused by the zombification of people, our societies and our species into self-destructive behaviors for the benefit of external parasites, by the action of fungal ideas — mindless and non-material — : our fantastical and selfish ideas about the COVID-19 pandemic, about capitalism and neoliberal economics with its global warming denial, and about acquiescing to the shameless careerism and anti-democratic machinations of the corporatist ideologues of the Democratic Party.

Because those parasitic agents plaguing us can only infect us virtually — through ideas — unlike the actual materiality of the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus and the SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, they can be most easily defeated by simply changing our thinking, which is done without fuss by people of rational mind who are disciplined, patient and intelligent. Unfortunately, not everybody is so constituted, and many people are purely reactive, as stated by Harmless’s Principle: “People don’t change until they feel pain.” [7] But this is not physiologically necessary, to the extent that cognition is free of disease and free-will has scope to operate.

We can act in our own best self-interests in ways that blend into decent life-affirming people-centric societies and political-economic government policies, that in turn mesh harmoniously with the workings of Nature to continue our species indefinitely, with sustainable energy and food production (e.g., Regenerative Agriculture [8]) in collaboration with the continuation of a bounteously biodiverse Life-On-Earth; at least until geophysical or astrophysical forces that are truly beyond human influence (e.g. another Chicxulub Meteor, or the Sun’s expansion into a Red Giant) dictate otherwise.

So I ask that you look upon the old saying “clearing the cobwebs from my mind” with a new more critical and motivated intent.

Notes

[1] Fungus Makes Zombie Ants Do All the Work
[A tropical fungus has adapted to infect ants and force them to chomp, with surprising specificity, into perfectly located leaves before killing them and taking over their bodies]
31 July 2009
Katherine Harmon
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fungus-makes-zombie-ants/

[2] Ophiocordyceps unilateralis
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophiocordyceps_unilateralis

[3] Phengaris alcon
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phengaris_alcon

[4] GtC/y and GtCO2/y
GtC/y = giga metric tons of carbon per year = 10^9 tonnes/y of C;
GtCO2/y = giga metric tons of carbon dioxide per year = 10^9 tonnes/y of CO2.

[5] Democratic Party (United States)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Party_(United_States)

[6] “If You Don’t Stand for Something, You’ll Fall for Anything”
https://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/02/18/stand-fall/

[7] Ann Harmless

[8] Kiss The Ground
https://kisstheground.com/

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This Is Now (U.S.A.)

Tower of Babel, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

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This Is Now (U.S.A.)

In his CounterPunch column on 30 October 2020 [1], the editor-publisher, Jeffrey St. Clair, made the following refreshing comment:

“In his resignation letter, Greenwald goes a little far in claiming his story was ‘censored.’ Call it the victim of a strong editorial hand. Cockburn used to apply his frequently to my stories and his normal scalpel was replaced by a ruthless chainsaw whenever my subject matter strayed onto the fraught terrain of climate change, assault weapons or catch-and-release trout fishing.”

I have had the same experience with my articles and papers in every single publication I have submitted them to (even CP). I came to learn that each journal has its ideological boundary, within which is its acceptable orthodoxy, and outside of which is rejected heresy. The arbiter determining the exact contour of that boundary is the editor, and moreso when also the publisher.

This is not necessarily bad if the precepts of the orthodoxy and contour of its boundary line are clearly stated, and uniformly adhered to. Then you as a reader and writer know how to pick and choose what to get into, or not. We all prefer to sing in our own choirs and thus perpetuate a world of mutually repellant cacophonous babel, because it is so much easier to maintain our ignorance and prejudices that way.

Having said this, I have to add in all fairness that CounterPunch has been the most tolerant of any journal toward my submissions (better than 50%). If you want to eliminate all censorship and editorializing on your writings, then just publish them yourself in a blog, or just don’t bother. Believe me, most people don’t want to hear or read what you think, however much your ego would be pleased to think they do.

At this point I thought I would editorialize a bit more on the editorial just cited.

+= Jeffrey St. Clair
– = MG,Jr.

+ Biden losing Texas because he made little to no effort to secure the Hispanic vote and couldn’t effectively distance himself from Obama’s inglorious record as deporter-in-chief will be one of the most biting ironies of this strange campaign.

+ The Biden campaign has made two shrewd strategic decisions: One, to limit Biden’s own appearances; and two, to keep Bill Clinton off the campaign trail, even though Bubba might have drawn some bigoted white men over to Biden in Georgia and South Carolina.

