COVID-19, Live Vaccine Possible from Wild Serotype Overlap?

(CNN) First coronavirus death in Europe, with more than 67,000 cases globally,  features an interview with Kent and Rebecca Frasure, quarantined on the  cruise ship Diamond Princess. Print interview at  (Intelligencer) An American on Quarantined Cruise Ship Describes Moment His Wife Was Diagnosed With Coronavirus.

Despite what we expect as intimate contact on the cruise, Kent has not contracted COVID-19.  By itself, this registers as no more than an oddity. 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.

The serotype is the face the virus presents to the immune system. Viruses can share serotypes, either partly or completely, yet have different characteristics of infection. The common rabies virus is one example. Half a dozen common strains  have different clinical courses, but one vaccine is good for all.

The most famous case is smallpox. In 1796, Edward Jenner, a British physician, et al., promoted the fact that  immunity to smallpox was produced by inoculation with the live cowpox virus.

So there is precedent: a zoonosis immunizes against a human disease.  In Indonesia, a sero-similar virus could be endemic as a local version of the common cold. It could have developed by spontaneous mutation. But are there live animal markets in Indonesia?

Yes, there are. (Animals Asia) Animals Asia Ambassador Peter Egan visits “sickening horrors” of Indonesia’s brutal dog and cat meat markets. But domestic animals are not the historic reservoirs. Bats are more to the point. (ABC Australia) Coronavirus scare prompts call to pause bat meat consumption from Indonesian market.

The picture clarifies. With bats, dogs, and cats, civets and snakes are probably in the mix. A specialty coffee, kopi luwak, is made from beans in civet poop. Human processors of this material are exposed to a constant stream of civet viruses.

So a benign relative of COVID-19 may be present in the Indonesia community. Prior infection may produce the implied  immunity of Indonesians. Immunity caused by a live virus tends to be stronger and last longer than vaccine-induced.

Medical ethics has developed to protect the public from the worst abuses of the past. But it may have taken a turn towards avoiding liability. A simple thought experiment is Jenner’s smallpox vaccine.  Is there a modern path of ethical approval, save from a movie zombie attack, that would allow Jenner’s primitive vaccine, which worked?

It’s not hypothetical. The prospects for third world countries, and war zones, are dismal, unless they have their own fortuitous zoonosis. The analysis problem is not hard. It involves comprehensive sampling of circulating corona viruses in Indonesia, searching for similar serotypes.

There is a preliminary report from China that serum from recovered patients may be useful. A serum from “boosted” Indonesians could be a valuable export.  Or planeloads of sneezy Indonesians could fly to third-world destinations, and meet-and-greet, spreading benign relatives of COVID-19. See (bioRxiv ) Increased frequency of travel may act to decrease the chance of a global pandemic

You may be of conservative mind, rightly observing that you could lose your job with this.  For passive inclinations, there is still work. Detection or absence sero-similar relatives of COVID-19 in world populations offers refined estimates of the ultimate cost.

COVID-19; Do Travel Bans Make Sense?

In (CNN) Coronavirus cases rise to more than 64,000 globally, Anderson Cooper asks Sanjay Gupta whether travel bans make sense. Gupta’s reply seems to be in the negative, with a little vagueness thrown in.

Let’s nail it down. In the short term, travel bans have benefit. The benefit will decrease with time. It will be obvious when the utility of travel bans expires.

If people were like plants, did not travel, and could infect only their nearest neighbors,  an epidemic could be modeled as a pure diffusion process. Drip a drop of ink or food dye in a glass or water. Watch it spread out in the liquid, betraying the invisible currents of water in the glass. This is diffusion. The plume from a smoky fire is another form of diffusion, combined with convection.

The purest diffusion is equalization of temperature, between something which is hot, and something which is cold. But it’s almost always combined with something else. The cooling of your cup of coffee is a combination of diffusion, and air currents.  The currents are analogous to  travelers.

