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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Our Virally Porous Walls

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Our Virally Porous Walls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Conquerors Of America

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The Conquerors Of America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Humans Are Toxic

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Humans Are Toxic

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

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

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

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

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Some déjà vu:

Industrialized Greed Produces Pandemics
11 October 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The entire H1N1 outbreak was over within 18 months.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A History of Humanity’s Future

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A History of Humanity’s Future

Our variety of the human species, homo sapiens sapiens, emerged from out of bands of more primitive yet contemporaneous older variants of humanity well over 200,000 years ago and rapidly expanded in both their numbers and the range of their occupancy on our planet. The competitive pressure by this efflorescence of homo sapiens sapiens against the older variants of humanity reduced the numbers of the latter to the point of extinction over the course of 1600 centuries, leaving just our variety of the human species to range over the Earth for 40,000 years up to the beginning of the 21st century. The story of our species from then up to the present moment is the subject of this work.

Calendar Year 2032

During at least the decade prior to CY2032, Planet Earth had experienced a continuous sequence of weather event catastrophes spawned from an immense and increasingly powerful undercurrent of climate change. Trains of maximally energetic hurricanes scythed through Caribbean islands and into the southeastern coasts of the United States of America, and similarly destructive typhoons swept westward out of the Pacific Ocean to blast into the islands and eastern fringes of Southern Asia.

Wildfires that spanned the horizon burned for months across huge swathes of land desiccated by drought, whether scrub-desert, rolling grassland hills, seemingly limitless prairies and taiga, or logged-out withered jungles, and on every continent except Antarctica. The long droughts that parched Earth’s verdure to the point of tinder were sometimes punctuated by torrential rain, snow and hail storms fed by titanic aerial rivers of evaporated ocean water transported by climatically altered atmospheric currents, and resulted in rapid, deep, turbulent and scouring floods that could wipe away the surface of the land and whatever our human vanity had caused to be built upon it, with the force of an all-devouring tsunami.

The excess heat energy firing the greater wrath of Earth’s weather was stored in the oceans, landmass surface layers, and atmosphere, and had been accumulating for over a century because of the capture by carbon dioxide gas, primarily, of radiant heat emitted from the surface of the Earth as a cooling phenomenon, and thus preventing its escape into space. That carbon dioxide gas, along with methane, nitrous oxide and several similar heat-trapping molecular gases, had been exhausted into the atmosphere as waste products of energy production by the combustion of fossil fuels for humanity’s industrial, recreational and personal uses.

The entwined mutually resonant growth of human population and fossil-fueled energy production caused increasingly massive amounts of heat-trapping gases to be exhausted into the atmosphere every year, and thus an increasing rate of global warming. By CY2032, the average temperature of the surface of the Earth was over 2° Celsius above what it had been a century before, and there was no effort to stop or even attenuate this human-caused global warming. In fact, all human effort was bent on accelerating this trend because it was seen as the mechanism for generating immediate personal financial riches and political power.

Sea ice disappeared from the Arctic Ocean, decimating both seal and polar bear populations, and opening the way for an “Oil Rush” by Russian, Canadian and US oil and gas drilling companies. A few incidents of scuffles between these Oil Rush prospectors prompted the respective governments to send in naval forces to “protect their interests.” Oil extraction platforms were quickly erected along the shallow continental shelves rimming the Arctic Ocean, and the new petroleum output both boosted the profitability and stock market prices of the respective energy companies while also depressing the global price of oil. This proved especially hard for oil-rich countries, like Iran and Venezuela, under economic sanctions by the United States and its economic followers.

Calendar Year 2035

Methane had been bubbling up from the East Siberian Shelf for over 20 years because of ocean warming and tundra permafrost melt, but the rate of such emission increased significantly after CY2032. In CY2033 summer fires along the northern shore of Siberia ignited steady plumes of erupting methane, and the incidence of these “natural” gas flares spread out to sea over the East Siberian Shelf. In CY2034 an oil spill from a shallow water Russian oil well was touched off by offshore methane flares, and the conflagration was quickly spread about the area. Unfortunately there was loss of life, and an increase in the ignition of sea-based gas flares.