– Spanish speaking Americans are most likely voting overwhelmingly for Biden anyway as the obviously preferable lesser evil to raging Trumpian Hispanophobia. We (i.e., ‘Hispanics’) always know that U.S. elections are competitions between two corrupt gangs of ‘pasty-faced knuckle-headed palookas’ (a fabulous phrase from the Three Stooges) united by capitalist ideology. We make inroads as we can with young new progressives, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and with the numerous non-PFKHP activists over the years. Also, in time we will demographically bury PFKHP Trumpphilic America, because we are way better lovers.

+ Usually, the lies get more grandiose the closer we get to an election. This year, however, there’s been a refreshing outbreak of honesty. Biden has pledged that he will “not end fracking.” And Trump’s chief staff Mark Meadows has vowed that Trump “will not control the pandemic.”

– It’s all about the money. It has always been all about the money. This is the United States you’re talking about: “Capitalism is a religion. Banks are churches. Bankers are priests. Wealth is heaven. Poverty is hell. Rich people are saints. Poor people are sinners. Commodities are blessings. Money is God.” — Miguel D. Lewis

– Fracking = fossil fuel = power for U.S. military machines = international political power = profits = careerist orgasms; therefore the Next White (or Whitened) Guy In The White House is 100% for it.

– “Controlling the pandemic” is a tax on “the economy” a.k.a. the exclusive corporate casino subsidized by the public, both by their tax submissions and by their acquiescence to death by incompetence and neglect. Also, laissez-faire as pandemic control is the mentally easiest policy for PFKHPs to manage.

+ The grooming of AOC for a leadership position in the party seems to be well underway. Consider her placid reaction to Biden’s retreat on fracking: “It does not bother me … I have a very strong position on fracking … However, that is my view … It will be a privilege to lobby him should we win the White House, but we need to focus on winning the White House first.”

– Lighten up on AOC. She and Greta Thunberg have done more to wake people up to working for a better U.S. and better world than all the U.S. politicians and pundits of the last 50 years, excepting the activist kids of 2018 from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

– AOC has made the most startling and effective puncturing of the PFKHP political bubble since god knows when, and has near-instantly built up a political potential so threatening to PFKHP patriarchal control that its flaccid intelligentsia across its entire spectrum for reactionary Trumpofascism to Pelosischumer liberal pablum has been driven into apoplectic frenzies of attack against the future that AOC personifies: young, female, feminist, inclusive, non-PFKHP (and non-‘Karen’), multilingual, socialist, smart, honest, engaging and effective.

– Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s newly reelected Labour Prime Minister, is another personification of that advanced political future (a reality in New Zealand, as yet a dream in the U.S.). The fact that AOC is also urban and a Puertorriqueña is icing on the cake (for this Nuyorkino). The great fear in weakling PFKHP minds is demographic dilution, and they see their projected image of that fear as AOC, before whom they tremble: rage as pretense for fear.

+ Who will tell DiFi? McConnell, just after the Senate voted to limit debate on Amy Coney Barrett: “A lot of what we’ve done over the last four years will be undone sooner or later by the next election. They won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.”

– Climate change (crisis, emergency, catastrophe) is a universally acknowledged fact, often brutally so in the wake of hurricanes, floods, droughts and wildfires. The culpability of major corporations in fueling global warming by the overproduction and sale of fossil fuels and petroleum products (like plastic by the Coca Cola Company) for the last half century, and of doing their utmost to cover up the scientific findings about the root causes of global warming (that’s where “anthropogenic” comes in) so as to continue maximizing their profits by destroying the environment, are all now public knowledge.

– Therefore, it is inevitable that the public will increasingly point the accusatory finger at the oil companies (for CO2 pollution fueling global warming) and plastic producers (for ocean and biodiversity destruction) in the form of class action lawsuits. The evidence of guilt is overwhelming; there is no exculpatory evidence. The only way that future corporate defendants would be able to secure favorable judgements once they have been harpooned by such lawsuits would be to advance payments now into insurance policies known as campaigns to install as many corporate-friendly judges into the higher echelons of the corporate-friendly U.S. judiciary as possible, and as soon as possible. This is how to buy judges legally in the United States, where “justice” is a commodity.