Now pour a fresh glass of water, add a drop of ink, and stir or shake the glass. This adds “travelers”, bulk movement of the water. The ink quickly spreads out through the water in the glass, until it all has the same tint. The ink in the glass will never concentrate again. That’s the past history of the ink, just as the current concentration of COVID-19 around Wuhan will be replaced by general prevalence.

The spread of COVID-19 is by a combination of modes:

  • Diffusion, as described above, by which a cluster grows locally.
  • Non local processes, which resemble stirring of the glass: an infected, asymptomatic  traveler, the “super spreader”.
  • Establishment of new clusters, which spread again by the above, diffusion and travelers.

Diffusion can be modified by sanitation.  Travel bans target the non-local modes. Eventually, COVID-19 will be equally present everywhere, subject only to local factors that have not yet been identified.

Travel bans buy time. The amount of time is impossible to predict.  At some unknown time, asymptomatic “super spreaders” will bypass bans. At that point, travel bans will become useless, but not before.  When is a roll of the dice. Politics will doubtless prolong the bans beyond usefulness, but that is future.

What do we do in the meantime? With a  fully functioning economy, we should be preparing, training, stockpiling, and researching. This is a time to screen small molecule drugs. For inspiration, (Science Daily) Dozens of non-oncology drugs can kill cancer cells. Quoting,

Researchers tested approximately 4,518 drug compounds on 578 human cancer cell lines and found nearly 50 that have previously unrecognized anti-cancer activity. These drugs have been used to treat conditions such as diabetes, inflammation, alcoholism, and even arthritis in dogs…

This kind of information, even in the negative, is vital to stave off quack remedies. From the debatable lore of medieval plagues,

Ring-a-round the rosie,
A pocket full of posies,
Ashes! Ashes!
We all fall down.[3]






Corona Virus, Incubation Period 24 Days?

(Reuters) Coronavirus cases outside China may be ‘tip of the iceberg’: WHO. Quoting,

Much remains to be determined about the virus, which has been linked to a market selling animals in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, including how easily it spreads and how deadly it is. Chinese researchers found that its incubation period could be up to 24 days….It had been thought to be up to 14 days. 

The maximum incubation period was thought to be a hard number. There may be no such number, invoking the scenario of the “caged virus.”

The caged virus phenomenon was first written about in conjunction with the rabies virus. Typical incubation periods are weeks, extending to months, occasionally up to two years. Then an isolated case of rabies with an apparent incubation period of 37 years was noted (citation missing.) The concept was further developed with the slow virus.

A slow virus replicates without effective immune response. Some trigger,  perhaps environmental, or possibly analogous to the bacterial quorum sensing, causes a switch from slow to fast.

No “slow” corona viruses have been discovered. There is no reason to think 2019-nCoV is the first one. But the 24 day incubation period, which may have measurement difficulties, suggests a gradation into that.

Most of the things epidemiologists are interested in cannot be derived from “first principles.” Observation is used to select a basic statistical model which can be adjusted. For example,

  • A uniform statistical distribution distributes the incubation period  evenly distributed up to a fixed limit, say, 14 days.
  • A Poisson distribution has an average incubation period, with tails in the direction of less and more.  It’s typical to cheat by chopping off the “more” tail, perhaps at 14 days, or 24. But this may not be valid.
  • We could be looking at a distribution without a practical upper limit for incubation. This doesn’t bother statisticians at all. There are many distributions with infinite variance.

It would mean we have blundered into a virus with a highly effective strategy, with widespread infected carriers, undetectable by any simple, practical means.

In 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), Wuhan, China; Quarantine is Correct Response, I wrote,

Perhaps by tradition rooted in the 1976 swine flu fiasco, the cost of “no vaccine for 2019-nCoV ” is set for typical epidemiology. Yet the 1918 Spanish flu was untypically deadly for an airborne pathogen….The cost/benefit analysis could have an unpleasant surprise.