Local fires of high intensity were able to survive the winter, and they were the source of later and expanded burning during CY2035. In that year offshore methane flares erupted in the Chukchi and Beaufort Shelves, and caused the US and Canadian Coast Guards to rush counter-fire protective resources to their offshore oil extraction facilities. These efforts required emergency appropriations from the respective governments, which were offset by sudden reductions of social services budgets, along with corporate tax reductions as measures of “emergency relief.”

All of these activities greatly increased the presence of naval forces in the Arctic Ocean in efforts to protect the corporate economic assets associated with each of the Arctic Oil Rush nations, and to erect militarized cordon sanitaires to keep rival and “dirty” methane flare-initiating oil prospecting operations from “infecting” declared “exclusive economic zones.” All this raised international tensions among the nations rimming the Arctic Ocean.

Calendar Year 2036

The average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere reached 473 parts-per-million (ppm), and an unprecedented melting and sudden calving of glaciers all along the southern coasts of Greenland occurred on April 15th of that year; sea level rose 1.7 meters, though it took till mid-October for that effect to become stabilized and uniform across the globe.

Catastrophic inundation occurred in Bangladesh with tremendous loss of life, and many of the smaller West Pacific islands were made uninhabitable. The Bangladeshi refugee crisis sparked conflict on the Indian subcontinent, and the Australian and Southeast Asian naval forces were all deployed to repel refugee make-shift flotillas. The United States, Europe, Japan, China and Korea each scrambled to build sea walls and other forms of dikes to protect their most economically valuable coastal installations (Dutch construction firms cognizant of the advanced and massive hydrological infrastructure protecting The Netherlands were suddenly avidly sought out and richly rewarded for their work). Again, monies for such construction was appropriated on an emergency basis at the cost of social welfare programs. One tragic loss to world culture was the inundation of the city of Venice.

The drought-fire-hurricane-flood cycles of violent weather had continued with increasing force in the equatorial latitudes during the advance of the preceding years, and by CY2036 huge refugee streams were fleeing north from famine, because of the collapse of subsistence agriculture, and fleeing drug-and-plantation warlord violence. Similar refugee streams attempted to flee north from Africa across the Mediterranean Sea, from sub-Saharan lands devastated by a combination of drought and overwhelming plagues of locusts. As in the Western Pacific, European and American navies were deployed to repel northward bound refugee flotillas. There were reports, impossible to substantiate, of a few incidents of the sinking of refugee ships by drone bombers.

Social unrest increased everywhere. Uniformly, the wealthiest strata of societies increased their efforts at personal enrichment and for government subsidies and tax reductions for their associated corporations, all at increasing costs to public concerns and especially social welfare programs and charitable institutions for the poor. The middle and wage-labor strata of societies increasingly acceded to increased militarization of their national economies, whether in rationalized “logical” beliefs or out of emotional fearful xenophobia-bigotry, to have their governments deploy expanded military forces offshore and along their national borders to repel refugee “invasions.”

Such sentiments quickly hardened with the sudden outbreaks of disease epidemics, feared to become pandemics spread by refugees. Indeed, epidemics were breaking out more often as the globe warmed and pathogens old and new (some unlocked from thawed tundras) expanded latitudinally. Also, tropical bacterial and parasitic pathogens were expanding their ranges northward with the increased warming.

The increasing fractional capture of GDP by military establishments because of all of this boosted the financial gains of war industries and wealthy investors. The fraction of American citizens now living entirely mobile lives in camper vans, trucks and trailers, or cars, or even on foot, now reached 1% of the population. Sentiments similar to the “us versus them” attitudes taken by national populations toward foreign refugees now began to spring up domestically by homeowners (colloquially called “the settled”) toward their fellow citizen transients (“the unsettled”), and many local police forces were morphing into militias manning internal cordon sanitaires ‘protecting’ wealthier areas.

Commendably, there were new and spontaneous popular charitable efforts of both mutual and unrestricted aid, but these occurred only at and among the lower economic strata of societies, and they were often fragile against dissolution by forces of social negativity, and occasionally of criminality.

Calendar Year 2039

This was a year of major disaster. The CO2 concentration reached 489 ppm, and the average global surface temperature was now 2.4° Celsius above the temperature of the late 19th and early-mid 20th centuries. A sudden massive area-wide eruption of methane occurred from the continental shelves rimming the Arctic Ocean with a coincident gas-flame flaring expanding all around that ocean, which included the ignition of thawed and dried peat bogs, into a new “Ring of Fire.”