– And that is what the frenzy to install Amy Coney Barrett into the Supreme Court was all about. Her daddy was an oil exec, so she’s part of the family of the petrocorp ancien régime. Her religious fundamentalism is incidental to the corporatocracy (though it’s a great distraction for the hoi poloi); it’s all about the money.

+ Reporter: “What do you say to Philadelphia residents that are outraged by yet another unarmed Black man being shot by police?”
+ Biden: “What I say is that there is no excuse whatsoever for the looting and the violence.”

– Except by the PFKHP supremacist U.S. military abroad, and occupation troops (a.k.a. ‘police’) domestically. It used to be called “manifest destiny,” now it’s called “exceptionalism.” What the ancien régime fears most is having its own tactics used against it, and its various euphemistic expressions of that fear, as given by Biden here, are its most forthright admissions of guilt.

+ It’s become a fixture of American political culture where those who later apologize for being wrong about a disastrous policy (regardless of the body count) are given more attention and credibility than those who made the right call from the beginning.

– This is because such heartwarming forgiveness is dispensed by the U.S. mass media, which in aggregate is the privatized propaganda ministry that touts disastrous-for-the-public corporate-friendly government policies with alacrity. These are sinners forgiving their own sins, which the public had to become impoverished and bleed and die to underwrite (as in the 2008 financial meltdown, and Vietnam and Iraq Wars).

+ In the last two years, Trump’s Department of Energy has blocked the release of more than 40 reports on renewable energy: “They just go into a black hole.”

– The U.S. Department of Energy is a government agency for the maintenance of U.S. nuclear weapons capability, infrastructure and production. Anything else they may do is auxiliary. While there is much more that the US DOE could do to further renewable energy (I know, I used to work for them through a contractor, and my renewable energy reports just ended up on my blog), that is not a concern of the petrocorp ancien régime that owns the government.

– It may help to remember that John Jay, an author of the Federalist Papers and the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, was fond of saying: “The people who own the country should run it.” By “people” Jay meant wealthy merchants and slave-owners like himself. This is what the Supreme Court has always been about (with the exception of a few deviations by people like William O. Douglas, Thurgood Marshall and surprisingly by Earl Warren): the defense of property against democracy.

+ The Arctic’s giant methane deposits are beginning to leak their climate-wrecking fumes. Adjust your doomsday clock accordingly.

+ A worst-case climate scenario could produce almost $500 trillion in damages—about twice all the wealth in the world today. A best case still inflicts about $30 trillion in damage, a new study in Nature estimates, with intermediate scenarios between $69 trillion and $131 trillion.

+ According to a post-debate Morning Consult poll, only 28% voters oppose transitioning away from the oil industry. 52% of independents support transitioning away, and even 41% of Republicans.

– The exploding magnitude of the problem of global warming is only matched by the degree of reluctance by politically organized human society to reformulate its civilization into balance with Nature, and thus into harmony with the continuation of biodiverse Life-On-Earth. The mental inertia behind our non-action is from the static self-images many people have of themselves (‘I have to keep living and working this way because I can’t imagine otherwise’), and from our near-universal fetishizing of money.

– “The economy” is an artifice that can be constructed any way “we” want — so people could easily be made more important than profits — and money is just a token that is easily printed on government paper, and is now even generated as electrons vibrating in computer memory circuits. It doesn’t matter how much “money” it costs to formulate a decent society in harmony with Nature; money is shit, and shit is fertilizer.

+ Trump’s war on wolves just went nuclear…
+ The decision to remove the protections for gray wolves across all 48 states is going to have lethal consequences in Wisconsin, where the state’s “wolf hunt” will be immediately reopened.

– What it really is, deep down, it is the pleasure of inflicting cruelty on the helpless by terrified weaklings.

+ Ned Norris Jr., Chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, on the border wall’s desecration of Indigenous sacred sites: “As Americans, we all should be horrified that the Federal Government has so little respect for our religious and cultural values.”

– It’s all about the money; it is the pleasure of inflicting cruelty on the helpless by terrified weaklings; it is so much easier to maintain ignorance and prejudices that way; it is a reaction to the increasing fear of demographic dilution and the puncturing of the political bubble of PFKHP patriarchal control; it is manifest destiny and exceptionalism; it is the fearful wrath of the American money-constipated ancien régime.

– Capitalism must die for the world to live.