This could be that surprise.





2019 Novel Coronavirus in China, Lethality, Smoking & Genetics ?

As evidenced by the cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama, 2019-nCoV  is highly contagious, with no unexpected selectivity. The  lethality of the virus is still a question, which cannot be answered until the actual prevalence of subclinical and missed cases is tallied, which can only be accomplished when test kits are available and cheap.

Two factors may enhance the lethality of nCoV-2019 in China compared to the rest of the developed world, smoking, and genetics.

1. Smoking

In China, 60% of doctors are smokers, with rates in the general population said to be similar. Quoting from (Wikipedia) Smoking in China.

Nearly 60% of male Chinese doctors are smokers, which is the highest proportion in the world.[4] China does not have laws to punish health care facilities, medical workers and health officials who violate smoking bans, and is instead relying on the Chinese media to act as a watchdog.[4]

Smoking is a social custom in the PRC,[1] and giving cigarettes at any social interaction is a sign of respect and friendliness.

Now refer to (PLOS via NCBI) Effect of tobacco smoking on the risk of developing community acquired pneumonia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. From the abstract conclusion (square brackets mine):

Tobacco smoke exposure is significantly associated with the development of CAP [pneumonia acquired outside a hospital] in current smokers and ex-smokers. Adults aged > 65 years who are passive smokers are also at higher risk of CAP. For current smokers, a significant dose-response relationship is evident.

This is a meta-study.  Prior studies with varying endpoints were analyzed via statistical methods to remove confounding factors, isolating the association of smoking with pneumonia. Community acquired is the term for an infectious disease acquired anywhere other than in a hospital.

This study does not examine lethality, probably because statistical techniques  could not dig it out with sufficient confidence levels.  To see the likely connection, consider the structure of the lung. Two parts of the lung come in direct contact with air:

  • The bronchioles are air tubes, arranged like an upside down tree, decreasing in diameter the further in you go from the windpipe.
  • The alveoli are expandable balloons, attached to the bronchioles like the leaves of a tree. This is where oxygen exchange occurs.
  • Both are lined with respiratory epithelium, which is lined with fine motile hairs called cilia, and wet with mucus.

In a healthy nonsmoker, the cilia  “beat” to expel inhaled particles back up the bronchioles to the  throat, where they are expelled or swallowed, usually without notice.

In a nonsmoker, the innate immune system, which requires no prior knowledge of a virus, is active. (NCBI) Innate immunity and mucus structure and function. This is why, in most cases, an individual virus particle cannot cause infection. The number is small, but usually greater than one.

In a smoker, the actions of the cilia, and the innate immune system, are suppressed. Recovery from viral pneumonia is possible due to the adaptive immune system, which requires time to manufacture antibodies specific to the pathogen. It becomes a race in time, between viral load and antibody production.

So it is highly plausible, though missing study results, that a China where most people smoke, including doctors and staff, is likely to experience enhanced lethality due to 2019-nCoV.

2. Genetics

By strict definition, pneumonia is an infection of the alveoli, not the bronchioles which connect. Broadening the definition, it includes bronchiolitis. This is considered  clinically significant primarily with infants. There is an interesting exception, diffuse panbronchiolitis.

Diffuse panbronchiolitis is considered an Asian phenomenon,  which means that the etiology (cause) and prevalence are not nailed down. It is clinically known in Japan and Korea, with suspicion of a genetic influence.  The origins of these groups, like the rest of us, are lost in prehistory. Current theories of origin:

  • Koreans have a large genetic representation of tribes from eastern Siberia.
  • Japanese contain some of the above, as well as other groups.

This suggests that a genetic bottleneck in eastern Siberia  resulted in the frequency of diffuse panbronchiolitis in both populations.