By the end of the year the CO2 concentration had leaped to 510 ppm. While the initial methane concentration in the atmosphere above the Arctic continental shelves had skyrocketed, the extensive and expanding flaring there burned a significant portion of that methane to carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, and at higher altitudes much slower paced oxidation also converted some methane to CO2 and CO.

In any case the total load of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere had been vastly increased and the pace of global warming accelerated beyond all previous experience. By year end the global surface temperature had reached 2.6° Celsius above the early 20th century datum.

Calendar Year 2041

The average global temperature broke through 3° Celsius above the datum. The CO2 concentration reached 518 ppm.

For a decade now Australia had been experiencing wildfires that burned continuously throughout the year. Since the Methane Burp of CY2039 those fires had been expanding into horizon-to-horizon “flame deluges” that raced toward the coasts. The much expanded Australian Navy was frantically busy shuttling between open ocean refugee repulsion missions and amphibious coastal operations of wildfire victims evacuation. Despite strident outcry by Australian environmentalists and significant portions of the Australian public, against further Australian coal exportation to China, that economic activity expanded because it was one of Australia’s few remaining sources of revenue that helped pay for its mushrooming military and navel expenses, and firefighting costs, since much of the agricultural and livestock industries had been burned away. Also, there was some absorption of agricultural and animal husbandry unemployment into expanded coal industry labor employment.

Calendar Year 2042

Summer heat deaths in Europe expanded significantly, and many European governments established watering and relief stations throughout their cities in public parks, squares and plazas. Too many medical emergencies were now occurring of people collapsing in the streets and in public transit from heat stroke, to respond to them individually from just the traditional fire, ambulance and emergency services facilities of the past.

Ominously, in an increasing number of localities these stations were also water distribution sites for rationed water. Similar water rationing stations, of a much more haphazard nature and sparsely spaced, were to be found in the Middle East and throughout the globe in historically dry and desert lands. In the most primitive, impoverished and remote of such dry lands, militia level water wars were now common. India and Pakistan were dangerously close to resorting to war over Kashmir, and each had made explicit threats to the other about using nuclear weapons.

The drought-wildfire-hurricane-flooding cycles in the United States had also increased, and economic devastation of the agricultural and livestock industries of the vast center of the country was now severe with a doubling of food prices from just five years earlier. Again, economic benefits were increasingly restricted to a diminishing sliver of the American population at the uppermost rungs of the economic ladder, and economic costs of militarization and high-end wealth protection were increasingly shifted to the lowermost economic classes. None of this was hidden anymore.

The panic for wealth protection increased in desperation the higher one went up the economic ladder. The vast majority of the American public, in the rapidly shriveling “middle class,” were increasingly panicked about straightforward economic survival: even with many successful “socialist” minimum wage increase reforms, income increasingly lagged expenses since rent, food and loan costs ramped up relentlessly, and the number of decent-paying (usually corporate sponsored) jobs was shrinking. The lowest stratum of American society, the poor, were consumed with a panic for elementary physical survival.

Calendar Year 2043

This was a calamitous year. A virulent pathogen that had lain dormant in Arctic permafrost for millennia was now finally able to escape into the open air, and it spread widely and quickly, borne on windblown dust and water droplets, and attached to avian and insect bodies. It produced a pulmonary illness of high mortality. The causative virus was robust against the disinfecting actions of time, sunshine, oxygen and natural antiviral chemicals in plants, and unfortunately also in human immune systems. Hundreds of millions would die within the year.

Complicating the cure was the fact that the viral agent was quick to mutate into equally lethal forms, some of which caused fatal heart and liver infections. All the viral strains remained active. The pandemic emergency of this Arctic Flu caused real panics: naval operations to repel refugee flotillas now routinely and openly fired upon and sank them. Triage centers were set up by nearly all countries, and in the more impoverished ones mass burials by bulldozer were implemented.