[1] https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/10/30/roaming-charges-high-anxiety/

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On Voting U.S.A. 2020

Many Americans are confused, conflicted and concerned about how and for whom they should vote by 3 November 2020. I say “by” because we all have the option to vote by mail, even though that option is imperiled in much of the country by campaigns of voter suppression and mail tampering by the crooks, criminals, cranks, crack-pots, conspirators, conspiracists, con-men and con-molls of the Trump mind-pithed death-cult.

The United States is not a country of overwhelmingly democratic sentiment. It was, after all, founded by a propertied and slave-owning White Male grande bourgeoisie resistant to colonial taxes imposed by 18th century Imperialist England; and it has resisted every popular social movement since to expand the franchise to life, liberty, prosperity, equality under the law, freedom of self-expression, and participation in democratic governance.

It is a country with the most propagandized population on the face of the Earth, ruled by a corporate-owned political class of mediocrities whose worship of power reveal their deepest instincts to be authoritarian, materialistic, careerist, sexist, white supremacist, and xenophobic. As a result, the “right to vote” is a precious commodity however unevenly it may be available and however tenuously it may affect the course of governance in favor of the public good.

The way for a citizenry to safeguard and expand any right they have been granted by their government is to use it massively, often and vigorously, even when the expectation of its transformative power is low. Today, the single best possibility for approaching a socialist-inspired revolution in the United States would be the overwhelming participation in knowledgeable voting by young Americans; those between the ages of 18 and 44, and most particularly those between the ages of 18 and 30. They should “all” register to vote, learn the realities about the available candidates, and vote carefully — not lackadaisically — at every opportunity available to them, so as to advance their interests which are uniformly: anti-war, anti-capitalist, anti-discriminatory, anti-sexist; and socialist, environmentalist, responsive to the global warming climate crisis, and thus most widely beneficial to the overall public good.

The 24% of Americans below the age of 18 are ineligible to vote. Of the older, eligible 76%:

– 16.78% are between 18 and 30 years old,

– 19.82% are between 30 and 44 years old,

– 26.4% are between 44 and 65 years old,

– 13% are 65 years or older (to ~100 years).

Thus, people 18 to 44 years old make up 36.6% of the population, while people 44 years and older make up 39.4% of the population. [1], [2]

U.S. Demographics 2010-2018

Older people are generally more conservative (reactionary) and consistent voters, while younger ones are generally more progressive — but unfortunately for themselves — less consistent, less informed and more lackadaisical voters.

What young Americans need to do in their own economic, political and social interests is to massively, knowledgeably and consistently vote despite having realistically low expectations of any rapid and significant socialist improvements resulting from any given U.S. election. Persistence is required for this “water on stone” process of national transformation.

Youthful outbursts of violent and destructive frustration in reaction to the intransigence of the status quo will be quickly quenched by far superior government firepower (applied with far lower moral restraint); and youthful surrender by escapism into sensory bubbles will simply mire them more deeply in the control and exploitation mechanisms of the ageist ‘corporatocracy’ managing national affairs.

What youth has on its side electorally is numbers, and a commonality of shared dreams and prospects which are being grossly abused by the status quo. The median age of the U.S. population is 38 years. There are as many eligible voters under the age of 46 (38% of the population) as over the age of 45 (38% of the population).

If young Americans can coalesce on a generalized socialist vision and stick with it even as they age, and they persist in applying that vision through their social practices and through the legal yet highly flawed mechanisms of voting in the United States, they would be able to shift the direction of all national policies.

It is important to remember that not all older voters are reactionaries, many of us still retain the dreams and visions of our glory days even if we appear to be feeble wrecks incapable of implementing anything. So the central cohesive element needed for a socialist transformation of the U.S. political economy is a strong popular and continuing socialist mindset — and thus allied progressive civic movements — among America’s young people.

The difficulty in sustaining such a socialist youth movement today is the obvious disincentive given by the nearly-guaranteed piss-poor results of U.S. electoral politics. We all know this is civic failure by design to maintain corporate-funded political corruption administered by careerist mediocrities. Rooting out that cancer will take a long time, perhaps an eternity (that is to say till human extinction). But offering it no resistance would be the ignominious suicide of human decency and our public moral character; and such resistance must necessarily be a multi-generational effort.

So I say vote we must even though it stinks. Offering American youth incentives of utopian hopes as likely outcomes from electoral “victories” in November of 2020, is dishonest. What is honest is telling them to be steeled by Raymond Aron’s observation that: the choice in politics is never between good and evil, but between the preferable and the detestable. Most of the time in U.S. elections we are not offered the opportunity to choose what and who we really want, we are only offered a very constrained set of options that range from the truly detestable to the relatively preferable.

