Mar 142020
 

 

“Flattening the Curve” Is A Deadly Delusion (Bach)
Higher Temperatures Affect Survival Of New Coronavirus (Accu)
South Korea’s Drive-Through Testing For Coronavirus Is Fast – And Free (NPR)
Nancy Pelosi, Trump Administration Reach Deal On Coronavirus Aid Package (NYP)
EU Ready To Trigger Crisis Clause Allowing Fiscal Stimulus (BBG)
Big Pharma Prepares To Profit From The Coronavirus (IC)
Apple To Close All Stores Outside Of China (BI)
Bad Coronavirus News Starts To Hit US Auto Dealers (R.)
Next Week’s Primaries To Proceed Despite Coronavirus, Louisiana Delay (R.)
Major US Internet Firms Agree Not To Cancel Service Over Next 60 Days (R.)
FBI’s Russia Collusion Case Fell Apart In January 2017
‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ At DC Museum Of The Bible Are All Forgeries (NatGeo)
It Would Take 50 Million Years To Recover New Zealand’s Lost Bird Species (F.)

 

 

Yay! We’re setting records! Over 10,000 cases in one day, 2,547 of which in Italy, and 451 deaths, with 250 in Italy.

 

Cases 146,327 (+ 10,518 from yesterday’s 135,809)

Deaths 5,443 (+ 453 from yesterday’s 4,990)

 

Something went wrong with my usual snapshot from last night’s Worldometer numbers, so yesterday’s “gains” per country are lost. Apologies.

Trajectories are clear though. Spain is a country to watch, as are Denmark, Norway and Sweden. And Switzerland with 220 new cases today, and and and.

Other than that, economic policies are taking the spotlight, and especially the failures. The question arises: can the west do what it did in WWII, and confiscate production facilities?

Just as abhorrent to US “values”: Tulsi Gabbard and Bush economic adviser Greg Mankiw, separate from each other I think, want the US to give every citizen $1,000 a month to counter the corona fallout.

Can America as a nation unite, or is that ability forever lost? Because: if you give out that $1,000, will you allow your firms, say Big Pharma, to charge exorbitant prices for essentials?

In that same vein, Germany appears ready to abandon its long term fiscal prudence, and to drag Europe along for the ride.

I changed the order of the graphs around a bit, SCMP is getting further behind all the time.

 

From Worldometer (NOTE: mortality rate is back up to 7%!)

 

 

From COVID2019.app: (This site is playing with its formats while expanding, now over 200 global contributors)

 

 

From SCMP: (Note: the SCMP graph was useful when China was the focal point; they are falling behind now)

 

 

 

 

Joshua Bach is a scary dude.

“Flattening the Curve” Is A Deadly Delusion (Bach)

You have all seen a version of this curve of COVID-19 case loads by now:

Or this one:

There are many more. What all these diagrams have in common: They have no numbers on the axes. They don’t give you an idea how many cases it takes to overwhelm the medical system, and over how many days the epidemic will play out. They suggest that currently, the medical system can deal with a large fraction (like maybe 2/3, 1/2 or 1/3) of the cases, but if we implement some mitigation measures, we can get the infections per day down to a level we can deal with. They mean to tell you that we can get away without severe lockdowns as we are currently observing them in China and Italy. Instead, we let the infection burn through the entire population, until we have herd immunity (at 40% to 70%), and just space out the infections over a longer timespan.

These suggestions are dangerously wrong, and if implemented, will lead to incredible suffering and hardship. Let’s try to understand this by putting some numbers on the axes. What is the capacity of the healthcare system? This is a difficult question and cannot be answered in a short post like this. The US has about 924,100 hospital beds (2.8 per 1000 people). California has only 1.8. Countries like Germany have 8. South Korea has 12. (Their hospital system got overloaded nonetheless.) Most of these beds are in use, but we can create more, using improvisation (for instance using hotels and school gyms) and strategic resources of the military, national guard and other organizations.

Based on Chinese data, we can estimate that about 20% of COVID-19 cases are severe and require hospitalization. However, many severe cases will survive if they can be adequately provided for at home (which may include oxygen, IVs and isolation). More important is the number of ICU beds, which by some estimates can be stretched to about a 100,000, and of which about 30,000 may be available. About 5% of all COVID-19 cases need intensive care, and without it, all of them will die. We can also increase the number of ICU beds somewhat, but the equipment that we need to deal with sepsis, kidney, liver and heart failure, severe pneumonia etc. cannot be stretched arbitrarily between them.

An important part of the equation are ventilators. Most of the critically ill COVID-19 cases die of an infection of the lungs that makes it impossible to breathe and even destroys so much tissue that the blood can no longer be sufficiently oxygenated. These patients need intubation and mechanical ventilation to give them a chance of survival, or even an ECMO machine, which oxygenates the blood directly. About 6% of all cases need a ventilator, and if hospitals put all existing ventilators to use, we have 160,000 of them. In addition, the CDC has a strategic stockpile of 8900 ventilators that can be deployed in hospitals that need them. If we take the number of ventilators as a proximate limit on the medical resources, it means we can take care of up to 170,000 critically ill patients at the same time.

How many people will get infected? Without containment, the virus becomes endemic, and leading epidemiologists like Marc Lipsitch (Harvard) and Christian Drosten (Charité Berlin) estimate that between 40% and 70% of the population get infected until we develop some degree of herd immunity. (Unfortunately, we do not know how long this immunity lasts. We already observe multiple strain of COVID-19, and will see many more, due to the large number of carriers.) In a population like the US (327 million), that means between 130 million and 230 million. Let’s assume that 55% of the US population (the middle ground) get infected between March and December, and we are looking at 180 million people.

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Saw that picture with the narrow yellow band before. But of course they still don’t agree on anything.

Higher Temperatures Affect Survival Of New Coronavirus (Accu)

Research from a laboratory-grown copy of the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes the COVID-19 illness shows that heat affects the virus and impacts its behavior, a top pathologist said new research has shown. But other infectious disease experts aren’t yet convinced. “In cold environments, there is longer virus survival than warm ones,” Hong Kong University pathology professor John Nicholls told AccuWeather exclusively. Nicholls and colleagues from a team at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, previously produced a study, which was published in February and has yet to be peer-reviewed, noting the effect of heat. Their research is based on one of the world’s first lab-grown copies of SARS-CoV-2.


“Temperature could significantly change COVID-19 transmission,” the authors note in the study. They also pointed out that the “virus is highly sensitive to high temperature.” On March 11, the World Health Organization officially declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. This is the first pandemic in 11 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One recent research paper supported this assertion by pointing out the proximity of the major hotspots. The authors of the study, which was published last week, wrote that COVID-19 “has established significant community spread in cities and regions only along a narrow east-west distribution roughly along the 30-50 North latitude corridor at consistently similar weather patterns (5-11 degrees C [41 to 51 F] and 47-79 percent humidity).”

“Notably, during the same time, COVID-19 failed to spread significantly to countries immediately south of China,” the paper notes. “The number of patients and reported deaths in Southeast Asia is much less when compared to more temperate regions noted … The association between temperature in the cities affected with COVID-19 deserves special attention.” Some have suggested the possibility that weather factors might affect the virus – particularly the intensity and amount of hours of sunshine as well as heat and humidity. “Obviously, the virus is something we’ve never dealt with before, but if we look at other viruses … they all had their peak during the cold season,” said AccuWeather Founder and CEO Dr. Joel N. Myers.

“The statistics all show that they breed and survive longer when it’s cold and dry,” Myers said. “So, when it’s warmer and more humid and there’s a lot of sunshine, the statistics on all of the others show a virus is less lethal, it spreads less efficiently and less effectively among humans.” Dr. Joseph Fair, a virologist, epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist, suggested sunshine is a critical factor in subduing the virus. “It really doesn’t have anything to do with the warmth, but it has to do with the length of the day and the exposure to sunlight, which inactivates the virus through UV light,” Fair [said]. “We expect a dip in infections as we would see with the cold and flu in the spring and summer months.


But, he cautioned, “The science is still out. We can assume this will follow typical other coronavirus cases. We can expect a dip in the summer. But that doesn’t mean that we will be out of the woods … Everyone in the scientific and public health community expects it to be back in the fall and we expect to be in this for quite some time.”


Transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S. Virus particles are emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus particles give coronaviruses their name, crown-like. (NIAID-RML)

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What a nation is capable of when it starts working together.

South Korea’s Drive-Through Testing For Coronavirus Is Fast – And Free (NPR)

If you roll up to a drive-through COVID-19 testing center in South Korea, you might notice that safety procedures extend all the way to your car’s air conditioning. You will be advised to hit the recirculation button so that if you’re sick, you can keep your pathogens to yourself, in your car, and avoid infecting the medical personnel doing the testing. The test takes 10 minutes at most. Results are texted to you, usually the next day. And it’s free — paid for by the government. Drive-through centers have helped South Korea do some of the fastest, most-extensive testing of any country. And while nobody is claiming that South Korea has defeated the outbreak, experts credit the emphasis on testing with reducing case numbers and fatalities.

“I think our approach was right,” says professor Lee Hyukmin of the Yonsei University College of Medicine in Seoul. “We will continue to see sporadic infections,” he predicts. “But still, the situation in Daegu,” the epicenter of the outbreak, “is being stabilized.” South Korea has about 8,000 infections. Italy and Iran overtook it this week as the countries with the most cases outside of China. South Korea’s new cases have gradually declined since the end of last month. For the first time since Jan. 20, the number of patients released from treatment on Friday, March 13 — 510 — outnumbered the 110 new cases. A nation of 51 million, South Korea has tested about 250,000 people since its outbreak began on Jan. 20, with a daily capacity of 15,000. It has conducted 3,600 tests per million people compared to five per million in the U.S.


South Korea’s aggressive testing may make it unnecessary to impose the sort of lockdowns to which China and Italy have resorted, although health officials insist that all options remain on the table in dealing with the epidemic. “It’s much better to test and then quarantine a specific person than to do a citywide or provincewide lockdown, which in certain ways prevents the virus from leaving the province but actually doesn’t make the province any less likely to have high infection rates,” says Eric Feigl-Ding, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C., and an epidemiologist at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health.

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Just like Tulsi: “Greg Mankiw, a former top economic adviser to President George W. Bush, advocated sending $1,000 checks to everyone as soon as possible.”

Nancy Pelosi, Trump Administration Reach Deal On Coronavirus Aid Package (NYP)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Trump administration reached a last-minute deal Friday on a sweeping coronavirus aid package that will provide free testing for all Americans. The “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” will guarantee free tests for all Americans, including the uninsured, and provide two weeks of paid sick leave for those affected by the health crisis, Pelosi said. It will also provide up to three months of paid family and medical leave and strengthened unemployment Insurance for those facing layoffs amid the health and economic crisis. The aid package will also strengthen food banks, seniors’ meals and the food stamps program, known as SNAP.

Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had been locked in feverish negotiations as the crisis rapidly escalated — speaking up to seven times a day — and by Friday morning, senior Democrats were confident the package would pass the House by the end of the day. But the deal appeared to hit a snag when Trump on Friday declared a State of Emergency at the White House Rose Garden and announced he didn’t support the aid package. “We don’t think the Democrats are giving enough,” Trump told reporters. “We are negotiating. We thought we had something, but all of a sudden they didn’t agree to certain things that they agreed to,” he added, without specifying the sticking point.


The president has repeatedly demanded a payroll tax cut be included in the bill, something that has been met with tepid support from within his own administration. “We could have something but we don’t think they are giving enough. They are not doing what is right for the country,” he concluded. Pelosi was bullish about passing the bill on Friday, even though it now languishes until Monday when the Senate returns from a break, calling the health outbreak a “grave and accelerating challenge.” The new bill comes after Trump last week signed into law a separate $8.3 billion in emergency aid for states and local authorities to combat the spread of the virus.

https://twitter.com/i/status/1238516118391791617

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Jim Bianco on Twitter:

“German Gov’t will offer unlimited loans to all companies that want them. Will buy stakes in German Governments. Guaranteed every job in Germany. Said “no on will lose their job over a virus.” They are essentially asking all EU countries to do the same as Germany. Couple this with the Fed trillions, the ECB yesterday , the BOE wed and the BoJ overnight … Everyone is “all-in” to stop the decline. If this does not work, closing mkts might be all that is left.”

EU Ready To Trigger Crisis Clause Allowing Fiscal Stimulus (BBG)

Denmark, Poland and Cyprus tightened their borders to limit the spread of the coronavirus even as European leaders called for more concerted action to contain the economic fallout. Germany, which borders two of those countries, pledged to spend whatever was necessary to protect its economy and the European Commission said it’s ready to green-light widespread spending after a market meltdown and a forecast that the euro zone was headed for recession. With Group of Seven policy makers struggling to forge a united front, the response from national capitals reflects the urgency to avoid the lockdown that hit Italy amid an epidemic that seemed to be spiraling out of control.

In Denmark, only Danes, Danish residents and green card holders will be let in. For everyone else, the country’s borders will be closed until April 14 and people arriving in Denmark will be sent back. “We’re painfully aware that this will have severe consequences,” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said in Copenhagen on Friday, as she announced borders would close. “We can see how the situation in Italy developed in a catastrophic direction,” she said. “Everything we’re doing is to ensure that we get through this situation in a different way.” Likewise, Cyprus is closing its borders for 15 days to foreigners who don’t live or work on the Mediterranean island, President Nicos Anastasiades said in a televised address.