The first instance of the intentional shoot-down of an inbound commercial airliner with infected passengers occurred. Internationally, protests to this outrage were muted because all nations were quietly steeling themselves to accept this practice if need be, “for protection.” The accelerating death toll everywhere from the Arctic Flu took some of the bellicose fervor out of the numerous chronic conflicts underway at that time, from Indonesia through Southeast and Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East from Pakistan to Syria, Israel and Turkey, the Arabian peninsula, and across much of Africa east to west and north to south.

Large populist socialist and anti-capitalist movements in both North and South America had been active for years now, some in Central and South America engaging in outright guerrilla warfare against their oligarchic and neoliberal governing regimes, while others as in the United States were agitating politically to gain increased political power through electoral victories. In all cases the governing political establishments, which were after all entirely subsidiaries of incorporated wealth, worked against all types of popular reforms by both legal and illegal means. The undermining of populist and socialist electoral campaigns was standard, as were election interference and tampering by establishment agencies, both private and governmental.

While insurrections were common throughout much of the more impoverished world, there now began to appear more instances of political violence against state and federal authority in the United States, though such incidents remained isolated. Some observers believed that popular frustrations that had traditionally sought relief through school and shopping mall mass shootings were now being refocused into anti-government violence.

The CO2 concentration reached 527 ppm; the global average temperature reached 3.9° Celsius above baseline; steady glacial melt over the last seven years had increased the sea level rise to 3 meters above the “normal level” of the 20th century.

Calendar Year 2045

By now large coastal areas everywhere were inundated to some degree, continental interiors were becoming unlivable, and internal social unrest and politically destabilizing pressures had reached levels that were between frightening to nearly overwhelming, depending of the degree of development of the society in question, and the extent of the firepower, militarized police forces and security infrastructure its government had available for social control.

The Arctic Flu was now reducing national populations at noticeable rates. For years already, wealthy individuals had been building underground bunker retreats both at home and abroad, intended to house them for long periods with stores of food, water and energy supplies, with air filtration and disinfection systems, and waste disposal systems. For the most well-heeled, such bunkers-redoubts would include stand-alone air and water generation, recycling and re-purification systems. The super wealthy would have a colony of such clustered shelters so as to maintain protective private militias around them as well. New Zealand did a brisk business of catering to this high-end real estate demand.

The CO2 concentration reached 535 ppm that year, average global surface temperature reached 4° Celsius above baseline. No reliable cure had yet been found for the Arctic Flu, and massive famines added to the death toll from the flu. Because of the shrinking area of previously habitable terrain, due to unbearable heat in dry continental interiors and inundation of coastal areas, human crowding was very uncomfortably increased and fueled social unrest and insurgencies, and this despite the population reductions by the Arctic Flu.

The ski industry everywhere collapsed due to year-round elevated temperatures and lack of winter snow. Marine life was rapidly dying out, and the seafood industry as well as subsistence fishing was in sharp decline. Severe earthquakes in California, Iran, Turkey, Japan, Missouri and Tennessee, and volcanic eruptions in the Philippines added to the chaos and misery in their respective countries. A rebellion broke out in Western China; Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran exchanged missile attacks for aerial bombardments in an uncoordinated manner. On August 9th of that year a nuclear bomb exploded in Pakistan.

After CY2045 global communications and air travel became more erratic and it became increasing difficult to acquire the data necessary to form a comprehensive picture of global events. The prospects for peaceful international cooperation in facing many of the current difficulties seemed exceedingly dim.

Calendar Year 2046

It was now clear that the world had lapsed into isolationist regionalism with severe social unrest or insurrections and wars within each region. The American government completed vast underground complexes from which to operate in future. Fatal pandemics continued. Attacks had been made against satellites and space platforms, and it seemed evident that weapons platforms had been put into Earth orbit, conceivably with nuclear tipped missiles. Nuclear explosions had occurred on the Eurasian landmass. Radioactivity levels in the atmosphere were rising. The average citizen came to realize he and she was going to be left out on their own, there wasn’t enough room “underground” for everybody.

Calendar Year 2049

We saw the night sky whiten then glow red for hours. Liquor stores and gun shops were looted with abandon. Electrical power and electronic communications failed here. What was happening elsewhere was unknown. People hunkered down with their families around here, or else fled in their cars if they had saved-up gasoline to use. I will report more later, given the opportunity.

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