On New Year’s Eve, Goodbye to the Future; Politics Part 3

As we struggle defiantly into the new year, we would like to think that we are part of the future. Or if we’re “old”, we think of ourselves as bricklayers, of  the conserved foundation, of what is yet to come.

(Goodbye to the Future, 24×18, oil on canvas. Click  to enlarge.)

That is not who we are. In the painting, we are the camel driver, the Lone Ranger, the newly mobile nuclear family of the 50’s and 60’s. Sketched in outline because we barely remember ourselves.

In the distance, separated by the red Mohave desert, lies a singular city of temporary structures, cheaply molded imitations of iconic, monumental architecture.  Like the ephemeral cities of Futurism, which were to be built and destroyed in a few days, Las Vegas is permanently neoteric, of the here and now. Like the future, its protean form speeds away from memory. And  if you happen for an instant to touch the future, it melts like a snowflake, becoming yesterday’s novelty.

We reluctantly expect that democratic politics is captive to the here and now. History grants occasional exceptions to individuals who possess the seeds of greatness, which may sprout under exceptional circumstances, such as war. Even the threat of planetary destruction from climate change may not be enough. (Totalitarianism is not the subject here.)

Though U.S. politics lives in a tight box of wants, needs, costs, and moral imperatives, it remains a little surprising that political science scholarship also lives in a tight box. If the historical record of Socrates were not so debatable, we could pin it on him, as hinted in Politics Part2. Of one thing we can be sure. He was the father of  secular humanism, the study of the individual, emphasizing ethics,  independent of religion. (Goodreads), 383 Socrates Quotes gives an idea, though there seem to be  some fakes in the mix.

In 383 quotes, you’ll find virtually nothing about the economics, technology, or amenities of Athens, other than the advice to live with less. To Socrates, all that mattered was the man in the city, and his relation to other men. Quoting CNN Editorial, Meredith McCarroll, Anthony Bourdain listened; Appalachia’s Three Percent,

Quoting [Lewis] Mumford, “In the ‘Phaedrus’, Socrates declares that the stars, the stones, the trees could teach him nothing: he could learn what he sought only from the behavior of ‘men in the city’. That was a Cockney illusion: a forgetfulness of the city’s visible dependence upon the country, not only for food, but for a thousand other manifestations of organic life, equally nourishing to the mind; and not less, we know now, of man’s further dependence upon a wide network of ecological relations that connect his life…”

Even Socrates had nothing to say about women, or the many slaves who made mechanical ingenuity unnecessary. An extraordinary original, he nevertheless reflected aspects of Athens society that resulted in a messy, cramped, unhygenic metropolis greatly at odds with modern glorification.

Disregard for material conditions, of which Socrates was merely a verbal exponent, resulted, I assert, in the first modern political failure, of the city planning variety. Socrates gave us a box, a comfort zone for the professions that favor  Doric columns, politics and law. It would take Marx to introduce the concept of material conditions. Though Marx has been justly discredited, historical materialism, as a study approach, has independent utility for understanding Now.

Of ancient origin, neoteric political thought, disconnected from material conditions, excluding time itself,  has the result of ingrown political literature. We will explore this.

What can I wish for you, for the new year? That you touch the future, even for an instant, to feel the perfect snowflake turn into drops. To carry that instant forwards an entire year; not to preserve, but renew.

 

 

 

 

Let Us be Thankful for Vaccines

The stock market betrays a fundamental tenet of capitalism, that the beneficence of the system is largely the result of greed. Some of the products are not so beneficial:  Bitcoin, opioid addiction, social media, violent computer games, debased entertainment, stock market crashes, greenhouse emissions…the list goes on.

Other systems fail because they rely on structuring the presumed and fictitious potential for human perfection.  Capitalism succeeds because it harnesses a primeval drive that cannot be thwarted, and only partly directed.

Let us be thankful that structured greed can enable the good, as manifested, in no particular order, by Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson and Johnson, Novavax, Inovio, et al.

All of these superlative accomplishments happened in democratic countries. Freedom of expression  lubricates creativity, which is enabled by capital.

Isn’t it remarkable?

 

How Many Boosters are too Many? Original Antigenic Sin? Get that 4th Shot! (When the Time Comes)

(CNBC) Is the best strategy against omicron to boost with the original vaccine? Quoting Dr. Paul Offitt,

“The question is, if you keep priming and boosting with a strain, which is basically to make an immune response against the ancestral strain, will that limit your ability then to make an immune response to a virus, which is very much different than the ancestral?”