[..] The ability to travel without border checks has been a fact of life for more than two decades in most of Europe, with passport-free movement arguably the most successful feature of daily life for more than 400 million people in the EU. Officials in Brussels are accepting the new – if temporary – restrictions through gritted teeth. “General travel bans are not seen as being the most effective by the World Health Organization,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm. “Moreover, they have a strong social and economic impact. They disrupt people’s lives and business across the borders.”

Just hours earlier, German officials announced KfW, the state bank, can lend as much as €550 billion to companies to ensure they survive the pandemic and shield their workers from its impact. Switzerland pledged 10 billion francs ($10.5 billion) of aid for its companies. European stocks surged. “This is the bazooka,” Finance Minister Olaf Scholz. “We’re using it to do what is necessary. We’ll check later to see if we need additional smaller weapons.”

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Suspect that unlike in WWII, US industry would be allowed to turn huge profits.

Big Pharma Prepares To Profit From The Coronavirus (IC)

As the new coronavirus spreads illness, death, and catastrophe around the world, virtually no economic sector has been spared from harm. Yet amid the mayhem from the global pandemic, one industry is not only surviving, it is profiting handsomely. “Pharmaceutical companies view Covid-19 as a once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity,” said Gerald Posner, author of “Pharma: Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America.” The world needs pharmaceutical products, of course. For the new coronavirus outbreak, in particular, we need treatments and vaccines and, in the U.S., tests. Dozens of companies are now vying to make them.

“They’re all in that race,” said Posner, who described the potential payoffs for winning the race as huge. The global crisis “will potentially be a blockbuster for the industry in terms of sales and profits,” he said, adding that “the worse the pandemic gets, the higher their eventual profit.” The ability to make money off of pharmaceuticals is already uniquely large in the U.S., which lacks the basic price controls other countries have, giving drug companies more freedom over setting prices for their products than anywhere else in the world. During the current crisis, pharmaceutical makers may have even more leeway than usual because of language industry lobbyists inserted into an $8.3 billion coronavirus spending package, passed last week, to maximize their profits from the pandemic.

[..] According to calculations by Axios, drug companies make 63 percent of total health care profits in the U.S. That’s in part because of the success of their lobbying efforts. In 2019, the pharmaceutical industry spent $295 million on lobbying, far more than any other sector in the U.S. That’s almost twice as much as the next biggest spender — the electronics, manufacturing, and equipment sector — and well more than double what oil and gas companies spent on lobbying. The industry also spends lavishly on campaign contributions to both Democratic and Republican lawmakers. Throughout the Democratic primary, Joe Biden has led the pack among recipients of contributions from the health care and pharmaceutical industries.

Big Pharma’s spending has positioned the industry well for the current pandemic. While stock markets have plummeted in reaction to the Trump administration’s bungling of the crisis, more than 20 companies working on a vaccine and other products related to the new SARS-CoV-2 virus have largely been spared. Stock prices for the biotech company Moderna, which began recruiting participants for a clinical trial of its new candidate for a coronavirus vaccine two weeks ago, have shot up during that time. On Thursday, a day of general carnage in the stock markets, Eli Lilly’s stock also enjoyed a boost after the company announced that it, too, is joining the effort to come up with a therapy for the new coronavirus. And Gilead Sciences, which is at work on a potential treatment as well, is also thriving.

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1 day (or is it 2?) after re-opening all Chinese stores.

Apple To Close All Stores Outside Of China (BI)

Apple will be temporarily shuttering all stores outside China until March 27, in response to mounting concern over the novel coronavirus, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced on Saturday. Cook also said in a tweet that the company will be committing $15 million to recovery efforts and matching employee donations two-to-one as the coronavirus, which causes the disease known as COVID-19, continues to grip the US. “What we’ve learned together has helped us all develop the best practices that are assisting enormously in our global response,” Cook wrote in a press release. “One of those lessons is that the most effective way to minimize risk of the virus’s transmission is to reduce density and maximize social distance.” “As rates of new infections continue to grow in other places, we’re taking additional steps to protect our team members and customers.” The retailer will continue to fulfill purchases made online or through the Apple phone apps.

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Can you self-isolate in a car?

Bad Coronavirus News Starts To Hit US Auto Dealers (R.)

A relentless barrage of bad news surrounding the coronavirus epidemic has begun to affect customer visits at some U.S. auto dealers and even those businesses that have thrived so far believe a big sales decline is imminent if China’s experience is any guide. Since the coronavirus outbreak began in China last year it has killed more than 5,000 people globally, including 41 so far in the United States, where President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency. The outbreak has caused automakers to shutter plants in Asia and Europe, and the mounting responses in the United States – school closures, pro sports leagues suspending play and other big events canceled – are now being felt by some U.S. dealers. For a sign of what may be in store, analysts said look no further than China, where auto sales plunged 79% last month.


“Sales are definitely falling,” said John Luciano, managing partner with Street Volkswagen in Amarillo, Texas, and chairman of Volkswagen’s national dealer council. “We’re waking up in a different world a little bit more every day.” At Russ Shelton’s Buick GMC dealership in Rochester Hills, Michigan, so far this month customer visits are down 30% while the service department has seen a 40% drop in business due to the outbreak. “When schools close, mothers get worried – and this stops economic activity,” industry consultant and former GM executive Warren Browne said. Cox Automotive now sees negative U.S. economic growth in the second quarter and has withdrawn its forecast for 16.6 million new-vehicle sales in the United States this year.

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“We’re definitely voting. They voted during the Civil War. We’re gonna vote..”

Next Week’s Primaries To Proceed Despite Coronavirus, Louisiana Delay (R.)

Louisiana on Friday became the first U.S. state to postpone its presidential nominating contest because of the coronavirus pandemic, while four states holding their primaries next week said those elections would go forward as planned. The Southern state said it would reschedule voting in the run-up to the Nov. 3 election because of the outbreak. Officials there said they would postpone their scheduled April 4 primary to June 20 “to best protect the health and safety of Louisiana voters and voting officials,” Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said at a news conference. The four states holding their primaries on Tuesday – Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio – said in a joint statement they would proceed with their contests while taking steps to ensure public safety.

“Americans have participated in elections during challenging times in the past, and, based on the best information we have from public health officials, we are confident that voters in our states can safely and securely cast their ballots in this election, and that otherwise healthy poll workers can and should carry out their patriotic duties on Tuesday,” election officials from the four states said. “We’re definitely voting. They voted during the Civil War. We’re gonna vote,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis told reporters on Friday. Louisiana’s move poses a problem for the Democratic Party, which mandates all nominating contests must be held by early June or states risk losing delegates to the party convention in July.


[..] Biden’s attempt to connect with voters via a virtual town hall on Friday was plagued by early technical glitches that delayed its start and made most of his early remarks impossible to understand. The event provided the first glimpse into the challenges of running a virtual campaign. He used his opening remarks to discuss his plan for tackling the coronavirus crisis and pleading for citizens to listen to public health officials and wash their hands. He then turned to virtual attendees for questions and comments. The first person said, “Mr. Biden’s speech was garbled the entire time.”

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Let Washington handle it, make it free.

Major US Internet Firms Agree Not To Cancel Service Over Next 60 Days (R.)

The Federal Communications Commission said Friday that major internet providers – including Comcast Corp, AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc – agreed not to terminate service for subscribers for the next 60 days if they are unable to pay their bills due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said after calls with more than 50 companies that they also agreed to waive any late fees residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic. They also agreed to open Wi-Fi hotspots to anyone who needs them, the FCC said.

Millions more Americans are expected to work from home as employers and states urge people to telework to reduce the potential to spread the coronavirus outbreak. Others agreeing to take part are Alphabet Inc’s Google Fiber, Charter Communications Inc, CenturyLink Inc, Cox Communications, Sprint Corp, T-Mobile US Inc. “As the coronavirus outbreak spreads and causes a series of disruptions to the economic, educational, medical and civic life of our country, it is imperative that Americans stay connected,” Pai said in a statement. “Broadband will enable them to communicate with their loved ones and doctors, telework, ensure their children can engage in remote learning.”


FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, praised the companies adopting the pledge, but said the FCC should do more. She called on the commission to “provide hotspots for loan for students whose school doors have closed” and should “work with health care providers to ensure connectivity for telehealth services are available for hospitals, doctors, and nurses treating coronavirus patients and those who are quarantined.” Pai also said he had asked providers that offer low-income consumers lower-speed cheaper service to increase speeds and expand eligibility. Comcast said Thursday it was raising its speeds for all its low-income users, while AT&T said it was waiving data caps for consumers that have plans with usage caps.

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John Solomon promises more. Will there be elections, though?

FBI’s Russia Collusion Case Fell Apart In January 2017 (Solomon)

Flynn’s motion is confirmed by a 2018 letter obtained by Just the News between Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office and defense lawyers. It shows the DOJ exoneration memo was written after Flynn had been interviewed by FBI agents in January 2017 and after the government learned the former Defense Intelligence Agency chief had kept his old agency briefed on his contacts with Russia, something that weighed heavily against the notion he was aiding Moscow.

“According to an internal DOJ memo dated January 30, 2017, after the Jan. 24 interview, the FBI advised that based on the interview the FBI did not believe Flynn was acting as an agent of Russia,” Mueller’s team wrote in the letter. U.S. District Judge Emmett Sullivan so far has concluded that the exoneration of Flynn on the Russia collusion charge wasn’t relevant to his conviction since he pled guilty to a different crime, making a false statement to the FBI. But for the American public, such a revelation is momentous. Less than two weeks into Trump’s presidency the FBI had concluded his national security adviser had not been working as an agent of Russia.

While that was the view of federal law enforcement, the false storyline of Flynn as a Russian stooge was broadcasted across the nation, with leaks of his conversations with a Russian ambassador and other tales, for many more months. In an interview with Just the News and its John Solomon Reports podcast, Powell confirmed she was provided by letter three sentences from the DOJ memo but has been unable to get the full document. “It’s just horrible,” Powell said. “They gave us a little three lines summary of it and the letter and told us it existed but have refused to give us the actual document, which I know means there’s a lot of other information in it that would be helpful to us.” Powell also confirmed that Mueller was fully aware of a letter sent in early January 2017 to Flynn from Britain’s national security adviser raising concerns about Steele’s credibility.

The British government “hand-delivered” a letter to Flynn’s team that “totally disavowed any credibility of Christopher Steele, and would have completely destroyed the Russia collusion narrative,” Powell said. Flynn himself has no memory of receiving the communique, but people around him at the time do and confirmed the existence of the document, Powell explained. Flynn was questioned about it during his debriefings by Mueller’s team, she added. “I was told that a copy of the document would have been given to [then-National Security Adviser] Susan Rice as well,” she added. “So the Obama administration knew full well that the entire Russia collusion mess was a farce.”

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Evangelical humor.

‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ At DC Museum Of The Bible Are All Forgeries (NatGeo)

On the fourth floor of the Museum of the Bible, a sweeping permanent exhibit tells the story of how the ancient scripture became the world’s most popular book. A warmly lit sanctum at the exhibit’s heart reveals some of the museum’s most prized possessions: fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient texts that include the oldest known surviving copies of the Hebrew Bible. But now, the Washington, D.C. museum has confirmed a bitter truth about the fragments’ authenticity. On Friday, independent researchers funded by the Museum of the Bible announced that all 16 of the museum’s Dead Sea Scroll fragments are modern forgeries that duped outside collectors, the museum’s founder, and some of the world’s leading biblical scholars. Officials unveiled the findings at an academic conference hosted by the museum. “The Museum of the Bible is trying to be as transparent as possible,” says CEO Harry Hargrave.


“We’re victims—we’re victims of misrepresentation, we’re victims of fraud.” In a report spanning more than 200 pages, a team of researchers led by art fraud investigator Colette Loll found that while the pieces are probably made of ancient leather, they were inked in modern times and modified to resemble real Dead Sea Scrolls. “These fragments were manipulated with the intent to deceive,” Loll says. The new findings don’t cast doubt on the 100,000 real Dead Sea Scroll fragments, most of which lie in the Shrine of the Book, part of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. However, the report’s findings raise grave questions about the “post-2002” Dead Sea Scroll fragments, a group of some 70 snippets of biblical text that entered the antiquities market in the 2000s. Even before the new report, some scholars believed that most to all of the post-2002 fragments were modern fakes.

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How long does it take to kill 50 million years?

It Would Take 50 Million Years To Recover New Zealand’s Lost Bird Species (F.)

Long before people arrived in New Zealand, it was dominated by multitudes of unique birds. They were absolutely everywhere: big birds, little birds, colorful birds, flightless birds. In the absence of reptilian and mammalian predators, birds evolved to fill every available niche, from giant moas that stood 11 feet tall and weighed as much as 230 kilograms (510 pounds) that were the ecological equivalent of deer and antelopes, to the largest eagle that ever lived, which was New Zealand’s apex predator, functioning similarly to lions and tigers and other big cats. But after humans arrived 700 years ago, it took us only a few hundred years to drive more than half of New Zealand’s bird species into extinction, and more than 30% of the birds that survived our original onslaughts are threatened with extinction today. Nearly two-thirds could be under threat in the future.

Considering these dire circumstances, an international team of scientists wondered how long it might take for New Zealand to recover its full diversity of bird species lost to human actions. According to their recently published study, the researchers estimated this process would take approximately 50 million years (50Ma). Further, they found that, if bird species that are currently threatened are allowed to go extinct, it would take an additional 10Ma for New Zealand to achieve today’s (severely compromised) level of species diversity. “The conservation decisions we make today will have repercussions for millions of years to come”, said the lead author of the study, Luis Valente, a Research Associate at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin.