In prehistory, the Han Chinese were in conflict and competition with every other adjacent group. While they remained culturally distinct, genetic isolation is unlikely. Literature suggests that the prevalence of this disease in China is unknown. A contributor to 2019-nCoV lethality  may lurk within this vacuum.

3. Coincidence of Factors

The combination of a possible genetic factor, and smoking, may be more than additive. It may be multiplicative .

The prevalence of smoking in and near health care facilities may enhance nosocomial (in a hospital) transmission.




(Reuters) To counter Huawei threat, U.S. should consider taking ‘controlling stake’ in Ericsson, Nokia -attorney general

(Reuters) To counter Huawei threat, U.S. should consider taking ‘controlling stake’ in Ericsson, Nokia -attorney general.

I have written about this before:

The danger is clear and present, yet the perception is not universal. A.G. William Barr’s case may not be obvious to everyone. Let’s explore.

Depending upon whether your attitude is young or old, and the expansiveness of your world-view,  you might still be living in ghostly remains of the Second Industrial Revolution.  Historians say it ended around 1914, but it left the idea that what matters can be measured in tons, watts, and British Thermal Units. The time that followed hasn’t been formalized by historians. But it features the increasing immateriality of assets of all kinds.

You can use a modern smartphone without grocking this. On one level, it’s just another plasticky,  blingy thingy that gives you the lights of Petula Clark’s Downtown in your pocket.

Scratch a little deeper and you become a power user. You’ve adapted your life  to interlace with modern design, which these days means GUI (graphical user interface), haptics (touchable responses), and how to make all your gadgets talk to each other. Fluency is regarded as expertise.

There are many more layers to this than there is to steel production. Even the engineers who use Qualcomm prototyping kits aren’t cognizant of FINFET fabrication or LSI design rules.  Where is the center, the high-status-visible symbol of power, wealth, and control?

Formerly, it was the  mainframe computer, synonymous in popular view with IBM, not incidentally a potent symbol to some of U.S. world domination, which were subject to stringent export controls. But all material symbols of value, be they coin, steel, or tech, suffer remorseless deprecation and replacement.

Is there now a penultimate machine that binds together the increasingly immaterial world? Though nothing can replace the centrality of an IBM 360, there are devices that approach this. In place of “installations”, we have the Internet, the network-of-all-things, with an enormous, yet almost invisible physical presence, confined largely to windowless buildings in low-rent locations, seldom seen except by cadres of admins and repair.

Most readers have heard of servers, contained in the vast rows of racks in windowless “farms.” To these we entrust our wealth, knowledge, voices and likenesses. They are styled as vaults, yet easily breached.  China’s hackers have carried much of it off, entire factories,  in the forms of weightless, replicable plans and specs.

Servers, to which the term 5G does not apply,  have global reach, but lack global responsibility. For this, we must look at the routers, the switchboards of the network.

The penultimate machine is the core router. Some pics here. They are impressive, the largest, most complex unitary machines in the Network of All Things. Whoever owns them, by either purchase or hack, owns the Network. By extension, this includes users like you and me.

China has owned us before. (Ars Technica) Strange snafu misroutes domestic US Internet traffic through China Telecom. There is rumor (citation missing) of a much earlier hack, perhaps 20 years ago, to answer a basic question: Who in the U.S. was talking to who? For seven minutes, so the story goes, all U.S. emails were routed through China. This was accomplished by DNS poisoning.

What does this have to with 5G? Perhaps you still have the vague notion that once your voice reaches a cell tower, it travels on a wire. This is false. It travels, with some privilege, as packets of computer data on the same physical network that carries the Internet. With 5G, that fusion will become total.

The same routers that enable 5G enable  backdoor access by the makers, and by extension, the Chinese government. This cannot be mitigated, for reasons discussed in UK Think They Can Mitigate Huawei Risks.

Most of the technological lead of the West, and the democracies, has already been plundered. This time we have an advantage:  the barn door is not quite open, so 5G does not offer the requisite cautionary tale. The past is full of examples.   In 2008, a China firm acquired British IGBT maker Dynex for a pittance. I cringed at the time. (London Times) Has China used British technology to build a railgun?