Consider this scenario:

  • A person is  vaccinated against  the original Wuhan strain, and re-vaccinated multiple times against Wuhan.
  • That person receives a new vaccine targeting Omicron.
  • Will the immunological memory of the Wuhan strain hijack the response to the new, Omicron-specific vaccine, blocking the creation of antibodies against Omicron?

This occurrence is called original antigenic sin. It  occurs with some viruses, such as influenza and HPV. There are even instances of antibody-dependent-enhancement, ADE, when immunization makes a disease worse; this was noted for the original SARS. In depth: (ScienceDirect) The “original antigenic sin” and its relevance for SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) vaccination.

The reverse could also be true; repeated vaccination against the Wuhan strain could continue to enhance protection against all circulating strains for some time into the future.  Some encouraging data is found in (JAMA) Antibody Response and Variant Cross-Neutralization After SARS-CoV-2 Breakthrough Infection

Read the text, and look at this chart, which compares the antibody responses of breakthrough infections against 5 strains, Wuhan, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta. In every case, recipients of two doses of Pfizer had much stronger antibody responses than unvaccinated controls.

Omicron was not included in the study. But boosted recipients have good protection against Omicron.

In all the data so far, there is not a hint of “original antigenic sin”. Could it show up in the future? The Rubik’s Cube of COVID mutations holds many possibilities; the average person’s massive lifetime exposure to many coronaviruses works against it. OAS remains hypothetical.

When the  time comes, I’ll be getting that fourth shot.

 

 

Joan Didion, You Told the Stories

(CNN) Joan Didion, famed American essayist and novelist, has died.

Joan Didion has passed, one more heroine-of-writers who now can be met only in works and memory. She was really two writers in one.  Her fiction paints the mid-to-late 20th century woman, with shades of dependency somewhat distant from current ideals.

Her journalism, hard edged and supremely analytic, is a major contribution to the New Journalism. In the old days, one might have described it as masculine.  She found that the only paper she could read was the Wall Street Journal. She described her writing as a form of self analysis; she wrote to find out what she was thinking.

Perhaps,  while she was discovering while writing, she happened upon the insight of her book, White Album, which means so much to so many:

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

You would have to read all four volumes of Vilfredo Pareto’s The Mind and Society for equivalence in wisdom.

Thank you, Joan. You made it easy.

Sex Life of Omicron; Implications for Future

It has been argued that viruses have sex. Bacteria definitely do; the process is called conjugation. The bacteria E. coli, found in your intestines, even grows a tiny penis. It is not known how they self-identify. Since they are neat and tidy, one can’t tell whether they have had sex or not. They were discovered in the act by Joshua Lederberg and Edward Tatum, who spent many pleasurable hours sneaking glimpses through the microscope, and drawing explicit pictures.

Viruses, more primitive and bestial than bacteria, go about it more like Frankenstein’s monster, occasionally grabbing pieces of the genomes of other viruses in the same infected cell. These special forms of mutation are much less common than the simple, single point substitution, addition or deletion.

Occurring at a predictable rate,  simple mutations provide a means to estimate the evolutionary distance in time from an ancestral strain. This was used to debunk the idea that CDC sponsored research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology could have mutated into COVID-19; the viruses of the CDC sanctioned activity are too distant in time.

The miracle of life stems from the ability of both DNA and RNA to serve as templates for duplication of the genetic code, and synthesis of the substances cells and viruses are made of. A second miracle is the self-assembly of these substances into the structures of life. Multiple organic catalysts operate in concert with incredible precision.

The way a coronavirus accomplishes this is not straightforward. It routinely uses a method, copy-choice template switching, similar to the repair process for defective replication, which follows.

Sometimes a template breaks in use.  Then, with devilish ingenuity that makes you wonder about the anthropic universe, repair enzymes attempt to find a replacement template and continue the transcription. Sometimes a proofreading enzyme detects a transcription error. Molecular shears snip out a segment, splicing in a new transcription.

How does the repair process have a hope of finding the correct alignment in a substitute template, a strand-like molecule thousands of atoms long? It does what you might do, holding a long ticker tape in your hands. You look for a sequence of symbols that look familiar. The repair enzymes do this too, matching some sequence of the new template with a location on the already duplicated strand, a homologous match. The match does not have to be at the break.  Close is good enough.