“Some people believe that if you leave nature alone it will quickly recuperate, but the reality is that, at least in New Zealand, nature would need several million years to recover from human actions — and perhaps will never really recover.” New Zealand is home to a collection of odd birds, including the wrybill, a small shorebird whose bill curves sideways; the iconic kiwis, whose feathers resemble fur and which are the only bird species in the world to have nostrils at the tip of their beak; the flightless kakapo, which resembles a large moss-colored owl and is the heaviest parrot alive today; and of course, the kea, which is the world’s only alpine parrot and who is pushing the boundaries of our understanding of how astonishingly clever parrots can be. Despite this modern surfeit of avian biodiversity, it is just a mere whisper of what once lived on New Zealand, which was the result of many millions of years of evolutionary history.

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Mar 132020
 


Earl Theisen Walt Disney oiling scale model locomotive at home in LA 1951

 

Coronavirus Can Survive in the Air For Up To 3 Hours (GR)
Clinical Course, Risk Factors For Mortality Of Adults In Wuhan (Lancet)
Coronavirus May End By June If Countries Take Action – China Adviser (RT)
Policymakers Ramp Up Support As Coronavirus Shreds Markets (R.)
Ohio Health Official Estimates 100,000 People In State Have Coronavirus (Hill)
Many More Families Are Going To Lose Loved Ones Before Their Time (Ind.)
I’d Rather Be in Italy Than US for the Coronavirus Pandemic (IC)
Fed Rolls Out Fastest Money Printer Ever, up to $4.5 Trillion in 4 Weeks (WS)
Fed To Pump In More Than $1 Trillion Into Markets In Dramatic Move (CNBC)
Market Turmoil Sparked By Coronavirus Fears Worse Than 2008 – Bianco (CNBC)
Apple Reopens All Its Branded Stores In China (R.)
US Excludes Some Chinese Medical Products From Tariffs (R.)
Iran Asks IMF For $5 Billion Emergency Funding To Fight Coronavirus (R.)
Greening Our Way to Infection (CJ)
Two Angry Old Men Yelling at Each Other in Arizona (FPM)
Monsanto’s Secret Funding For Weedkiller Studies (G.)
Migrants On Greek Islands To Be Offered €2,000 To Go Home (G.)
Judge Orders Immediate Release Of Chelsea Manning (Ind.)

 

 

Over 9,000 new cases in a single day. It’s been a while, if it ever happened. New deaths are also crawling up. And in most places, we’re just getting started. Things like travel, public gatherings will soon be halted all over. There is no other choice. This virus can survive airborne for 3 hours, and patients can remain contagious for up to 37 days.

Get some extra vit.C, vit.D3 while you can, boost your health, wash more often. And prepare to hunker down for as much as 2 months. It’ll be a different world for a while. Get used to that while you can, while it’s voluntary.

And as you’re settling in, also prepare for a godalmighty financial crash. The Fed yesterday paid a nice round trillion for a 10% fall in stocks. Well, at least Chelsea Manning is free, albeit still in hospital.

 

Cases 135,809 (+ 9,165 from yesterday’s 126,644)

Deaths 4,990 (+ 351 from yesterday’s 4,639)

 

Apart from China, there are just 2 other countries left in this list that have less than 100 new cases.

From Worldometer yesterday evening (before their day’s close)

 

 

From SCMP: (Note: the SCMP graph was useful when China was the focal point; they are falling behind now)

 

 

From Worldometer (NOTE: mortality rate is back up to 7%!)

 

 

From COVID2019.app: (This site is playing with its formats while expanding, now over 200 global contributors)

 

 

 

 

“We found that viable virus could be detected in aerosols up to 3 hours post aerosolization, up to 4 hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel. HCoV-19 and SARS-CoV-1 exhibited similar half-lives in aerosols, with median estimates around 2.7 hours. ”

Coronavirus Can Survive in the Air For Up To 3 Hours (GR)

Scientists at Princeton University, the University of California-Los Angeles and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have released a study on Wednesday according to which the novel form of coronavirus can survive in the air for several hours. Federally funded tests conducted by the scientists indicated that the COVID-19 virus could remain viable in the air “up to 3 hours post aerosolization,” while remaining alive on plastic and other surfaces for up to three days. “Our results indicate that aerosol and fomite transmission of HCoV-19 is plausible, as the virus can remain viable in aerosols for 42 multiple hours and on surfaces up to days,” reads the study’s abstract.


The test results suggest that humans could be infected by the disease simply carried through the air or on a solid surface, even if direct contact with an infected person does not occur. That finding, if accepted, would come in stark contrast to previous media reports that suggested the virus was not easily transmittable outside of direct human contact.

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I couldn’t find the 37-day figure this Twitter comment mentions, in the report (didn’t copy the writer). That doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

Study in the Lancet finds that #COVID19 viral shedding can be UP TO 37 DAYS, with an average of 20 DAYS. *Patients may still be contagious during that time* VERY BIG DEAL because current guidelines recommend only a 14 day (2 week) isolation time. This means patients may remain contagious well after they’re no longer symptomatic. And it means current guidelines (14 day isolation) may lead to additional propagation post quarantine.

Check the graph for hospital beds per 1,000 people in your country.

Clinical Course, Risk Factors For Mortality Of Adults In Wuhan (Lancet)

The level and duration of infectious virus replication are important factors in assessing the risk of transmission and guiding decisions regarding isolation of patients. Because coronavirus RNA detection is more sensitive than virus isolation, most studies have used qualitative or quantitative viral RNA tests as a potential marker for infectious coronavirus. For SARS-CoV, viral RNA was detected in respiratory specimens from about a third of patients as long as 4 weeks after disease onset. Similarly, the duration of MERS-CoV RNA detection in lower respiratory specimans persisted for at least 3 weeks, whereas the duration of SARS-CoV-2 RNA detection has not been well characterised.


In the current study, we found that the detectable SARS-CoV-2 RNA persisted for a median of 20 days in survivors and that it was sustained until death in non-survivors. This has important implications for both patient isolation decision making and guidance around the length of antiviral treatment. In severe influenza virus infection, prolonged viral shedding was associated with fatal outcome and delayed antiviral treatment was an independent risk factor for prolonged virus detection. Similarly, effective antiviral treatment might improve outcomes in COVID-19, although we did not observe shortening of viral shedding duration after lopinavir/ritonavir treatment in the current study.


Click for larger version in new tab

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When Zhong Nanshan said in late January that the China epidemic would be over in max 10 days, I said he sounded like a Beijing propagandist. He’s still at it.

Coronavirus May End By June If Countries Take Action – China Adviser (RT)

The deadly outbreak may be over by the start of summer, provided that all countries mobilize themselves against the pandemic, said Chinese government adviser in charge of tackling the coronavirus. Zhong Nanshan, Chinese coronavirus adviser and the epidemiologist who discovered Severe Acute respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, made the prediction while speaking to journalists on Thursday. He noted, however, that the breakthrough is heavily dependent on how World Health Organization’s (WHO) members are dealing with the crisis. Some countries still don’t take the situation very seriously and fail to aggressively contain the Covid-19, Zhong said. In this case, the epidemic might be prolonged even despite the summer heat that makes viral stains relatively inactive, the doctor warned.


His remarks come shortly after China’s National Health Commission (NHC) reported a decline in new Covid-19 cases across the mainland. “Broadly speaking, the peak of the epidemic has passed for China,” said Mi Feng, a spokesman for the National Health Commission. “The increase of new cases is falling.” As of Wednesday, the NHC recorded 15 new cases, about half as many as Tuesday’s figure. China has been leading a swift response to the disease, locking down whole provinces, canceling public events and even postponing key sessions of parliament. To contain Covid-19, Beijing dispatched around 42,000 medics who flocked to Hubei province – the epicenter of the epidemic – from all across the country. Academics, leading infectionists, and intensive-care specialists were all called in.

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“According to a survey of epidemiologists the coronavirus outbreak probably won’t peak before May, meaning it will be getting worse and worse and worse over the next two months, and for much of that time, presumably, exponentially worse.”

Policymakers Ramp Up Support As Coronavirus Shreds Markets (R.)

Governments and central banks readied more emergency measures to tackle the economic impacts of the coronavirus on Friday as Asian markets suffered their worst weekly crashes since the 2008 financial crisis. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife Sophie was among several thousand people newly diagnosed with the COVID-19 respiratory disease that has now infected almost 135,000 and killed more than 4,900 worldwide. Experts warn that due to a lack of testing and unreported cases, many more people may be affected by the outbreak that emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. Major sporting events were canceled or postponed, large public gatherings restricted or banned and schools closed. “There is a sense of fear and panic,” said James Tao, an analyst at stockbroker Commsec in Sydney, where phones at the high-value client desk rang non-stop.


“It’s one of those situations where there is so much uncertainty that no-one quite knows how to respond … if it’s fight or flight, many people are choosing flight at the moment.” Japan’s Nikkei was in freefall, dropping 10% on Friday, after Wall Street stocks slumped around 10% in their worst day since the 1987 “Black Monday” crash. Travelers in Europe rushed to board flights to the United States after U.S. President Donald Trump imposed sweeping restrictions on travel from the continent, a decision that angered European leaders and frightened investors. Trump also suggested that the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo could be delayed by a year. “Maybe they postpone it for a year … if that’s possible,” Trump told reporters. “I like that better than I like having empty stadiums all over the place.”

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Simple math: “..at the very least, 1 percent of our population is carrying this virus in Ohio today,” Acton said. “We have 11.7 million people. So the math is over 100,000.”

Ohio Health Official Estimates 100,000 People In State Have Coronavirus (Hill)

A top health official in Ohio estimated on Thursday that more than 100,000 people in the state have coronavirus, a shockingly high number that underscores the limited testing so far. Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton said at a press conference alongside Gov. Mike DeWine (R) that given that the virus is spreading in the community in Ohio, she estimates at least 1 percent of the population in the state has the virus. “We know now, just the fact of community spread, says that at least 1 percent, at the very least, 1 percent of our population is carrying this virus in Ohio today,” Acton said. “We have 11.7 million people. So the math is over 100,000. So that just gives you a sense of how this virus spreads and is spreading quickly.”


She added that the slow rollout of testing means the state does not have good verified numbers to know for sure. “Our delay in being able to test has delayed our understanding of the spread of this,” Acton said. The Trump administration has come under intense criticism for the slow rollout of tests. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top National Institutes of Health official, acknowledged earlier Thursday it is “a failing” that people cannot easily get tested for coronavirus in the United States. Not everyone with the virus has symptoms, and about 80 percent of people with the virus do not end up needing hospitalization, experts say.

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Boris Johnson doesn’t understand the simple math that Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton, above, does. But he still gets vilified for saying that not 500,000 (at the very least!), but just 10,000 are infected.

Maybe it just takes time to sink in?!

Boris also gets vilified for not closing schools, just like Dutch PM Rutte. Which is indeed a little odd: you ban gatherings of more than 100-200 people, but 1500-2000-pupil schools remain open. On the other hand, where would all those children go?

Here’s a thought: Will their phone addictions now save their lives? Kids these days are perfect isolationists. All they need is a screen.

Many More Families Are Going To Lose Loved Ones Before Their Time (Ind.)

Up to 10,000 people in the UK probably have coronavirus, officials have said, as they announced they were stepping up Britain’s response to the outbreak with new actions designed to delay its spread. Anyone showing cold or flu-like symptoms is being told to isolate themselves for seven days from Friday onwards – a measure brought forward by at least a week. They should then stay at least two metres, or “about three steps”, away from anyone else, sleep alone and ask for help “to get the things you need”. “Stay away from vulnerable individuals such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions as much as possible,” the new advice reads.

Schools have been ordered to cancel all foreign trips, and elderly people or those with underlying health conditions are advised not to go on cruise ships. However, ministers have stepped back from immediate closures and sporting events will still go ahead, with fans allowed into stadiums. Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said the true number of infections was “likely” to be between 5,000 and 10,000 – many times higher than the current figure of 590. “We are in a period when we have got some, but it hasn’t yet taken off,” he told a press conference. The warning came as Boris Johnson sought to prepare the public for tougher times to come, saying: “This is the worst public health crisis for a generation.”


He dismissed comparisons to seasonal flu: “Because of the lack of immunity, this disease is more dangerous and it’s going to spread further. “Many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.” Explaining the decision not to move to more draconian restrictions now, unlike almost all neighbouring countries, Mr Johnson said: “The most dangerous period is not now but some weeks away, depending on how fast it spreads. He hinted at a likely shift to banning fans from sporting events, saying: “We are not saying ‘No’ to that sort of measure, of course not – we are keeping it up our sleeve.”

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“I just can’t shake the terror that the United States, my adopted country, is fundamentally unequipped to handle what lies ahead.”

I’d Rather Be in Italy Than US for the Coronavirus Pandemic (IC)

I have spent the last week looking for flights from New York to Italy — not because of coronavirus-inspired flash sales, but because I would rather go home to a country that’s currently in the grip of one of the worst outbreaks in the world than stay in the United States, where life is about to get infinitely worse. More than 15,000 people have tested positive for the new coronavirus in Italy, more than 1,000 have died, and hospitals are at a breaking point. Hundreds of medical staff have been infected, and overwhelmed doctors are reporting having to choose which patients to treat. They are begging the rest of the world to take this virus more seriously. The entire country — 60.5 million people — has been on lockdown for almost a week.

In the U.S., meanwhile, where some are just starting to realize the enormity of the crisis and far too many remain in denial, confusion reigns, largely aided by our top officials’ inept response. Last night, after President Donald Trump abruptly announced he was blocking travel from Europe to the U.S. — though officials later retracted and clarified much of that statement — people in Europe raced to airports, reportedly paying as much as $20,000 to try to catch flights out. And still I am trying to figure out how to make the opposite trip. Even as the death toll back home continues to climb and the lockdown gets stricter by the day, I would much rather weather this pandemic in Italy than here. I just can’t shake the terror that the United States, my adopted country, is fundamentally unequipped to handle what lies ahead.


