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(CNN) Ukrainian soldier kills 5 in shooting rampage at military factory; Russian False Flag Op?

(CNN) Ukrainian soldier kills 5 in shooting rampage at military factory.

Two perspectives compete for our attention, legal and intelligence. Legal is deliberate and fair, where speculation is frowned on. Intelligence is time-urgent, a product of unilateral judgement that usually presents as probabilities. This is the current perspective. It is speculation,  of possible use to investigators.

Dnipro is about 100 miles from Donetsk. The Line of Contact is just west of Donetsk. The cities are connected by European route E 50, and parallel secondary roads.

Hypothesis. There was a getaway driver, intended to lead Ukrainian forces in high speed pursuit down E50, with carefully orchestrated cell tower pings, always behind the actual location. The Russian intent, to give the illusion of a high speed Ukrainian strike force, intercepted while in pursuit of the shooter, near or in the Line of Contact. The appearance, a Ukrainian “provocation.”

The crime is of small importance. But if the hypothesis is substantiated, it implies that war has been decided.

 

 

 

 

 

Note to Sergey Lavrov

(CNN) Blinken warns any Russian ‘invasion’ of Ukraine would be met with a ‘severe and a united response’ following Lavrov meeting. Quoting,

“You claim that we are going to attack Ukraine, although we have repeatedly explained that this is not the case,” Lavrov said when asked about a potential invasion by CNN Senior International Correspondent Frederik Pleitgen.

You’re in great form, Sergey Lavrov. I’ve never heard better.

Edit. It appears to require clarification. A reader with native tongue sophistication would understand. Sergey Lavrov was not speaking with candor.

 

Ukraine; Let’s Make a Deal; Suggestion to Vladimir Putin

(CNN) US weighs more military support for Ukraine to resist Russia if it invades. Quoting,

US officials left the meetings in Europe last week even more pessimistic about what Putin could be planning, and how limited the west’s leverage is to stop it—even with the punishing sanctions and increased NATO presence in eastern Europe currently on the table.

Regular readers may have wondered about my silence.  It has to do with  how this blog is perceived outside the U.S. Some foreign readers may have the suspicion that this blog is an occasional back channel, or is  in some way “influential.”  This has never been the case. Nor I have ever been privy to affairs of state. Nevertheless, since the suspicion is impossible to dispel, I try to  avoid the moral equivalent of violating the Logan Act.

With previous Russian aggression in Ukraine, there was no significant U.S. response so  the issue did not arise. This time, the U.S. response, in the hands of Secretary Blinken’s capable team, is really on the ball.  The CNN quote, exposing some of the inner debate, allows some limited commentary, as a private, unaffiliated person. Blinken’s team has these choices:

1. Maintain the current level of support. Bleed the Russians in subsequent guerrilla war. This has historical irony, since there was such a war. See Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. This history may give Putin the feeling it can be dealt with.

2. Go heavy on equipment provision. Some of this equipment contains classified elements. After inevitable Russian capture of samples and reverse engineering, NATO stockpiles would have to be modified at considerable expense. If Putin can be deterred by the human and economic costs, it has a shot at success.

If Putin is undeterred, this strategy encounters the same military reality that has cursed Poland’s history, flatness. The vast bulk of Ukraine is flat, part of the East European plain. This landscape works to the benefit of a mobile force with air superiority. Ukraine forces would become what are described in war games as “static divisions”, against which Russian thermobaric weapons would be effective. A lot of Russians would return to the motherland in coffins, without saving Ukraine for democracy.

3. Make a deal for a kind of Austrian neutrality.  It is illogical to sacrifice Ukraine to preserve NATO expandability. It would not be helpful to go into specifics in any way, shape, or form. Let’s skip to justification, which is provided by one or possibly two famous men.

George F. Kennan was the original author of the policy of Containment for the postwar Soviet Union. See Kennan’s Long Telegram. On Feb. 5, 1997, the NY Times published his opinion piece, A Fateful Error. Quoting,

…expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era…. Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.

Did Kennan get anything wrong? His description of the present is eerily prescient. The argument it would have happened anyway has an uphill fight. Might a neutral Ukraine posthumously honor his prescience?

On December 19, 1994, the Washington Post published Henry Kissinger’s opinion piece, EXPAND NATO NOW. Loud and clear. But on July 1, 2008, the NY Times published Kissinger’s Unconventional wisdom about Russia. Quoting,

…the movement of the Western security system from the Elbe River to the approaches to Moscow brings home Russia’s decline in a way bound to generate a Russian emotion that will inhibit the solution of all other issues…

This statement was made against a hopeful background for Russian politics that no longer exists. His opinion is doubtless available to the Administration. Kissinger is an advocate of diplomacy backed by force. He may question whether the available measures are sufficient.

Note to Vladimir Putin. You are on the verge of an historic error. Prior to 2014, Europeans had forgotten the meme of war for the sake of war. It had simply become inconceivable. Think thrice before you cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war. Once loosed, they cannot be recaptured in our lifetimes. China, not NATO, has claims on Russian territory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(WaPo) The battle to prevent another Jan. 6 features a new weapon: The algorithm; Intel9 Prediction

(WaPo) The battle to prevent another Jan. 6 features a new weapon: The algorithm. Quoting,

The sentiment comes from a small group working in a cutting-edge field known as unrest prediction. The group takes a promising if fraught approach that applies the complex methods of machine-learning to the mysterious roots of political violence…

On December 21, 2020, I anticipated a coup: Coup in the United States? In May of 1964, this almost happened…

I have worked in AI, but I didn’t use it here. I used:

  • The unique capacity of some human minds to know the minds of others, and simulate them, in a process known as empathy.
  • Reflection on prior actions and pronouncements.
  • See  (1/17/2021) Coup Still Possible from Inside Government for ideation analysis.

Unrest prediction has value primarily for societies we know less well than our own, where it competes with domestic intelligence, leaks, and close observation of key personalities.

 

 

 

 

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.