Yes, they did.  Eleven years later,  that pittance bit us in the ass. The IGBT is a type of power transistor that enables energy weapons of all sorts. The cost of  countering a military that approaches qualitative parity with the U.S. cannot be measured in billions, if at all.


2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), Wuhan, China; Quarantine is Correct Response

The current state of knowledge is posted at (CDC) 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), Wuhan, China.

The Washington Post, Wired, et al., question the quarantine of Wuhan. They cite multiple experts who say the measure cannot possibly stop the spread of the virus. That is true, yet the quarantine is still the right measure. The why is slightly subtle.

In a national disaster, emergency teams mobilize from unaffected areas. If the whole country were hit with disaster simultaneously, there would be no places to draw from. The Wuhan quarantine has a modest goal, to slow down propagation.

If 2019-nCoV, which is a virus, is a typical pathogen,

  • There are many more sub-clinical cases than overt diagnosed.
  • Those who recover will have at least temporary immunity.
  • When a certain fraction of the populace has acquired some immunity, herd immunity kicks in. When depends on the transmission efficiency of the virus.
  • When herd immunity manifests, new cases drop to a background level. This is thought to have occurred with West Nile virus. Mortality declines as well, as the most likely to die are the easiest to infect.
  • When this state of near-normalcy is approached, the Wuhan quarantine will be lifted. A pool of first responders with acquired immunity is now available to fan out from Wuhan to other hot spots.
  • For an untypical pathogen, look no further than Norwalk virus. We’re lucky it doesn’t kill; it breaks the mold for infectivity and acquired immunity, which does not happen. If Norwalk were less conspicuous and more lethal, transmitting via cough instead of vomit, we’d be in trouble.

This is the typical path to equilibrium. There are all kinds of worst cases. The mortality rate has been stated as 2.5%, concentrated among elderly and those with preexisting conditions. Now suppose 2019-nCoV is a really odd pathogen,  always causing overt symptoms, with 100% infection rate, infecting everyone in Wuhan, or elsewhere in China with clinical cases.

It implies that 2.5% of the Wuhan population die. One doesn’t like to think of such unlikely horrors, but it has to be considered by planners. It would amount to the almost simultaneous deaths of 35 million in China.

This has happened in the historical past. Before the discovery of germs and proper sanitation, cholera, typhus, and the Black Death decimated civilizations. The world outside of Africa has been spared Ebola,  a zoonosis that broke out from handling bush meat.  Human-to-human transmission in Africa is enhanced by social customs rare in other locales. But note, 2019-nCoV originates from the China version of bush meat.

For the Ebola response debacle, see Ebola, Rats, Lice, and History, and Hans Zinsser Part 1 and Part 2.

Part 2 critiques the phlegmatic approach of CDC/NIH to an Ebola vaccine. A handful of companies specialize in rapid vaccine development, direct from the genome. The system by which vaccines are approved is driven by safety. A vaccine that takes mere weeks to produce in small quantities engages an approval process of years. This is appropriate because most public-health vaccines are for widespread, non-emergency use.

Perhaps by tradition rooted in the 1976 swine flu fiasco, the cost of “no vaccine for 2019-nCoV ” is set for typical epidemiology. Yet the 1918 Spanish flu was untypically deadly for an airborne pathogen.

The timeline for use of an 2019-nCoV vaccine  has been quoted as a year or more. A lot of nursing homes could empty out in the course of another phlegmatic response. The cost/benefit analysis could have an unpleasant surprise.