[..] It is a tragic irony that a public health emergency unlike anything we have seen in generations would come as Americans are constantly told that the idea of health care as a fundamental right is entitled, radical, crazy talk. What is crazy, to anyone outside the United States, is that it’s even a question. Back in Italy, people are worried they’ll get themselves or their loved ones sick, they are angry at directives that came late, they are even scared that hospitals won’t be able to keep up. But there are more hospital beds and doctors per capita in Italy than there are in the U.S. The Italian government’s harsh restrictions are in part an effort to stop the virus from spreading to the south, where the health care system is weaker. But for all their fears, Italians don’t have to worry that tests won’t be available, or that they’ll have to pay for those tests, or for any of their care. They don’t have to fear that if they seek help now, they’ll get a surprise bill later or that medical costs will bankrupt them.

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Could we fix health care with that? How much is that per American?

Fed Rolls Out Fastest Money Printer Ever, up to $4.5 Trillion in 4 Weeks (WS)

Thursday early afternoon, during the chaos when the S&P 500 was down nearly 9%, what would turn into the worst single-day stock market sell-off since the 1987 crash, the Fed rolled out its fastest mega money-printer yet, after its smaller money-printers malfunctioned. It’s not going to be a long-drawn-out QE – though there is a component that is just that – but it’s going to be trillions of dollars, essentially all at once, front-loaded, starting today, though today fizzled already. This is the Fed’s latest effort to bail out Wall Street, the cherished asset holders that are so essential to the Fed’s “wealth effect,” all repo market participants, the banks, and the Treasury market that suddenly has gone haywire. Lots of things have gone haywire as the Everything Bubble unwinds messily.


Last week, the 10-year Treasury yield had plunged toward zero during the stock market sell-off, which was crazy but in line with the logic that investors were all piling into safe assets, and early Monday morning it fell to an unthinkable all-time low of 0.38%. But then, the 10-year yield more than doubled from 0.38% at the low on Monday to 0.88% at the highpoint on Thursday. That the 10-year yield spikes during a stock market crash is somewhat of a scary thought. It means that both stocks and long-dated Treasury securities are selling off at the same time. And that probably made the Fed very nervous. For stocks, Thursday was the 16th trading day since the S&P 500 peak, and in those 15 trading days, the index has crashed nearly 27%.

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Inject a trillion, see markets lose 10%. Never a better moment to end the Fed.

Fed To Pump In More Than $1 Trillion Into Markets In Dramatic Move (CNBC)

The Federal Reserve stepped into financial markets Thursday for the second day in a row and the third time this week, this time dramatically ramping up asset purchases amid the turmoil created by the coronavirus. “These changes are being made to address highly unusual disruptions in Treasury financing markets associated with the coronavirus outbreak,” the New York Fed said in an early afternoon announcement amid a washout on Wall Street that was heading toward the worst day since 1987. Stocks were off their lows following the announcement though some of the gains were pared as the market digested the moves.

One part of the announcement saw the Fed widen the scale for its $60 billion worth of money the Treasury purchases, which to now had been confined to short-term T-bills. Under the new regime, the Fed will extend its purchases “across a range of maturities” to include bills, notes, Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities and other instruments. The central bank will begin purchasing coupon-bearing securities, something market participants have been clamoring for since late 2019. The purchases start Thursday and will continue through April 13.


The second part of the new operations will see the New York Fed desk offer $500 billion in a three-month repo operation and a one-month operation. The offerings will happen on a weekly basis through the remainder of the program. In addition, the Fed will continue to offer at least $175 billion in overnight repos and $45 billion in two-week operations. Repos are short-term operations in which financial institutions provide high-quality collateral in exchange for cash reserves they use to operate.

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“This is their tool. They’ve used it. It should be working”…

Market Turmoil Sparked By Coronavirus Fears Worse Than 2008 – Bianco (CNBC)

Market researcher James Bianco calls the Federal Reserve’s move to pump $1.5 trillion into the market the “nuclear option” to calm investors gripped by coronavirus fears. Only, it didn’t work Thursday. Instead, stocks saw their worst day since the 1987 Black Monday market crash. “Financial markets are not recovering. It’s incredible to think that a trillion dollars can’t get these markets moving,” the Bianco Research president told CNBC’s “Trading Nation.” “We’re at a critical time — unlike anything I’ve seen in my career even counting 2008.” On Thursday, the Fed attempted to stabilize the markets by massively boosting asset purchases in the market. It came five days before its policy meeting on interest rates.

“What the Fed did was they restarted QE, and they essentially announced that in the next two days they’re going to do more QE than they did in the last five years combined,” added Bianco. “The reason they’re doing it is because the financial markets have stopped functioning properly. There’s no liquidity. There’s hardly any trading.” Stocks initially rebounded, but failed to hold on to gains. The Dow sank 2,352 points or 10% to 21,200 while the S&P 500 fell 261 points or 9.5% to 2,480. The Dow and S&P are deep in bear market territory, off 28% and 27%, respectively, from their all-time highs. “This is their tool. They’ve used it. It should be working”, said Bianco.


According to Bianco, Wall Street may still be in shock due to the magnitude of the Fed’ s move. Plus, he suggests there may be logistical issues. [New York] Governor [Andrew] Cuomo just announced that any gathering of over 500 people in New York State is banned. So, these big dealer desks are now going to have to figure it out from home, he said. “If financial markets don’t start moving, and if a trillion dollars cannot get them off the lows of the day of $500 billion today, $500 billion tomorrow, then we’re going to have to start worrying that a panic is going to set in… and we’re going to see a lot more losses as we go forward,” Bianco said.

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I love you long time.

Apple Reopens All Its Branded Stores In China (R.)

Apple has reopened all 42 of its branded stores in China, more than a month after they were shut due to fears over the coronavirus outbreak, the iPhone maker’s Chinese website showed on Friday. Apple’s China website has listed the opening time for all stores, which vary from 10:00 am to 11:00 am local time. The website had previously carried an advisory saying not all stores were open. China placed curbs on travel and asked residents to avoid public places in late January, just ahead of the Lunar New Year festival, a major gift-giving holiday. Those restrictions stayed largely in place through most of February. The company sold fewer than half a million iPhones in China in February, government data showed on Monday, as the outbreak halved demand for smartphones. Apple had announced the shuttering of its branded stores in early February.

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Something tells me prices may have just gone up.

US Excludes Some Chinese Medical Products From Tariffs (R.)

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office said it granted on Thursday exclusions from import tariffs for some medical products imported from China, including face masks, stethoscope covers and blood pressure cuff sleeves. The exclusions were granted as the United States grapples with a coronavirus outbreak that threatens to strain its healthcare system. Earlier this month, USTR granted exclusions for other Chinese medical products, including hand sanitizing wipes and examination gloves.


The products were included in a fourth round of tariffs on Chinese goods imposed by President Donald Trump on Sept. 1, 2019, amid heated U.S.-China trade negotiations. The tariff rate on the medical products was initially set at 15%, but was lowered to 7.5% on Feb. 15 as part of the Phase 1 U.S.-China trade agreement. The deal leaves in place tariffs on about $370 billion worth of imports from China, including 25% duties on goods valued at around $250 billion.

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IMF meets sanctions x world health.

Iran Asks IMF For $5 Billion Emergency Funding To Fight Coronavirus (R.)

Iran has asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for emergency funding to help it fight the coronavirus outbreak that has hit the Islamic Republic hard, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday. The escalating outbreak in Iran – the worst-affected country in the Middle East – has killed 429 people and infected 10,075. The outbreak has damaged Iranian businesses and is bound to hit its non-oil exports after many neighboring countries and trade partners shut their borders. The IMF managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, “has stated that countries affected by #COVID19 (coronavirus) will be supported via Rapid Financial Instrument. Our Central Bank requested access to this facility immediately”, Zarif said in a tweet.


Iranian Central Bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati wrote on his Instagram page that “in a letter addressed to the head of IMF, I have requested five billion U.S. dollars from the RFI emergency fund to help our fight against the coronavirus”. Iran’s economy was already battered by U.S. sanctions that curb oil and gas exports crucial for government revenues. A slowdown in economic activity caused by the virus outbreak and a sustained closure of its borders are expected to lead to a contraction this year, analysts have said. As Iran’s clerical rulers struggle to contain the coronavirus outbreak, Tehran has blamed the United States and its “maximum pressure” policy for restricting Iran’s ability to respond effectively to the virus.

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Bit right wing for me, but interesting.

Greening Our Way to Infection (CJ)

The COVID-19 outbreak is giving new meaning to those “sustainable” shopping bags that politicians and environmentalists have been so eager to impose on the public. These reusable tote bags can sustain the COVID-19 and flu viruses—and spread the viruses throughout the store. Researchers have been warning for years about the risks of these bags spreading deadly viral and bacterial diseases, but public officials have ignored their concerns, determined to eliminate single-use bags and other plastic products despite their obvious advantages in reducing the spread of pathogens. In New York State, a new law took effect this month banning single-use plastic bags in most retail businesses, and this week Democratic state legislators advanced a bill that would force coffee shops to accept consumers’ reusable cups—a practice that Starbucks and other chains have wisely suspended to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus.

John Flanagan, the Republican leader of the New York State Senate, has criticized the new legislation and called for a suspension of the law banning plastic bags. “Senate Democrats’ desperate need to be green is unclean during the coronavirus outbreak,” he said Tuesday, but so far he’s been a lonely voice among public officials. The COVID-19 virus is just one of many pathogens that shoppers can spread unless they wash the bags regularly, which few people bother to do. Viruses and bacteria can survive in the tote bags up to nine days, according to one study of coronaviruses. The risk of spreading viruses was clearly demonstrated in a 2018 study published in the Journal of Environmental Health.


The researchers, led by Ryan Sinclair of the Loma Linda University School of Public Health, sent shoppers into three California grocery stores carrying polypropylene plastic tote bags that had been sprayed with a harmless surrogate of a virus. After the shoppers bought groceries and checked out, the researchers found sufficiently high traces of the surrogate to risk transmission on the hands of the shoppers and checkout clerks, as well as on many surfaces touched by the shoppers, including packaged food, unpackaged produce, shopping carts, checkout counters, and the touch screens used to pay for groceries. The researchers said that the results warranted the adaptation of “in-store hand hygiene” and “surface disinfection” by merchants, and they also recommended educating shoppers to wash their bags.

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I admit, included for the headline.

Two Angry Old Men Yelling at Each Other in Arizona (FPM)

Bernie’s got a problem. He’s struggling in the delegate count and Florida and New York are unlikely to help. He’s got one way to reverse the tide, and that’s destroy Biden in a debate. Destroying Biden is not so hard. He’s a confused and shambling wreck. Even Kamala Harris was temporarily able to pick up some of his voters that way. The trouble is Bernie is nearly as much of a mess. If his people weren’t complete psychos, they might have been able to build an alliance with Elizabeth Warren. Instead, all the bridges were burned, and Sanders benefited little from her dropping out. But Warren, staying in, could have served as Bernie’s hatchet woman. So might Tulsi Gabbard, though she last served as Biden’s hatchet woman.


But considering that she’s polling at nothing, there’s no pretext that could get her into the debate. And Bernie is a poor debater. Not as much as Biden, but close enough. All he can do is respond to every question with an angry rant about corporations and medical care. That’s not going to win anything. After Biden’s victory speech, it’s clear that the current brains behind his campaign have been able to get him to memorize his own speeches and deliver them in an angry tone that passes for energy. That’s Bernie’s shtick. And it’s probably not a coincidence. So the Arizona debate will consist of two old men angrily yelling at each other with stump speeches. Sounds like a winner.

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Upside down world: “..the loss of glyphosate would cause very severe impacts on UK agriculture and the environment..”

Monsanto’s Secret Funding For Weedkiller Studies (G.)

Monsanto secretly funded academic studies indicating “very severe impacts” on farming and the environment if its controversial glyphosate weedkiller were banned, an investigation has found. The research was used by the National Farmers’ Union and others to successfully lobby against a European ban in 2017. As a result of the revelations, the NFU has now amended its glyphosate information to declare the source of the research. Monsanto was bought by the agri-chemical multinational Bayer in 2018 and Bayer said the studies’ failure to disclose their funding broke its principles. However, the authors of the studies said the funding did not influence their work and the editor of the journal in which they were published said the papers would not be retracted or amended. Glyphosate is sold by Bayer as Roundup and is the world’s most widely used weedkiller.


The World Health Organization’s cancer agency, the IARC, declared that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans” in 2015 but several international agencies, including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), subsequently came to opposite conclusions. Last year courts in the US ordered Monsanto to pay damages of up to $2bn to individuals with cancer and faces many more lawsuits. Bayer said it “stands fully behind its glyphosate-based products”. The new revelations centre on studies published in 2010 and 2014 by researchers at ADAS, an agricultural and environmental consultancy in the UK. The analyses concluded “the loss of glyphosate would cause very severe impacts on UK agriculture and the environment”. They suggested a 20% fall in wheat and rapeseed production.

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You blow up their home and then you toss them a handout to go back to that home.

Migrants On Greek Islands To Be Offered €2,000 To Go Home (G.)