The normal replication of a corona virus, resembles this complex cascade. It can result in a more complex mutation. The inside of a cell is hot, full of bouncing, vibrating molecules, which  jiggle and break from constant impact with other atoms. RNA templates are torn away from their partially constructed targets multiple times in the duplication process. A template may fly off and go missing.

Then the repair process searches for another template. There are many floating in the cytoplasm of an infected cell. If the cell is infected by a second species of virus related to the first, the repair may grab a template from the wrong virus, particularly if it finds a homologous match.

This is homologous recombination. Such an event explains how Omicron has a piece of RNA from HCoV-229E, a coronavirus that causes a common cold. Quoting (Nature) Predicting mammalian hosts in which novel coronaviruses can be generated,

Give that coronaviruses frequently undergo homologous recombination when they co-infect a host, and that SARS-CoV-2 is highly infectious to humans, the most immediate threat to public health is recombination of other coronaviruses with SARS-CoV-2.

Omicron contains a second recombinant mutation, ins214EPE. It came from another, unknown virus, or the human genome, by yet another, unknown mutation process. There are many unknown processes for which we see only the result.

Implications for the COVID future. Random replication errors are typically bad for a virus, or have no effect. Very rarely, they benefit, resulting in a more successful virus, with gain of function. A piece of genetic material grabbed “by mistake” from another successful virus has a much greater chance of change or gain of function.

What follows is my personal speculation. Each additional homologous mutation serves as a potential alignment point, increasing the possibility of subsequent successful homologous mutations. This, combined with the infectiousness of Omicron, implies an accelerating, spreading spectrum of recombinant mutations, hybridizing all coronaviruses capable of infecting humans.

The Merck drug molnupiravir may be fueling this. (Forbes) Supercharging New Viral Variants: The Dangers Of Molnupiravir (Part 1)

If (reverse) zoonosis is involved, the cane rat is a prime suspect. Domesticated live stock in southern Africa with a range down to Johannesburg, it is eerily evocative of the Wuhan Market. One date for the branching of Omicron is spring 2020. See (Twitter) Trevor Bedford for a tree. Could it have brewed since then in an immunocompromised individual  without breaking out?

Is this the beginning of the end? Some optimistic voices point to the decline of Omicron in South Africa. (JAMA) Antibody Response and Variant Cross-Neutralization After SARS-CoV-2 Breakthrough Infection shows that a breakthrough delta infection creates a powerful immunity against delta; not general immunity against other strains.

The result of this coronavirus diversity may be a prolonged series of lesser eruptions, with the emergence of new clinical syndromes and strange diseases; see (AVMA) Coronavirus: Detailed taxonomy. This could be minimized with aggressive vaccine development. Equilibrium lies some years in the future.

Aw, heck. I’ve depressed you. It started funny and ended sad. No, viruses do not have sex, which probably depresses them also. All viruses are Frankenstein creations.

Young medical students

hold our fate in their hands.

 

 

 

Chris Wallace announces he is leaving Fox News, joining CNN+, a Great Match

(CNN) Chris Wallace announces he is leaving Fox News, joining CNN+.

This gets ahead of the careful build of Politics Part 1, –> Politics Part2–> … , but you have to play the ball where it lies. It comes on the heels of (CNN) News outlets should be openly ‘pro-democracy,’ journalism professor says.

CNN, firmly  pro-democracy for quite a while now, has suffered a disastrous decline in ratings. (Deadline) Fox News Tops Third Quarter, But All News Networks See Year-Over-Year Declines. Quoting (Forbes) Fox News Easily Wins November Ratings As Cable News Networks See Steep Declines From 2020,

According to ratings data compiled by Nielsen, Fox News delivered an average prime time audience of 2.578 million viewers in November, followed by MSNBC (1.091 million total viewers) and CNN (654,000 viewers).

On the tech side, CNN is addressing this with development of a new streaming  platform. But why does CNN lose to Fox on cable?

In mass media, the voices of reason are disadvantaged compared to incendiary voices. As a species, we are quick to anger in response to simplistic memes that propagate in ignorance, or in secretive subversion, as the January 6 committee is revealing. The opposing political force, principled outrage, is not the reciprocal; it’s an entirely different process. It takes time to find wisdom, and more time to sell it.

This is what CNN is selling. They are not doing a very good job.

My exposure to CNN is the website. The print journalism is all over the place; the anchors are from the top of the profession. Their characters project humility and likeability. They are earnest, and at the top of their games with politics. They aren’t selling because the pitch is off, the pitch that is baked into CNN.