It would be appropriate to:

  • Activate the existing national security protocols for rapid vaccine production.
  • Run the ferret preclinical tests, and Phase 1, ASAP.
  • For Phase 2 safety and immunogenic  trials, accept foreign results.
  • Begin large scale production before completion of Phase 3 trials of effectiveness, which may be abbreviated in  event of bad surprise.
  • If the cost/benefit ratio changes in the near future,  specialist companies can produce millions of doses per week.
  • Create multiple strategies to deal with antigenic shift.
  • This applies to antiviral drugs, should any be discovered.

If quarantines are instituted here, accept it with grace for the lives to be saved.


Dear Hillary, About Bernie

Dear Hillary,

Something came out in CNN I think we should talk about. (CNN)Clinton says ‘nobody likes’ Sanders and won’t commit to backing him if he’s the Democratic nominee. Quoting you,

“Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done.”

This brings me to our fateless encounter on a New Jersey Transit train. I think it was about 10 days before you announced. You were returning from a visit to the Woodrow Wilson School of  Public Affairs and International Affairs at Princeton University. Since Amtrak does not stop at Princeton Junction, NJT ran the only trains that would get you there.

I had boarded the 2:57 super-express at Trenton, bound for NY Penn Station. The mid-afternoon “super express” was new on the timetable, so not a lot of people had adjusted their schedules, and ridership was low. The first car was empty, so I spread myself across two opposing benches. Each Arrow car had two sets of these super-sized seats, one on each side the aisle.

Thirteen minutes later, when the train stopped at Princeton Junction, the car was still empty, except for me. You got on, and immediately spread your things out on the other double opposing benches, immediately across the narrow aisle. The doors closed, and we were juxtaposed, alone if not together, for the next 21 minutes, until the next stop, New Brunswick.

Some people may marvel at the enormous miscellany of information in this blog. There are no research assistants. It all comes out of my mental attic, as messy and compendious as my house. It is not photographic, except for the cerebral section titled Menagerie of Curiosities. Referring to the Menagerie, I identified you by your handbag. I had a flashback; I was holding an old printed issue of Time or Newsweek, with a picture of you on a tarmac holding the “Silver Blimp.”

The Silver Blimp is a capacious elongate ellipsoid about two feet on the major axis, made of lightweight material, covered in reflective silver mylar. It resembles a uranium nucleus that has just absorbed a neutron, and is about to fission. Your theory is that people would be so attracted to the handbag, they would ignore the owner.  You were wrong.  I sent this question to my memory banks:

Probability( This person =

Hilliary Clinton _given_ CARRIES: SILVER_BLIMP).

I added a few more clauses:

          • Wears( Denim Skirt).
          • Shoes(sneakers)
          • Intellect = Alpha.
          • Physical resemblance=high.
          • Demeanor=chilly.
          • Handbag( lipstick & Kleenex = NO).

We continued our fateless encounter with sidelong glances. In this activity, you are clearly superior to me.  While I had to turn my head a full 15 degrees, your glance required only half the angle. Meanwhile, the answer came back:

Is_Hillary_Clinton(CONFIRMED, P=99%)

You were not at ease. While I could have checked my email on my phone, I opened up my laptop. This seemed to take the edge off. You took an appropriately pink iPhone out of the Blimp . You seemed engrossed in a pdf of earth shaking importance, the fate of the Western World, at a distance of 2 feet. To read a phone at 2 feet, one has to be very farsighted in ways that go beyond foreign policy. My astigmatism gets lost over 6 inches. I guess I would be a very short-sighted politician.

This was my big chance! Concealed within my pocket, I had magic cards advertising  I printed them at Walmart. If somehow, I could get you to accept a card…? We continued to exchange sidelong glances.

I could slide it onto your seat. I could proffer one held in the classic cigarette grasp. Everybody who has heard this story asks if you had a magic button that would have resulted in my being taken away in chains. Temptation and fear, in balance. I could try an ice-breaker. Yes, let’s do! I summoned all the resonance I had accumulated in years of arguing about overcharges, and squeaked out, as my voice rose about 2 octaves,

“Excuse me. Do you have an interest in international relations?”