Migrants on the Greek islands are to be offered €2,000 (£1,764) per person to go home under a voluntary scheme launched by the European Union in an attempt to ease desperate conditions in camps. The amount is more than five times the usual sum offered to migrants to help them rebuild their lives in their country of origin, under voluntary returns programmes run by the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM). The offer will last one month, as the commission fears an open-ended scheme would attract more migrants to Europe. It will not apply to refugees who have no homes to return to, but is intended to incentivise migrants seeking better living standards to leave the islands.

The EU’s home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, said the scheme was “a window of opportunity for a targeted group”, adding that the IOM would run the scheme with the EU border agency Frontex. “Refugees will not return, of course, they can’t return, but economic migrants that maybe know they will not get a positive asylum decision could be interested in doing that,” she told a small group of reporters. The scheme, she said, could be a quick way to relieve the pressure on camps on the Greek islands, where conditions are “totally unacceptable”. The commission said it hoped 5,000 people will take up the offer, although it acknowledged it lacked statistics on how many people on the Greek islands were “economic migrants”, rather than refugees.


Migrants on the Greek mainland were likely to be offered extra money to leave – much less than €2,000, but higher than the usual resettlement sum of €370. Since 2016, 18,151 people have chosen to return home from Greece under a voluntary returns programme funded by the EU and run by the IOM. Only about one-fifth of them (3,927) were on the islands. [..] More than 20,000 people are living at the Moria camp on Lesbos, up from 5,000 last July. About 85% of last year’s arrivals were refugees, with most coming from Afghanistan and Syria, but also from Iraq, Palestine, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere. More than 18,300 Moria residents were living in a facility designed for 2,200, while others were living in nearby olive groves.

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” Judge Anthony Trenga did not waive the $256k in penalties levied against her.”

Judge Orders Immediate Release Of Chelsea Manning (Ind.)

A US judge has ordered the immediate release of Chelsea Manning, the former American army officer who was remanded to prison after refusing to testify against WikiLeaks. The ruling states that it is no longer necessary for her to testify and follows her attorneys’ announcement that she had recently tried to kill herself while imprisoned. She is reportedly recovering in hospital. Ms Manning spent seven years in a military prison after leaking thousands of classified government documents to WikiLeaks before Barack Obama commuted her sentence in 2017. Last year, she was held in contempt of court after refusing to testify before a federal grand jury as part of an investigation into Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. She has been jailed since May.


In his ruling on Thursday, Judge Anthony Trenga did not waive the $256k in penalties levied against her. The ruling says that enforcement of the “accrued, conditional fines would not be punitive but rather necessary to the coercive purpose” of the court’s contempt order. She was scheduled to appear at a hearing in a Virginia federal court today. That appearance has been cancelled.

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Mar 122020
 


Ann Rosener Reconditioning used spark plugs for use in testing airplane motors, Melrose Park Buick plant, Chicago 1942

 

 

 

The Extraordinary Decisions Facing Italian Doctors (Mounk)
‘Healthcare On Brink Of Collapsing’: The Italy Coronavirus Quarantine (ITV)
Politicians, Community Leaders, Business Leaders: What To Do and When (M.)
Trump Suspends Travel From Europe To US (BBC)
Ban On European Travel To US Will Batter Airlines (R.)
Why Does The Coronavirus Spread So Easily Between People? (Nature)
6 Million Low-Income Australians To Get $750 Cash Coronavirus Stimulus (G.)
Boeing Halts Hiring, Limits Overtime To Preserve Cash (CNBC)
Washington State House Passes Bill To Drop Boeing Tax Break (R.)
Mnuchin: IMF, World Bank Funds Won’t Repay Belt and Road Debts To China (R.)
Ghislaine Maxwell ‘Persuaded’ Prince Andrew To Snub FBI’s Epstein Probe (NYP)
Erdogan Slams Greece’s ‘Nazi’ Treatment Of Refugees (RT)
Greece Warned By EU It Must Uphold The Right To Asylum (G.)
Greenland And Antarctica Ice Loss Accelerating (BBC)
New Rules Could Spell End Of ‘Throwaway Culture’ (BBC)
Chelsea Manning Hospitalized After Suicide Attempt (G.)
Internet ‘Is Not Working For Women And Girls’ – Tim Berners-Lee (G.)

 

 

Even though he’s a rich celebrity Tom Hanks is probably lucky to fall ill at the time and place he did (now and in Australia). In Italy they might not treat his 63-year-old ass anymore. Many other countries, including Australia won’t either, in 1-2-3 weeks’ time. NBA suspended, Olympics, Eurocup and all other mass events should follow. They will anyway, so might as well do it nnow.

Other than that, as you’re tempted to criticize your government’s actions with regards to coronavirus, remember that everybody does it, every government is too late and too little, just like all the mainstream media and investors. This doesn’t mean your particular locality’s ‘leaders’ don’t deserve scrutiny, but it does provide perspective. They all dropped the ball and play catch-up, including the WHO. And they all have their eye on the economy, not the virus. Which is an issue for them only insofar as it affects the economy.

In the same vein, governments everywhere, central banks, IMF, World Bank, are all geared towards supporting companies, not people. But if 70% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck and self-isolation is inevitably the next thing coming to the US, how are people supposed to self-isolate when those paychecks stop coming?

Older people will not be treated, and poorer people will have no choice but to go out and find food and other items just to survive. Northern Italy is quite a rich part of the world, which is why they have such an excellent health care system. Many parts of the US are nowhere near that rich, and their health care matches that difference.

 

Cases 126,644 (+ 7,255 from yesterday’s 119,389)

Deaths 4,639 (+ 339 from yesterday’s 4,300)

 

As China states its peak is over, the rise in cases in European countries is relentless. As I was scribbling yesterday before the latest numbers came in:

“Denmark, Norway each have some 5 million inhabitants. Switzerland has 10 million. Holland has 17. Their cases to date are 340, 440, 652 and 503, respectively.

Germany has 82 million people and 1,622 cases. Ergo, per capita Denmark, Norway should have -to keep level with Germany- 16x more cases, Switzerland 8x, Holland 5x. That would mean 3,440, 7,040, 5,216 and 2,515 cases per capita (not the right term, but you get it).

Norway is by far the worst. After Italy, Iran and South Korea, it’s the worst in infections per million people (if we forget Bahrain). It’s 27x worse than the US. So how many dire reports have you read from or about Norway?”

From Worldometer yesterday evening (before their day’s close)

 

 

This tells you a whole lot too.

 

 

From SCMP: (Note: the SCMP graph was useful when China was the focal point; they are falling behind now)

 

 

From Worldometer:

 

 

From COVID2019.app:

 

 

 

 

Another great read from Yascha Mounk at the Atlantic. Looks like I’ll have to pass for the next one, my freebies are up.

The Extraordinary Decisions Facing Italian Doctors (Mounk)

Two weeks ago, Italy had 322 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. At that point, doctors in the country’s hospitals could lavish significant attention on each stricken patient. One week ago, Italy had 2,502 cases of the virus, which causes the disease known as COVID-19. At that point, doctors in the country’s hospitals could still perform the most lifesaving functions by artificially ventilating patients who experienced acute breathing difficulties. Today, Italy has 10,149 cases of the coronavirus. There are now simply too many patients for each one of them to receive adequate care. Doctors and nurses are unable to tend to everybody. They lack machines to ventilate all those gasping for air.

Now the Italian College of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation and Intensive Care (SIAARTI) has published guidelines for the criteria that doctors and nurses should follow in these extraordinary circumstances. The document begins by likening the moral choices facing Italian doctors to the forms of wartime triage that are required in the field of “catastrophe medicine.” Instead of providing intensive care to all patients who need it, its authors suggest, it may become necessary to follow “the most widely shared criteria regarding distributive justice and the appropriate allocation of limited health resources. ”The principle they settle upon is utilitarian. “Informed by the principle of maximizing benefits for the largest number,”

[..] they suggest that “the allocation criteria need to guarantee that those patients with the highest chance of therapeutic success will retain access to intensive care.” The authors, who are medical doctors, then deduce a set of concrete recommendations for how to manage these impossible choices, including this: “It may become necessary to establish an age limit for access to intensive care.” Those who are too old to have a high likelihood of recovery, or who have too low a number of “life-years” left even if they should survive, will be left to die. This sounds cruel, but the alternative, the document argues, is no better. “In case of a total saturation of resources, maintaining the criterion of ‘first come, first served’ would amount to a decision to exclude late-arriving patients from access to intensive care.”

Read more …

Note: Italy is rated second in the world for healthcare provision by the WHO. The UK is 18th.

‘Healthcare On Brink Of Collapsing’: The Italy Coronavirus Quarantine (ITV)

I’m just back from Italy and “enjoying” my first day of self-isolation. Getting a real picture of how bad the situation is, especially in Lombardy and the north, has been really difficult for TV news because movement is so restricted, access to the overwhelmed hospitals impossible and the danger of infection so great. But it’s really important people understand just how bad things are, not least because it is where we may be headed. So I will continue to write here about conversations, emails or recordings with those who are still under quarantine in Italy. Some will be Britons who have stayed on, some Italians, some doctors. I start with a voice recording of two Milanese doctors speaking on WhatsApp about the situation at their hospitals.

The first identifies herself as Martina, but I believe she is Martina Crivellari, an intensive care cardiac anaesthesiologist at the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan. She said: “There are a lot of young people in our Intensive Care Units (ICUs) – our youngest is a 38-year-old who had had no comorbidities (underlying health problems). “A lot of patients need help with breathing but there are not enough ventilators. “They’ve told us that starting from now we’ll have to choose who to intubate – priority will go to the young or those without comorbidities. “At Niguarda, the other big hospital in Milan, they are not intubating anyone over 60, which is really, really young.” She added: “This virus is so infectious that the only way to avoid a ‘massacre’ is to have the least number possible getting infected over the longest possible timescale.

“Right now, if we get 10,000 people in Italy in need of ventilators – when we only have 3,000 in the country – 7,000 people will die. “Rome right now is like where Milan was 10 days ago. In 10 days there has been an incredible escalation. “Lombardy, which has the best healthcare in the country, is collapsing, so I don’t dare to think what would happen in less efficient regions. “We’ve had no critical cases among children but with children, viruses are much less aggressive – think chickenpox or measles. “But the very young are crazy carriers. “A child with no symptoms will go to visit its grandparents, and basically kill them. So it’s essential to avoid contact between them”.

Read more …

Comprehensize overview from Tomas Pueyo.

Politicians, Community Leaders, Business Leaders: What To Do and When (M.)

When you’re done reading the article, this is what you’ll take away:
• The coronavirus is coming to you.
• It’s coming at an exponential speed: gradually, and then suddenly.
• It’s a matter of days. Maybe a week or two.
• When it does, your healthcare system will be overwhelmed.
• Your fellow citizens will be treated in the hallways.
• Exhausted healthcare workers will break down. Some will die.
• They will have to decide which patient gets the oxygen and which one dies.
• The only way to prevent this is social distancing today. Not tomorrow. Today.
• That means keeping as many people home as possible, starting now.
• As a politician, community leader or business leader, you have the power and the responsibility to prevent this.

You might have fears today: What if I overreact? Will people laugh at me? Will they be angry at me? Will I look stupid? Won’t it be better to wait for others to take steps first? Will I hurt the economy too much? But in 2–4 weeks, when the entire world is in lockdown, when the few precious days of social distancing you will have enabled will have saved lives, people won’t criticize you anymore: They will thank you for making the right decision. [..] Countries that are prepared will see a fatality rate of ~0.5% (South Korea) to 0.9% (rest of China). Countries that are overwhelmed will have a fatality rate between ~3%-5% Put in another way: Countries that act fast can reduce the number of deaths by ten. And that’s just counting the fatality rate. Acting fast also drastically reduces the cases, making this even more of a no-brainer.

Read more …

Also weeks too late.

Trump Suspends Travel From Europe To US (BBC)

US President Donald Trump has announced sweeping new travel restrictions on Europe in a bid to combat the spread of the coronavirus. In a televised address, he said travel from 26 European countries would be suspended for the next 30 days. But he said the “strong but necessary” restrictions would not apply to the UK, where 460 cases of the virus have now been confirmed. There are 1,135 confirmed cases of the virus across the US, with 38 deaths. “To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe,” Mr Trump said from the Oval Office on Wednesday evening. “The new rules will go into effect Friday at midnight,” he added. The travel order does not apply to US citizens. Mr Trump said the European Union had “failed to take the same precautions” as the US in fighting the virus.


A Presidential Proclamation, published shortly after Mr Trump’s speech, specified that the ban applies to anyone who has been in the EU’s Schengen border-free area within 14 days prior to their arrival in the US. This implies that Ireland is excluded from the ban as it is not one of the 26 Schengen countries. Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are also EU members without being part of the Schengen area. Mr Trump spoke just hours after Italy – the worst affected country outside China – announced tough new restrictions on its citizens. It will close all shops except food stores and pharmacies as part of its nationwide lockdown. He said the travel suspension would also “apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo” coming from Europe into the US. But he later tweeted to say that “trade will in no way be affected” by the new measures.

Read more …

Clean up the planet one step at a time.

Ban On European Travel To US Will Batter Airlines (R.)

The new U.S. ban on foreign citizens entering the country if they have traveled to Europe in recent weeks will heap more pressure on airlines already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, hitting European carriers the hardest, analysts said. The 30-day restrictions from Friday, which exclude Britain, are similar to those that went into effect targeting China on Feb. 1, and come after the outbreak’s rapid spread across the European continent and in the United States. Industry watchers warned the move could also create chaos at dozens of airports across Europe as passengers attempt a last-minute rush to fly to the United States before the ban takes effect. Flights from Europe can still operate to a limited number of U.S. airports with enhanced screening under measures announced on Wednesday evening.