The insight came from analyzing my own reaction when I hear main moralizers Jake Tapper, John Avlon, or Anderson Cooper explain  Republican transgressions. Their explanations are cogent;  the deliveries impeccable. There are things on CNN I disagree with, but not these guys. So I am bored. They are preaching to the choir. The size of the choir does not increase from preaching.

The antidote to boredom is not schadenfreude filler. It comes from an understanding of rage. Two types are consuming the country: Red Rage and Blue Rage. They are not opposites. This is significant to the ratings war.

If you’re stalwart Blue, you listen to CNN. Or maybe you feel you know what they’re going to say before they say it. One thing is certain: Your Blue Rage is not fire-in-the-belly burn-the-house-down Red Rage. All you can do is grit your teeth, bide your time…, maybe look away… –while elements of Fox are stoking fire.

Journalism has a history of frequent, though not inevitable political bias. CNN is these days self-consciously liberal. Liberalism is not by itself the foundation of U.S. political discourse, which is a perpetual state of teeter-totter. To best defend democracy, CNN should build  bridges to those moderate Republicans who believe  defense of democracy is of supreme importance. This can be done by providing a cross-party debate platform on a scheduled basis.

Some  ideas of moderate Republicans may not be music to our ears. But with compromise gone from the halls of Congress, CNN could help bring it back. And it would be interesting. Chris Wallace says he wants to venture beyond politics, but he certainly knows how it could work.

So there you have it, CNN:

  • A recipe for controversy instead of boredom=higher ratings.
  • Bridges, with a platform that promotes compromise.
  • Possible  strengthening of the beleaguered Republican moderates.

Oh, and one more thing, CNN: Hire me.

 

 

 

Politics Part2

My next bookshelf find is a textbook, Ancient History (Robinson, Macmillan, 2nd ed., 1967), of six parts.   A page count:

  • Prehistory, 30 pages.
  • The Ancient Near East, 72.
  • Hellas, 256;  the Hellenistic Age,  33.
  • The Roman Republic,  102.
  • The Roman Empire,  120.

Intending pedagogic balance, Robinson’s book is 37% things Greek, spanning perhaps 900 years. Reasons for this focus: A break with myth as the sole source of explanation, foundations of Western thought,  thought for the sake of thought. The sardonic, unappreciative termite adds another view:  fun for scholars.

The termite notes that Greek philosophy is the first body of thought that eludes universal comprehension. Myth, manufactured for everybody, had only one level, the flat non-logic of given truth.  Though Thales, the first to displace myth, shared this simplicity, a Cambrian Explosion of thought favored complexity (sophistication!) with shrinking accessibility. There had been arcane ritual with mythic pseudo-knowledge. Now, birth in the West of new, intricate modalities of thought,  the question replacing the answer, and a new custodial class of scholars.

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living, presaging  the epiphany of The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. But whose life, examined by who? Not the average Athenians who condemned Socrates to death.  Licensed therapists were 2000 years in the future.

The innovation of elite thought condemned the philosophers to long eclipse. The Romans reverted to politically inspired myth; philosophic stasis ensued, followed by a millennium+ of ecclesiastical rule.  The advent of Introspection was delayed to the 19th century, competing with the  bicameral mind still evident in Freud’s hysterical  Vienna.

Shortly after the mind became a thing, groups of  minds became a thing. Marx, the first sociologist, authored what is the arguably the first modern, partisan political literature, the Communist Manifesto, swiftly printed on the new steam-powered Koenig  press in  time for the revolutions of 1848. It has a quality  divinity academics ascribe to sacred literature; to the receptive mind, free of competition from other ideas, it is self-revealing. Every partisan author aspires to this.

The self-revealing quality was the unintentional result of Marx’s fervent idealism, advantaged by novel ideas that had not been shown to fail. The next step was to be the same quality achieved with recycled ideas of lesser or doubtful promise. This required a future leap of social technology.

Raucous machine politics of the late 19th century was inspiration for Walter Lippmann, in search of how the democratic process can approach the ideal of the informed decision. In Public Opinion, he asserted that the same is manufactured, which implies manipulation. Controversially, and perhaps darkly, he thought this was a good thing. His reputation survived; see Saving American Democracy, Part 1.

Though  political propaganda predates Public Opinion, the book defines the goal and technology in a democratic system. It’s there to use. So is  political media all propaganda, as some claim, unless proven otherwise? The massive propaganda organs of undemocratic regimes were uncontested monopolies. Ours are eminently contestable.