For the first and only time, you made eye contact. You replied, in a tone so close to Absolute Zero  that it would liquefy helium,


A Jainist gives a bug more love. I skittered back into my hole. The train stopped at New Brunswick. The car began to fill. The conductor looked at your items, and said, “Excuse me ma’am, you’re going to have to move your things. The car is filling.”

It wasn’t, really. But as you compacted, methinks you doth protested too loudly, talking to yourself, but widely audible. Now we had both been squashed, me by reality, and you by ignorance. He didn’t know who you were.

I’ve heard good things about you, and things that require rebuttal. You took care of your mother in her last years. I did too, so I know what it means. We both miss our mothers, and are unafraid to say so. But  our mutual fateless encounter was a demonstration of elitism, both to the stranger and the factotum. Perhaps, when we shared an empty car, there was the possibility of danger. But when the car filled, no attempt was made to engage. This echoes the observations of some, not all, of those who have worked with you. Perhaps I saw only one side of the coin, but must there always be two?

It bears hypothetical comparison. Would:

  • Bernie talk my ear off?
  • Elizabeth treat me to a cogent, if boring, monologue?
  • Joe affably misquote himself?
  • Donald give me a hug?
  • Vladimir Putin invite me to Russia and award me a medal?
  • Barack discuss his reading list, perhaps the only two-way exchange for my  empty train car?

Can the modern political world dispense with kissing babies and pressing the flesh? Is it necessary only for particular constituencies, or is it an acid test for any aspirational pol, proof of the basic human connection?

Hillary, don’t be mad. You know where to find me. I emailed you the next morning.











Davos: T-18 Years and Counting; Blade Runner, Coming to a World Near You

How will Androids Remember Us?

(24×18″, Oil on panel. Click to enlarge. There may be a delay.)

Dear Friends in Spirit,

In preface, I offer for your consideration my 2017 Address to Davos; Avoiding the New Dark Ages, in five parts. It is ever more timely.

Coming to a World near you:

Blade Runner

(CNN) Trump administration abruptly cancels 4 Iran briefings

(CNN) Trump administration abruptly cancels 4 classified Iran-related briefings. Quoting,

The sudden briefing cancellations come as some lawmakers, particularly Democrats, continue to question the administration’s justification for killing Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. Senators appear likely to rebuke President Donald Trump soon in the form of a vote on a war powers resolution to limit his military actions in Iran.

There is a suspicion that the claim is invented, to circumvent the War Powers Resolution. While I cannot refute this suspicion, any similar question about Hezbollah is a special circumstance.

The English translation of “Hezbollah” is “Party of God.” Hezbollahs exist in three countries, as separate organizations of native Shiites, all  organized by Iranian “missionaries.”, of whom Qasem Soleimani was the recent chief. Lebanon’s Hezbollah was the second, dating to the early 1980’s.  The first Hezbollah was organized in Iran itself, in 1979. Iraq’s Hezbollah dates to about 2003.

Prior to 9/11, Hezbollah (Lebanon) was considered the most dangerous terror threat to U.S. soil. In contrast to other terror groups then extant, Hezbollah (Lebanon) was noteworthy for competent command/control, execution, and even counterintelligence. (CBS) Major CIA network unraveled by Hezbollah, in 2011. Hezbollah skillfully exploited an encryption error in the group’s secure radios.

The similarity of characters of the three Hezbollahs is the result of Iranian leadership. Opinions vary whether the 1983 United States embassy bombing in Beirut was an Hezbollah operation, disguised by the adoption of a “brand” in the form of the Islamic Jihad Organization. But there is general agreement that the attack was ordered by Iran.

The Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979-1981, in which the revolutionary government of Iran seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran, hints at a pattern. It continues with the 12/31 attack on the Baghdad embassy Iran is unrestrained by diplomatic norms from attacks on U.S. embassies.