But only U.S. citizens, permanent residents and immediate family members will be allowed in, severely denting the passenger base and hurting the U.S. tourism industry. U.S. President Donald Trump said the ban was needed because the country was entering a “critical time” in the fight against the virus, which has spread across the United States and killed at least 37 people and infected 1,281. “We made a lifesaving move with early action on China. Now we must take the same action with Europe,” Trump said in an address to the nation. “We will not delay.” The ban stops movement of people, not goods, he later clarified on Twitter. U.S. airlines had already slashed flight schedules to Italy, facing the largest European outbreak, and will take another hit from lower demand for flights from major destinations like France and Germany.

Read more …

Not clear at all. Makes you wonder where a vaccine should come from, and tells you it’ll take long time yet.

Why Does The Coronavirus Spread So Easily Between People? (Nature)

As the number of coronavirus infections approaches 100,000 people worldwide, researchers are racing to understand what makes it spread so easily. A handful of genetic and structural analyses have identified a key feature of the virus — a protein on its surface — that might explain why it infects human cells so readily. Other groups are investigating the doorway through which the new coronavirus enters human tissues — a receptor on cell membranes. Both the cell receptor and the virus protein offer potential targets for drugs to block the pathogen, but researchers say it is too early to be sure. “Understanding transmission of the virus is key to its containment and future prevention,” says David Veesler, a structural virologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, who posted his team’s findings about the virus protein on the biomedical preprint server bioRxiv on 20 February.

The new virus spreads much more readily than the one that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS (also a coronavirus), and has infected more than ten times the number of people who contracted SARS. To infect a cell, coronaviruses use a ‘spike’ protein that binds to the cell membrane, a process that’s activated by specific cell enzymes. Genomic analyses of the new coronavirus have revealed that its spike protein differs from those of close relatives, and suggest that the protein has a site on it which is activated by a host-cell enzyme called furin. This is significant because furin is found in lots of human tissues, including the lungs, liver and small intestines, which means that the virus has the potential to attack multiple organs, says Li Hua, a structural biologist at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began.

The finding could explain some of the symptoms observed in people with the coronavirus, such as liver failure, says Li, who co-authored a genetic analysis of the virus that was posted on the ChinaXiv preprint server on 23 February. SARS and other coronaviruses in the same genus as the new virus don’t have furin activation sites, he says. The furin activation site “sets the virus up very differently to SARS in terms of its entry into cells, and possibly affects virus stability and hence transmission”, says Gary Whittaker, a virologist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. His team published another structural analysis of the coronavirus’s spike protein on bioRxiv on 18 February.

Several other groups have also identified the activation site as possibly enabling the virus to spread efficiently between humans. They note that these sites are also found in other viruses that spread easily between people, including severe strains of the influenza virus. On these viruses, the activation site is found on a protein called haemagglutinin, not on the spike protein.

Read more …

Nice headline, but it’s only to boost the economy. It should be about the people.

6 Million Low-Income Australians To Get $750 Cash Coronavirus Stimulus (G.)

More than six million low-income earners will receive a $750 cash payment under a $17.6bn government stimulus package targeted at keeping Australians in work and avoiding the country’s first recession in almost 30 years. Announcing the package on Thursday, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, said he was confident the targeted measures would be enough to “do the job” of propping up the economy, as the Coalition abandons a much-touted surplus for the current financial year and shifts it focus to maintaining economic growth. The stimulus boost is equivalent to 0.9% of GDP in the March quarter, and follows initial estimates from Treasury that the effect of the coronavirus downturn in the March quarter would be 0.5%, on top of a 0.2% hit from the summer bushfire crisis.


Three-quarters of the $17.6bn package will be directed to businesses, with a $6.7bn cashflow payment pegged to employee wages, $4bn tied to new investment incentives, $1.2bn to support apprentices, and a $1bn fund for hard-hit sectors such as tourism. Businesses will also be allowed to defer tax obligations, with the Australian Taxation Office announcing that it will offer relief to those hit hard by the downturn on a case-by-case basis. The household stimulus will cost $4.76bn, with payments to begin flowing from 31 March. All welfare recipients and concession card holders will receive the $750 payment, including 2.4 million pensioners and those with a commonwealth seniors card. The government has targeted low-income earners as they are most likely to spend the stimulus payment, with Treasury understood to have estimated a 150% return to the economy for every dollar spent.

Read more …

How much longer can it last?

Boeing Halts Hiring, Limits Overtime To Preserve Cash (CNBC)

Boeing is immediately suspending most hiring and implementing other measures to preserve cash as the rapid spread of the coronavirus roils the air travel industry, sending the manufacturer’s stock to the lowest level since mid-2017. Shares of the manufacturer plunged more than 18% — their biggest one-day percentage drop in more than four decades — to $189.08. Boeing’s plunge shaved more than 284 points off the Dow Jones Industrial Average, helping send the blue-chip index into a bear market. The company also is drawing down earlier than expected the entirety of a $13.8 billion loan it secured in January to give it a cushion to weather the turmoil.


Boeing is already reeling from the damage of two fatal crashes of its 737 Max and the worldwide grounding of the planes, which hits the one-year mark on Friday. “On top of the work of safely returning the 737 MAX to service and the financial impact of the pause in MAX production, we’re now facing a global economic disruption generated by the COVID-19 coronavirus,” Boeing’s CEO, Dave Calhoun, and CFO Greg Smith wrote in a note to employees Wednesday. The company is not laying off workers at this time, a Boeing official told CNBC. Boeing also doesn’t currently have plans to make any changes to its dividend, the official said. The company is also limiting travel and discretionary spending. It will also limit overtime to work necessary for its efforts to bring the 737 Max back in service and “other key efforts in support of our customers,” the executives wrote to employees.

Read more …

Nail. Coffin.

Washington State House Passes Bill To Drop Boeing Tax Break (R.)

Washington state’s House of Representatives passed a measure on Wednesday night that removes a key tax break for Boeing and other aerospace firms, in a bid to head off possible European tariffs on U.S. goods and ease a transatlantic trade dispute over aircraft subsidies. “This measure is important to protect our state’s economy,” House Democratic Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said by phone. “We don’t want tariffs levied by the EU on the aerospace industry but also on other key industries in the state like wine and agricultural products.” The measure passed 73-24 after winning approval on Tuesday in the Senate, a spokeswoman for House Democrats said. However, late changes to the legislation means it must be put to another vote in the Senate before it can go to Washington state Governor Jay Inslee’s desk for signing.


The World Trade Organization has found that Boeing and Europe’s Airbus (AIR.PA), the world’s two largest planemakers, received billions of dollars of unfair subsidies in cases dating back to 2004. The global trade body has faulted both sides for failing to comply fully with previous rulings, opening the door to a tariff war. After years of debate, the focus of the European case against the United States involves a preferential state tax rate for aerospace introduced 16 years ago and renewed in 2013 to help attract production work for Boeing’s 777X. The planned law changes would remove the 40% saving on Business and Occupation tax, which saved Boeing some $118 million in 2018 based on published jetliner revenues.

Read more …

Isn’t he supposed to be on the corona team?

Mnuchin: IMF, World Bank Funds Won’t Repay Belt and Road Debts To China (R.)

The U.S. Treasury is working with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to gain full transparency of countries’ debts from China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative and ensure that funds from the institutions are not used to repay China, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday. “We think this is critically important,” Mnuchin told a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee. “We’re not ever going to be using money from these international organizations to pay back China.” Some countries saddled by debt from Belt and Road Projects, such as Pakistan, have turned to the IMF for assistance. Pakistan entered a $6 billion loan program with the Fund in July 2019.

Read more …

That queenie of yours is morally bankrupt as well.

Ghislaine Maxwell ‘Persuaded’ Prince Andrew To Snub FBI’s Epstein Probe (NYP)

Prince Andrew has hired a crisis management specialist dubbed “the backroom fixer” — after snubbing the FBI on the advice of Jeffrey Epstein’s accused madam Ghislaine Maxwell, according to reports. The Duke of York was on Monday once again shamed by US authorities who say he “completely shut the door on voluntary cooperation” with the investigation into his late pedophile pal’s crimes. Now a family friend of Maxwell’s claims Andrew was “persuaded” to do so at her urging. “Ghislaine told me that yes, the lawyers and Ghislaine have finally convinced Andrew that it would do no good for him to talk to the FBI,” Maxwell friend Laura Goldman told the Sun.


“He wanted to talk to them because he has nothing to hide,” Goldman said of the “honorable” 60-year-old royal. “But it was Ghislaine who persuaded him that it didn’t matter. The FBI will never be satisfied.” Media heiress Maxwell — who has been in hiding since her ex Epstein was busted on serious sex charges before his suicide last summer — is “beside herself” over the damage the scandal has done to Andrew and the British royal family. “She said that the attempt to question Prince Andrew is a publicity ploy and reeks of desperation.”

Read more …

Calling those who suffered most from Nazis, Nazis, is a bad idea.

Erdogan Slams Greece’s ‘Nazi’ Treatment Of Refugees (RT)

Athens’ treatment of thousands of refugees who have massed on the Turkey-Greece border is comparable to atrocities carried out by Nazi Germany, Turkey’s president has claimed amid the latest migrant row with the EU. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Greece in an address on Wednesday, claiming that Ankara’s Mediterranean neighbor has mistreated a flood of refugees that are trying to enter the EU through Turkey. “There’s no difference between those images from Greece’s border and what the Nazis did,” Erdogan said, apparently referring to photographs of clashes between migrants and Greek border police. He also announced that Turkey will keep its border open for migrants trying to gain entry to Europe, until Brussels agrees to meet commitments under a 2016 deal which Ankara claims have not been fulfilled.


The tactic has been described by some as tantamount to blackmail. Both sides are hoping to negotiate a new deal by the end of March. The Turkish president has a penchant for accusing other nations of Nazi-like behavior. In 2017, he accused Germany and the Netherlands of employing “Nazi practices” against Turkish citizens and his own government. When local German governments ran afoul of Erdogan that same year, the Turkish leader warned that European leaders “would revive gas chambers.” More recently, Erdogan has used the Nazi label to go after Tel Aviv. In 2018, he stated that “Hitler’s spirit re-emerges in some of Israel’s rulers,” adding that the Jewish state is “the most fascist and racist country in the world.”

Read more …

Oh, shut up and do something.

Greece Warned By EU It Must Uphold The Right To Asylum (G.)

The Greek government has been warned by the EU executive that it must uphold the right to asylum, as leaders from Brussels travel to Athens for talks on the migrant crisis at the EU’s borders. Ylva Johansson, EU commissioner for home affairs, said she wanted to discuss a detention centre where asylum seekers were reported to have been captured and beaten, before being expelled from Greece without the chance to speak to a lawyer or claim asylum. The New York Times reported on Tuesday of “a black site” in north eastern Greece where migrants are held without legal recourse before being expelled to Turkey.

Johansson, a Swedish social democrat who took charge of EU migration policy a little more than 100 days ago, said she would raise the issue of the detention centre with Greek government ministers on Thursday. “These kind of temporary detentions that they have set up – is one of the things I would like to know more about … Of course you can have detention for some period of people that have come, but of course you can’t beat them,” she said. The commission has been accused of failing to uphold EU law since Greece announced earlier this month it was suspending asylum applications for one month, a move at odds with European law and the Geneva convention.

While the UN agency for refugees has said the Greek decision has no legal basis, the commission has said it needs time to assess the situation. Sidestepping whether Greece’s decision was illegal, Johansson said: “We are going to discuss actually what they are doing, but they have to let people apply for asylum.” She also said the commission did not plan to suspend the right to asylum by invoking a little-known clause of the EU treaty that allows Brussels to propose “provisional measures”, to help a member state facing an emergency because of large numbers of migrant arrivals.

Read more …

Oh well, we’ll all be dead…

Greenland And Antarctica Ice Loss Accelerating (BBC)

Earth’s great ice sheets, Greenland and Antarctica, are now losing mass six times faster than they were in the 1990s thanks to warming conditions. A comprehensive review of satellite data acquired at both poles is unequivocal in its assessment of accelerating trends, say scientists. Between them, Greenland and Antarctica lost 6.4 trillion tonnes of ice in the period from 1992 to 2017. This was sufficient to push up global sea-levels up by 17.8mm. “That’s not a good news story,” said Prof Andrew Shepherd from the University of Leeds in the UK. “Today, the ice sheets contribute about a third of all sea-level rise, whereas in the 1990s, their contribution was actually pretty small at about 5%.

This has important implications for the future, for coastal flooding and erosion,” he told BBC News. The researcher co-leads a project called the Ice Sheet Mass Balance Intercomparison Exercise, or Imbie. It’s a team of experts who have reviewed polar measurements acquired by observational spacecraft over nearly three decades. These are satellites that have tracked the changing volume, flow and gravity of the ice sheets.

[..] Greenland and Antarctica are responding to climate change in slightly different ways. The southern polar ice sheet’s losses come from the melting effects of warmer ocean water attacking its edges. The northern polar ice sheet feels a similar sort of assault but is also experiencing surface melt from warmer air temperatures. Of that combined 17.8mm contribution to sea-level rise, 10.6mm (60 %) was due to Greenland ice losses and 7.2mm (40%) was due to Antarctica. The combined rate of ice loss for the pair was running at about 81 billion tonnes per year in the 1990s. By the 2010s, it had climbed to 475 billion tonnes per year.

Read more …

Oh, sure, the European Commission will save the world.