In a well-oiled totalitarian state, the citizen has no choice of what to believe. In our society, people believe what they want to hear.  Is this enough of a difference?

Next. The influence of Socrates on modern politics.

 

 

 

Politics Part 1

You don’t read Intel9 for politics. My politics are of no interest, except possibly for curiosity about the author. Personal politics slip easily into rant, with no relevance to the niche analysis that brings you here. So I have  avoided politics, except in cases of inextricable collision with issues for which niche contributions are possible.

My termite instinct, to undermine, has been fruitful with COVID. I’d like to tunnel a little into politics, targeting not the foundations of democracy itself, but the reflective awareness of which the media is such an integral part.

Hiding on one of my  dusty shelves, or possibly banished to a box, is a book of Bronze Age history. I found it in a Strand outdoor bin for a buck. A fun way-back perspective? I  lugged it home and read about 35 pages. The perspective was archaeological. Since Minoan palaces were singular, and mud towns were ubiquitous in the Middle East, the book is a probe into rubble, describing the remains of these places like bulldozed taco stands:

,…in XXXX BCE a thriving community….trade with Indus…religious figurines, fertility figurines with stylistic influence of …. apparent…mud wall dates to XXYY…destroyed in XYXY…pottery shards indicate Scythian influence…ruins repopulated around YXYX…diminished prosperity…population dispersed around YYYX with no signs of conflict…

This goes on for about 2000 years or 400 pages of shattered pottery and salted earth,  ending in the Bronze Age Collapse in 1200 BCE. We don’t know what these people looked like, since realistic art had not yet evolved. We don’t know the reason for the collapse; political strife is never so thorough. Volcanism or drought are possibilities, perhaps in concert with plagues. Historians should more often reach for Rats, Lice and History. It could have been amplified by a virus.

We don’t know what they thought. Yet their genes survive in us today; some may literally walk among us, the anonymous presence of prehistory. Figurines, altars, and decorative expression hint. Narrative literature existed, but not about the self;  it had the purpose of propagation of myth.

To an agnostic like myself, myth encompasses and extends beyond religion, encoding as memorable fiction much of the firmware most individuals require to function in society. Other contributions are courtesy of Hammurabi, and “upbringing.” Since this was before the advent of recreational or creative thought, it completes with the basal concept of authority, “might makes right”, formalized as the divine right of kings and ecclesiastical authority. It is functional myth, where disobedience gets hammered.

So their minds were stocked from a primitive pantry, some of which survives today, in flesh as well as mind. How different were they? The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Jaynes, 1977) proposed that humans were not introspectively aware until the 2nd millennium BCE. Before introspection, Jaynes asserts, the impulse came from an imagined entity. A mythic entity.

I think it is partly true. Jaynes’ extreme manifests as schizophrenia, acceptable in an age when myth was breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It grades into mild/slight/no mental health issues, towards a mind ruled by belief to the exclusion of reason, which is well accepted in U.S. society, if not by readers of this blog. Such minds compose a good portion of the electorate.

So when you bump into some crusty old friend on the street, with  the impression he hasn’t changed a bit in 20 years, make that 2000. To be continued shortly. In the meantime , I managed to locate a 2000 year old man who will amplify these points.

The Two Thousand Year Old Man

 

 

 

 

Retrospective Thanks to Bob Dole

Dear Senator Dole,

The recollections of your friends and associates testify to your broad, genial, collaborative contribution to the vibrancy of the two-party system we formerly enjoyed. The sincere humanity of your extemporaneous “off script”  expressions has always been rare in politics.

I did not appreciate this at the time. But who would have thought things would get this bad?

Regards,

Number9

 

Omicron, a Good Thing?

From (2/2020) COVID-19, Live Vaccine Possible from Wild Serotype Overlap?,

With that taken care of, Indonesia’s claim of zero  native cases (ABC, First case of corona virus linked to Bali after report Chinese tourist returned positive test). is no more than carelessness combined with wishful thinking.

But is it? If confirmed by more  instances, the explanations are limited to three:

      • Some people are genetically more susceptible than others.
      • Some groups have cultural practices that protect.
      • There are in circulation, one or more corona viruses with overlapping serotypes.

A widely circulating, yet comparatively benign Omicron, providing it retains a serotype that cross-reacts with earlier strains, could function somewhat like a vaccine. What it lacks in efficacy it could make up with omnipresence.

This was written in February 2020, and proved to be false.  It is now possibly true.