What I see as the greatest failure of civic insight among American voters is them being overwhelmingly identity voters. Most people vote for reflections of themselves — really for reflections of their self-illusions — instead of for “imperfect” candidates of integrity committed to policies aimed at the overall public good. Identity politics is the greatest propaganda coup ever perpetrated on the American public by the American capitalist ‘corporatocracy.’

The drumbeat to vote for who looks like you and sounds like you and feels like you, or like your avuncular uncle, or like your wise and feisty aunt — without a thought as to who actually owns these candidates or what they are financially obligated to actually do and not do once elected — is unrelenting and earsplitting. Just turn on your TVs and computer mass-media streams and you get inundated by that propaganda.

The second greatest failure I see among progressive American voters is the inability of many of them — by their unwillingness — to be pragmatic when it comes to voting. Voting is a gross, slow, cumbersome and inaccurate tool for social change and improvement. It entirely lacks the sharp rapid elegance of a skillfully deployed scalpel (and the political equivalents of scalpels are bloody revolutions, which are more often tragic catastrophes), and it lacks the sustained political pressure of continuing mass movements.

Yes, it is easily possible to have a very far advanced socialist ideal in mind when voting, but no your co-visionary utopian political aspirants and microscopic political parties have no statistically significant probability of gaining any political power. So voting “for them” is purely an act of politically ineffectual egoism: you voted for your self-image. You will feel good about it, and that’s all. Voting for the country means getting over yourself. This is a major hurdle among people indoctrinated since infancy to mindless selfishness — and individualistic “exceptionalism” — by mass media in the service of your exploitative capitalist overlords.

In 2020, Americans have a civic duty and moral obligation to dethrone the Trump and Republican malignancy. Doing so will not immediately usher in a New Socialist Millennium, nor a United Federation of Planets, not any scintillating utopian fantasy of fully enlightened government. It will just be a necessary first step to a long, long projected recovery of political decency in this country. To accomplish that step — and the many needed after it — we have to accept reality, defy the propaganda, get over ourselves, persist in our socialist mass movements acting for political reform and the good of all, and persist in our voting despite its many deficiencies.

So far as I can tell, for the first time in its 208 year history The New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most prestigious peer-reviewed medical journals as well as the oldest continuously published one, has editorialized to endorse an electoral choice in a U.S. election: vote Trump and his partisans out. [3]

They begin that editorial with:

“Covid-19 has created a crisis throughout the world. This crisis has produced a test of leadership. With no good options to combat a novel pathogen, countries were forced to make hard choices about how to respond. Here in the United States, our leaders have failed that test. They have taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy.”

The list of particulars that follows from this point in the NEJM indictment of the Trump Administration and its allied state government partisans is clear and damning (more than 200,000 Americans have died from Covid-19, a number equivalent to half the American fatalities in World War II); after which they conclude with the following:

“Anyone else who recklessly squandered lives and money in this way would be suffering legal consequences. Our leaders have largely claimed immunity for their actions. But this election gives us the power to render judgment. Reasonable people will certainly disagree about the many political positions taken by candidates. But truth is neither liberal nor conservative. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.”

To my mind, this should be the central focus of our pragmatic voting in 2020. It’s not about “you,” it’s about “us.”

Given human nature, there will always be new generations of fascists, bigots, religious fanatics, capitalists, careerists, exploiters, would-be slavers and criminals in American political life. So there can never be an enduring final victory of political good over political evil. To socialize a capitalist society, especially one as militarized, regressive and imperialistic as that of the United States, would take much more than just voting. The effort to advance American societal decency must necessarily be a continuing process of indeterminate duration.

Our utopian socialist visions should be used as compass needles to point our efforts past ourselves and in the direction our grudgingly pragmatic and personally imperfect steps should take on the way to that far horizon of our aspirations.

I have already mailed in my ballot. I wish more of my choices could have been reflections of how I like to think of myself, but “you can’t always get what you want.” [4]

NOTES

[1] Demographics of the United States
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_the_United_States

[2] Population of the United States (2020 and historical)
https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/us-population/

[3] Dying in a Leadership Vacuum
The New England Journal of Medicine
8 October2020
https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMe2029812

[4] You Can’t Always Get What You Want
https://youtu.be/krxU5Y9lCS8

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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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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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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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