New Rules Could Spell End Of ‘Throwaway Culture’ (BBC)

New rules could spell the death of a “throwaway” culture in which products are bought, used briefly, then binned. The regulations will apply to a range of everyday items such as mobile phones, textiles, electronics, batteries, construction and packaging. They will ensure products are designed and manufactured so they last – and so they’re repairable if they go wrong. It should mean that your phone lasts longer and proves easier to fix. That may be especially true if the display or the battery needs changing. It’s part of a worldwide movement called the Right to Repair, which has spawned citizens’ repair workshops in several UK cities. The plan is being presented by the European Commission. It’s likely to create standards for the UK, too – even after Brexit.


That’s because it probably won’t be worthwhile for manufacturers to make lower-grade models that can only be sold in Britain. It’s all part of what one green group is calling the most ambitious and comprehensive proposal ever put forward to reduce the environmental and climate impact of the things we use and wear. Proposals aim at making environmentally-friendly products the norm. It could mean manufacturers using screws to hold parts in place, rather than glue. The rules will also fight what is known as “premature obsolescence”, the syndrome in which manufacturers make goods with deliberately low lifespan to force consumers into buying a newer model.

Read more …

This hurts. Physically.

Chelsea Manning Hospitalized After Suicide Attempt (G.)

Chelsea Manning’s legal team said that the former intelligence analyst had tried to take her own life on Wednesday but was transported to a hospital where she was recovering. The Alexandria sheriff, Dana Lawhorne, said: “There was an incident at approximately 12.11pm today at the Alexandria adult detention center involving inmate Chelsea Manning. It was handled appropriately by our professional staff and Ms Manning is safe.” Manning has been in jail since May 2019 for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. She was scheduled to appear in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, on Friday for a hearing on a motion to terminate the civil contempt sanctions stemming from that refusal.


Andy Stepanian, a spokesman for Manning’s legal team, said in a statement on Wednesday that Manning “remains unwavering” in her refusal to participate the hearing. “In spite of those sanctions – which have so far included over a year of so-called ‘coercive’ incarceration and nearly half a million dollars in threatened fines – she remains unwavering in her refusal to participate in a secret grand jury process that she sees as highly susceptible to abuse,” her attorneys said in a statement. “Ms Manning has previously indicated that she will not betray her principles, even at risk of grave harm to herself.” In the motion filed last month, Manning’s lawyers argued that Manning had shown during her incarceration that she could not be coerced into testifying before a grand jury. Manning served seven years in a military prison for leaking a trove of documents to WikiLeaks before Barack Obama commuted the remainder of her 35-year sentence in 2017.

Read more …

How many Nobel prizes has he received so far?

Internet ‘Is Not Working For Women And Girls’ – Tim Berners-Lee (G.)

Women and girls face a “growing crisis” of online harms, with sexual harassment, threatening messages and discrimination making the web an unsafe place to be, Sir Tim Berners-Lee has warned. The inventor of the world wide web said the “dangerous trend” in online abuse was forcing women out of jobs, causing girls to skip school, damaging relationships and silencing female opinions, prompting him to conclude that “the web is not working for women and girls”. “The world has made important progress on gender equality thanks to the unceasing drive of committed champions everywhere,” Berners-Lee wrote in an open letter to mark the web’s 31st birthday on Thursday. “But I am seriously concerned that online harms facing women and girls – especially those of colour, from LGBTQ+ communities and other marginalised groups – threaten that progress.”

The warning comes a year after Berners-Lee launched the Contract for the Web, a global action plan to save the web from forces that threaten to drag the world into a “digital dystopia”. Without tackling misogynistic online abuse, the aims of the contract cannot be achieved, he said. “It’s up to all of us to make the web work for everyone,” the letter states. “That requires the attention of all those who shape technology, from CEOs and engineers to academics and public officials.” Berners-Lee highlights three areas that need “urgent” attention. First is the digital divide that keeps more than half of the world’s women offline, largely because it is too expensive, or they do not have access to the equipment or skills to use it.

Second is online safety: according to a survey by Berners-Lee’s Web Foundation, more than half of young women have experienced violence online, including sexual harassment, threatening messages and having private images shared without consent. The vast majority believe the problem is getting worse. The third threat comes from badly designed artificial intelligence systems that repeat and exacerbate discrimination. “Many companies are working hard to tackle this discrimination. But unless they dedicate resources and diversify teams to mitigate bias, they risk expanding discrimination at a speed and scale never seen before,” he writes.

[..] Berners-Lee said the coronavirus outbreak showed how urgent it was to take action. As workplaces and schools are forced to close, the web should be a “lifeline” that allows people to keep working and children to be educated. He called on companies and governments to tackle online abuse as a top priority this year. More data needs to be collected and published on women’s experiences online, while products, polices and services should all be designed based on data and feedback from women of all backgrounds, he said.

Read more …

 

 

 

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Feb 252020
 


Venice carnival or Black Death? Mary Poppins?

 

 

Many of the things we see happening now with the coronavirus, COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, take your pick, I “predicted” a while ago. But I’m not in the predicting business, and anyone who would have said even just a week ago that Italy would have 11 deaths today and/or Iran would have 50, or the US 53+ cases of infection, would have been labeled a raving lunatic.

Wuhan apparently relaxed some of their lockdown measures yesterday (and walked that back hours later), as did other places in China when they hadn’t had any new cases for 24 hours or so, and we know why they do it -it’s the economy, stupid!- but that is really the worst possible thing to do. China’s even trying to telegraph that they are in control again, as per Zero Hedge:

“As the WHO team wrapped up its Monday press conference with what was essentially tantamount to a global confidence-building exercise in China’s response, a senior official from China’s National Health Commission said the coronavirus risk from Wuhan had gone ‘way down.’ Of course, if that’s true, then why did officials cancel a planned easing of the lockdown? The official added that China has “..managed to stop the ‘rapid rise’ of infections in Wuhan, though they haven’t stopped the epidemic yet..”

Of course it’s lovely that at the very moment China – falsely- claims to be regaining control, markets worldwide sink into a deep well and gold climbs the Kilimanjaro. Surprising it is not. It simply shows that “investors” are mostly completely clueless about the virus, and the media they follow mostly don’t know dick all either or prefer not to rock the cradle.

The so-called investors follow the same behavioral pattern that civil servants, politicians, “management” at companies, and journalists do. They check first and last what others are doing, so they won’t look out of tune and they can’t be accused of crying wolf. They tend to only act when the rest do, and by then it will inevitably be too late. Man as a social animal, covering their asses by hiding behind others.

For those so-called investors, who cares what they do or why? But for politicians and civil servants, this mindset means they will NOT be ordering test-kits, medicine and the like, when they should. And not warning the public about various upcoming threats and shortages.

For journalists it means their readers and viewers are only clued in when the wolf’s right on their doorstep. I’ve used the Chinese politburo as an example in The Party and the Virus (Feb 2), but I don’t think western countries are much, if any, faster or wiser or more aware. These are all jobs replete with born followers who have only ever learned how to hide behind mom’s skirts and aprons.

And for the rare few who don’t think in herd terms, they will be ridiculed by the sheep in that herd, who will again seek strength in numbers and behind aprons when they are found wanting. Which is fine for investors, they are only playing with money. The others, though, are playing with human lives.

 

A comment on my article last week, Go Forth and Multiply (Feb 20), suggested that I merely collected the most alarmist articles and turned them into an article. Nope.

The article deals with the failures of all the groups of people mentioned above, in various countries, which have led to where we are today. There are plenty other reports which are far more “alarmist”. I am not personally talking about worst-case scenarios, but in other instances I have quoted a few scientists who would fit that description. Take for instance Gabriel Leung at Hong Kong University, whom I’ve quoted more than once. Leung and his team contend:

• Most experts thought that each person infected would go on to transmit the virus to around 2.5 other people. That gave an “attack rate” of 60-80%.
• Even if the general fatality rate is as low as 1%, which Leung thinks is possible once milder cases are taken into account, the death toll would be massive.
• “Is 60 to 80% of the world’s population going to get infected? Maybe not. Maybe this will come in waves. Maybe the virus is going to attenuate its lethality because it certainly doesn’t help it if it kills everybody in its path, because it will get killed as well..”

There’s Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch, who predicts that “within the coming year, some 40 to 70 percent of people around the world will be infected..” And Lancaster University epidemiologist/biostatistician Jonathan Read isn’t all that much cheerier.

Compared to those guys, I am not an alarmist, nor do I go out to look for articles in that vein. I did see quite a while ago that this virus had “potential”, though. And I did see The Big Lockdown (Feb 5) coming before it did. Actually, I see a lot more of that. My intent is to go back to Athens in April, but I seriously have no idea if that will be on offer 5-6 weeks from now, as Italy already today has 11 deaths, 322 cases, and over 100,000 people under lockdown, and deployed the military. Italy had nothing a week ago. And Italy is not that far from Greece.

Come to think of it, nor is it from Holland, where I am right now. That is a situation that people should have woken up to a long time ago. Holland has a number of its citizens locked up in a hotel on Tenerife, Canary Islands, a Spanish province off the northwest coast of Africa. There are 1000 guests in the hotel, all confined to their rooms, because one guest was an Italian who tested positive for COVID19.

There’s also a hotel in Innsbruck, Tyrol, Austria on lockdown. It has an Italian receptionist who is infected. Check the quarantine time for theose people. If it’s less than two weeks, you know nobody’s learned a thing.

This is the shape of things to come. As is Italy admitting a hospital actually spread the virus. And Japan saying it will now attempt to limit virus deaths, instead of preventing them. That may sound like mere semantics, but it’s not. It sounds like Japan giving up on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics without pronouncing it.

Also in Holland, yesterday a high end webshop, which sells electronics, including iPhones, etc., said they want to sell less!! and will raise prices because they foresee they can’t get sufficient supplies from China anymore soon. The obvious media reaction is they must be crazy, because competitors haven’t done the same. But that’s too easy. Maybe they just broke free of the mold of waiting for others to act.

What I find interesting in that light is that Holland’s dependence on the global China trade is much less than for other rich nations, and for south east Asia as a whole. Whither Amazon, Walmart, whither the Silk Road? Quo Vadis?

 

 

On February 6, the day after I published The Big Lockdown , a friend at the Global Change Research Institute, reacting to my question “Will [the Chinese] have an economy left by then?” (I don’t remember the exact time I referred to), said “Isn’t that TOO pessimistic?”

My reply was: “There’ll always be something left. There was an economy 100 years ago, and 500, and 1,000. It started when Eve made a deal with a snake. My point was more: what KIND of economy will there be? Nobody seriously considers a collapse such as this, and I think they should.”

He retorted: “I am not really convinced this will be a trigger of (chinese) economic collapse, but well, I am open-minded about such possibility… For now, I am corona-triggered-collapse-skeptic. ;-)”

I wonder how he feels about it today.

Me, I don’t think the biggest issue with the virus is the number of deaths and cases, at least not in the short term. The biggest issue is that there is a virus on the loose than has proven it CAN be lethal, and for which there is no vaccine.

The biggest issue is that we are stumbling woefully unprepared into the future, and therefore our only defense is to lock each other, and ourselves, up in our homes, (and our communities and cities if we’re lucky) until we can’t, social animals that we are.

The biggest issue will not be the cases or even deaths, it will be that ever more of the things we have come to rely on far away lands for, will slowly cease to arrive on our shores. Some of it will be trinkets we never needed, but some of it will also be things without which our lives and communities can no longer function the way we’re used to.

It will be a slow process. Or will it, nothing really moves slow with this virus; it appears to move in virus time, not human time.

You should probably get some immune system boosters while they are available, like Vit.D(3) and echinacea. Facial masks perhaps, while there are any. There are professionals who are regular commenters on the Automatic Earth and who can answer questions on that.

We should also likely prepare for a large-scale reduction in large-scale activities, events that require crowds. Olympics, sports games, concerts, arenas, but also supermarkets and department stores. And then after that come public transport and factories. Alarmist again? Just wait till the first case or death comes to a town near you. Observe how people react. You can see it today in Wuhan, Beijing, Milan, Qom.

By the way, how do you know there are no cases near you? Is anyone testing? Do they have test kits? They will test soon, and they will have kits if they can find any. Note: Japan said today their supply of test kits will be used only for the most serious cases. Everyone else is on their own.

New reports of infections are coming in today from Canada, Bahrain, Croatia, Austria, Switzerland, Romania, Barcelona and more. Ask yourself: what are the odds this will stop tomorrow morning? Or that the US won’t get worse? Face masks, Vit. C, Vit.D(3), echinacea and other things won’t bankrupt most of you, and they’re good for you anyway, so maybe get them while you can.

Oh, and prepare for an enormous amount of misinformation emanating from the politicians and media who are always way behind the curve, and who right now are all actively pondering how to protect the economy. They can’t conceive of a world where a virus can trump the economy. Pun intended. Neither can those who call themselves “investors”. It’s the virus, stupid. HedgeEye got that one particulary well:

 

 

Me, I’m sitting here wondering what the link is between the masks for the -now cancelled- Venice carnival, and the Black Death. But that sounds at least a little alarmist, too, doesn’t it?

Please remind me to pick up a copy of Boccaccio’s Decameron(e), in which ten people tell ten stories each while in quarantine outside of Florence during the Plague, around 1350 AD. Should be popular soon.

 

 

If you read us, please support us. It’s the only way the Automatic Earth can survive. Donate on Paypal and Patreon.