Iran wants to kick the U.S. out of Iraq.  Even with no intelligence, the embassy and consulates are at risk as targets of opportunity.

This does not address whether the intelligence about 4 embassies is fabricated. If it is not, the fearsome capabilities of Hezbollah counterintelligence puts sources at risk from disclosure. (CNN) 3 detained on suspicion of leaking Soleimani’s movements to US. If informants survive Iraq’s justice, they will not survive Hezbollah’s.

Sources for this kind of intelligence must be protected by the narrowest possible distribution. To reveal which embassies are known to be targeted could be fatal to some.



20 Years of Vladimir Putin; Russian Gov. Resigns, Part 1

(CNN) Russian government resigns as Putin proposes reforms that could extend his grip on power.

Inspired by Russia’s adversarial attitude towards the West, media coverage is almost uniformly negative. What else could be expected towards a government that has been described as a kleptocracy, with such noteworthy achievements as lending a helping hand to Assad’s use of poison gas in Syria, Novichok in Salisbury, (NY Times) Syria hospital bombings, Ukraine invasion, and nuclear cruise missiles that make mini-Chernobyls? Have I left anything out? Sure, but on the chance that Putin reads this, I won’t dig deeper.

Every leader is the product of the society he or she is trying to lead. When we study history, we encounter for the most part the biographies of rulers  who, by modern Western standards, were barbarous. Passers-by of London Bridge between 1300 and 1660 remarked on the endless rows of heads impaled on stakes.

This has not blinded modern historians to the subtleties of those times. That mix was the crucible of the modern English speaking world. Putin’s Russia has the contrasts of a society in flux. While some elements of the state remain barbarous, Putin’s inner circle seems touchingly modern — provided we exclude the Kremlin’s criminal element from our view.  On the occasions I have engaged Russian intellectuals, I’ve found modern minds. This is one portent of future greatness, not the shallow yearning to be a “great power.”

Patterns of history cannot be refuted and should not be ignored. They  can rarely be avoided. Russia is a PITA, but there is more going on in Russia than can be expressed in short-form journalism. Much of it can be viewed vicariously, through the eyes of a ruler. If we are open to seeing with the ruler’s eyes, to experiencing the peculiar bond between the ruler and the ruled; and the fears for the role and for the nation, we get something vastly additive to the boilerplate dished out by think-tanks.

In March ’17, I decided that Putin deserved an “apology”, which in the original Greek means , not “I’m sorry”, but something like the defense  a trial lawyer provides for a client. In comparison with the unknowable facts, it could be true, false, or a mix. The only requirement of this apology is that it be favorable to Putin, and not definitively refutable.

In Alexei Navalny, Poisoned?, I wrote,

Putin’s bargain with the Devil, by which it can be argued that he saved Russia from chaos, involved co-opting all the elements of Russian society, and he has never found a way to pay it off. But there is also a political reason of some legitimacy why Navalny must not be allowed to rise.

(Moscow Times) ‘Not Everything Works Out’: Medvedev’s Career, in Photos.. Quoting,

As Medvedev resigned, Putin thanked him for what he had achieved, adding: “Not everything worked out of course — but then, nothing ever works out totally.” The newly resigned prime minister will now serve as deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, which Putin chairs.

Putin’s remark, and dismissal of the government is incompletely explained by the desire to hold onto power. It offers the possibility that he will now try to pay down that unholy bargain. The price of failure is a system so entirely dependent on his character, it cannot survive his passing. Most autocrats don’t appreciate this point. Putin may be the exception. Perhaps the wisdom of  Vladimir Bukovsky holds meaning to him:

“The movers and shakers of today have little interest in digging for the truth. Who knows what one may come up with? You may start out with the communists, and end up with yourself.”

But first, let’s see where he has been, the visceral Russian experience of decay and stasis, the rescue of a state in collapse, while viewing the West from a remote point of view.

To be continued shortly.


Intel9's world view

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