 

Jan 262020
 
 January 26, 2020  Posted by at 10:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  22 Responses »


Jack Delano Long stairway in mill district of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1941

 

Chinese Virus Deaths Rise To 56, 2,000 Infected & More Cases Abroad (RT)
Coronavirus Contagion Rate Makes It Hard To Control (R.)
No Link With Seafood Market In First Case Of China Coronavirus (SCMP)
China Stole Coronavirus From Canada And Weaponized It (GGI)
US Economic Confidence at Highest Point Since 2000 (Gallup)
Stock Market A ‘Ponzi Scheme’ That Eventually Must Collapse – Guggenheim (RT)
Neither Side Is Really Trying To Win This Trump Impeachment Trial (Turley)
Trump Defense Team Signals Focus On Schiff (Hill)
Adam Schiff Is a Dangerous Warmonger (Jacobin)
Joe Biden Lied About His Record On Social Security (IC)
VP Pence Appears To Suggest Americans, Nor Russians, Liberated Auschwitz (RT)

 

 

People’s Daily: “Chinese health authorities announced Sunday that 1,975 confirmed cases of pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), including 324 in critical conditions and 56 deaths, had been reported in the country by the end of Saturday.”

We’re nicely in line with the Fibonacci sequence, with Hubei infections rising from 1,400 to 2,000. 3,300 tomorrow? Note that “official” updates are provided once a day, apparently first thing in the morning. Curious that deaths the previous day rose from 26 to 41, and today to 56, i.e. by 15 in both cases. The updates are heavily controlled.

Incubation time is now estimated as up to 2 weeks, so think back at least those 14 days and think back to how safety measures were back then. Questions also arise about the origin of the virus. A dead bat, a bioweapon lab, or both? Many animals are now -officially- off the menu.


Fibonacci

Chinese Virus Deaths Rise To 56, 2,000 Infected & More Cases Abroad (RT)

The death toll from the 2019-nCoV coronavirus outbreak in China has reached 56, with hundreds of new infections detected nationwide, despite all containment efforts. A handful of news cases have also been reported outside China. The first death was reported in Shanghai, and another one in Henan Province, while 13 more people died in Hubei Province – the epicenter of the outbreak – where nearly 130 people were reportedly in serious or critical condition as of Sunday morning. In addition to hundreds of known and confirmed cases, some 7,000 people there remain under increased medical supervision due to their potentially dangerous “close contacts.”

Meanwhile, the number of those who have beaten the virus and were discharged from hospitals has increased to at least 85, according to authorities. = China is facing a “grave situation” as the new coronavirus is “accelerating its spread,” President Xi Jinping warned earlier. He added, however, that given the immense efforts to contain the outbreak, China “will definitely be able to win the battle.” Around 450 Chinese military medics, many with experience in combating SARS or Ebola, were deployed in the region to help the overworked and exhausted hospital staff, who had been on around-the-clock shifts in recent weeks. Meanwhile, local authorities are rushing to construct a new 1,000-bed facility specifically to treat victims of the deadly virus.

Chinese authorities have also imposed strict travel restrictions in the outbreak epicenter of Wuhan, as well as nearly 20 cities in Hubei Province, with nearly 50 million people virtually quarantined in the middle of the holiday season. With many mass public events canceled, additional limitations have been imposed on intercity bus routes starting Sunday. Medical staff have been tasked with checking travelers’ temperatures for any signs of fever – the most apparent symptom of coronavirus, which is followed by a dry cough and leads to shortness of breath.

Read more …

R0 rate appears to have been lowered to 2.5, from 3.8. Don’t get all happy.

Coronavirus Contagion Rate Makes It Hard To Control (R.)

Each person infected with coronavirus is passing the disease on to between two and three other people on average at current transmission rates, according to two separate scientific analyses of the epidemic. Whether the outbreak will continue to spread at this rate depends on the effectiveness of control measures, the scientists who conducted the studies said. But to be able to contain the epidemic and turn the tide of infections, control measures would have to halt transmission in at least 60% of cases. The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak jumped to 41 on Saturday, with more than 1,400 people infected worldwide – the vast majority in China.

“It is unclear at the current time whether this outbreak can be contained within China,” said Neil Ferguson, an infectious disease specialist at Imperial College London who co-led one of the studies. Ferguson’s team suggest as many as 4,000 people in Wuhan were already infected by Jan. 18 and that on average each case was infecting two or three others. A second study by researchers at Britain’s Lancaster University also calculated the contagion rate at 2.5 new people on average being infected by each person already infected. “Should the epidemic continue unabated in Wuhan, we predict (it) will be substantially larger by Feb. 4,” the scientists wrote. “Should the epidemic continue unabated in Wuhan, we predict (it) will be substantially larger by Feb. 4,” the scientists wrote.

They estimated that the central Chinese city of Wuhan where the outbreak began in December will alone have around 190,000 cases of infection by Feb. 4., and that “infection will be established in other Chinese cities, and importations to other countries will be more frequent.”

Read more …

This kind of uncertainty doesn’t help.

No Link With Seafood Market In First Case Of China Coronavirus (SCMP)

The first person known to have been infected by the Wuhan coronavirus had never visited the city’s seafood market – regarded as the epicentre of the outbreak – according to Chinese researchers, who also called for extra precautions against airborne transmission of the disease between humans. The researchers, seven of whom work at Wuhan’s Jinyintan hospital, designated for patients with the illness, revealed on Friday in The Lancet medical journal that symptoms of the new disease were first reported on December 1 – much earlier than the Wuhan government’s initial announcement on December 31 of 27 cases of the pneumonia-like infection.

According to the report, the first patient had no exposure to the Huanan seafood market which was shut down on January 1 over fears – later confirmed – that the new virus was linked to its trade in wild animals. The researchers added that none of the patient’s family had developed fever or any respiratory symptoms. There was also no epidemiological link between the first patient and the later cases, they found. The researchers analysed data from 41 patients with confirmed infections who had showed an onset of symptoms up to January 2. Six of those patients died, putting the fatality rate of the group at 15 per cent. The researchers noted that clinical presentations of the patients greatly resembled severe acute respiratory syndrome.

The first patient to die from the new coronavirus had continuous exposure to the market before he was admitted to hospital with a seven-day history of fever, cough and breathing difficulties, according to their report. Five days after the onset of symptoms, his wife, a 53-year-old woman with no known history of exposure to the market, also presented with pneumonia and was hospitalised in the isolation ward, they said. The absence of a link to the seafood market is one of the indicators for human-to-human transmission of the virus and the researchers identified another 13 patients who also had no direct exposure to the market.

Read more …

Lots of background. Viruses are potent weapons.

China Stole Coronavirus From Canada And Weaponized It (GGI)

Last year a mysterious shipment was caught smuggling Coronavirus from Canada. It was traced to Chinese agents working at a Canadian lab. Subsequent investigation by GreatGameIndia linked the agents to Chinese Biological Warfare Program from where the virus is suspected to have leaked causing the Wuhan Coronavirus outbreak. On June 13, 2012 a 60-year-old Saudi man was admitted to a private hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with a 7-day history of fever, cough, expectoration, and shortness of breath. He had no history of cardiopulmonary or renal disease, was receiving no long-term medications, and did not smoke. Egyptian virologist Dr. Ali Mohamed Zaki isolated and identified a previously unknown coronavirus from his lungs.

After routine diagnostics failed to identify the causative agent, Zaki contacted Ron Fouchier, a leading virologist at the Erasmus Medical Center (EMC) in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, for advice. Fouchier sequenced the virus from a sample sent by Zaki. Fouchier used a broad-spectrum “pan-coronavirus” real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) method to test for distinguishing features of a number of known coronaviruses known to infect humans. This Coronavirus sample was acquired by Scientific Director Dr. Frank Plummer of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg directly from Fouchier, who received it from Zaki. This virus was reportedly stolen from the Canadian lab by Chinese agents.

Coronavirus arrived at Canada’s NML Winnipeg facility on May 4, 2013 from the Dutch lab. The Canadian lab grew up stocks of the virus and used it to assess diagnostic tests being used in Canada. Winnipeg scientists worked to see which animal species can be infected with the new virus. Research was done in conjunction with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s national lab, the National Centre for Foreign Animal Diseases which is housed in the same complex as the National Microbiology Laboratory.

In March 2019, in mysterious event a shipment of exceptionally virulent viruses from Canada’s NML ended up in China. The event caused a major scandal with Bio-warfare experts questioning why Canada was sending lethal viruses to China. Scientists from NML said the highly lethal viruses were a potential bio-weapon. Following investigation, the incident was traced to Chinese agents working at NML. Four months later in July 2019, a group of Chinese virologists were forcibly dispatched from the Canadian National Microbiology Laboratory (NML). The NML is Canada’s only level-4 facility and one of only a few in North America equipped to handle the world’s deadliest diseases, including Ebola, SARS, Coronavirus, etc.

Read more …

Elections in 9-10 months.

US Economic Confidence at Highest Point Since 2000 (Gallup)

Americans’ confidence in the U.S. economy is higher than at any point in about two decades. The latest figure from Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index is +40, the highest reading recorded since +44 in October 2000. Americans’ buoyant confidence in the economy in Gallup’s latest poll, conducted Jan. 2-15, likely reflects the U.S. unemployment rate’s continued stay at a 50-year low. Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average continues to reach record highs — and flirts with reaching the 30,000 marker. Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index is the average of two components: Americans’ ratings of current economic conditions and their views on whether the economy is getting better or getting worse.


The index has a theoretical maximum of +100, achieved if all Americans believe the economy is excellent or good and getting better. The theoretical minimum is -100, if all Americans say the economy is poor and getting worse. The current conditions component score of +54 is the result of 62% of Americans saying the economy is “excellent” or “good” and 8% describing it as “poor.” Meanwhile, the economic outlook component score of +26 is the result of 59% saying the economy is “getting better” and 33% saying it is “getting worse.” Gallup’s tracking of economic confidence over the past 28 years has recorded index readings at or above the +40 mark in just nine other measurements, all between 1998 and 2000 — with the highest level recorded in January 2000, at +56, after a then-record high for the Dow. The latest reading of +40 is the only time the index has reached that level since 2000.

Read more …

Nothing I haven’t already said 1000 times.

Stock Market A ‘Ponzi Scheme’ That Eventually Must Collapse – Guggenheim (RT)

The rallying markets aren’t as good as they seem, says Guggenheim Partners chief Scott Minerd. He likened inflation of asset prices caused by loose money policies of central banks to a ponzi scheme that eventually must collapse. “We will reach a tipping point when investors will awake to the rising tide of defaults and downgrades,” Minerd wrote in a letter from the World Economic Forum meeting. “The timing is hard to predict, but this reminds me a lot of the lead-up to the 2001 and 2002 recession.” He cited rising defaults despite a rally in riskier assets, and reiterated a warning that BBB-rated bonds risk further downgrades.


The chief executive said that the type of debt is at a greater risk of deterioration than it was in 2007. Guggenheim Partners, which operates in the global investment and advisory space, manages more than $275 billion in assets as of September last year. The company’s fixed-income chief Anne Walsh told Yahoo Finance that 15 percent of the US economy is already in recession. According to her, the Federal Reserve’s efforts to pump liquidity into markets has created “zombie companies” that may see an outflow of capital as the utility of that money continues to diminish. The longer that this market runs, the harder the fall will be when it ends, she said.

Read more …

Don’t attack a jury.

Neither Side Is Really Trying To Win This Trump Impeachment Trial (Turley)

It is the one unbreakable rule in litigation. You can insult the defendant or the opposing attorney and, on occasion, you might even insult the judge. But the one thing you can never do is insult the jury. That is only if you want to win a jury verdict, and that may be why both legal teams in the impeachment trial of President Trump seem more eager to get the goats of Senate jurors rather than their votes. Both sides seem to be striving for the constitutional equivalent of a hung jury, not enough votes for either a bipartisan acquittal or conviction, simply the status quo. What is different is that you usually do not actually hang the jury in a hung jury strategy.

The most riveting example this week was the argument of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, who stood in the well of the Senate and appeared to accuse Republican senators of a conspiracy to “cover up” the wrongdoing of the president. It was a moment that produced an audible gasp from the room, along with a note from Senator Susan Collins complaining to Chief Justice John Roberts, who then promptly declared that “those addressing the Senate should remember where they are.” The aspersions from Nadler alienated at least two of the four Republican senators that House impeachment managers are struggling to win over in their fight to call witnesses.

In addition to Collins, Senator Lisa Murkowski was irate and denounced the comments by Nadler as soon as she walked off the floor. Murkowski later expressed skepticism about helping House managers to call witnesses they did not seek to compel during their own investigations. That is what happens when a prosecutor incorporates the jury into the list of accomplices in an ongoing conspiracy during trial. House manager Adam Schiff produced further gasps when he repeated reports that the senators were warned that if they vote against Trump their heads “will be on a pike.” Collins and Murkowski were among those angrily responding to the “unnecessary” remarks. Other senators have had their own awkward moments.

The House managers played a clip of Senator Lindsay Graham from the Clinton impeachment trial declaring, “What is a high crime? It does not even have to be a crime. It is just when you start using your office and you are acting in a way that hurts people, you have committed a high crime.” That statement of a hurtful standard for impeachment was meant to embarrass Graham. It certainly worked. For its part, the White House could not get enough of old clips of Senator Charles Schumer promising to vote for acquittal before the Clinton trial was even scheduled. Schumer also opposed any witnesses or a full trial in the Clinton impeachment.

Read more …

He’s the face after all. They get bonus points for limiting it to 2 hours. And they seemed to do well.

Trump Defense Team Signals Focus On Schiff (Hill)

At several points during their opening argument, President Trump’s defense team trained their fire on Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), removing any doubt about their intent to make the House manager’s credibility an issue at the impeachment trial. Addressing the Senate on Saturday, Trump’s lawyers accused Schiff of repeatedly stretching the truth and creating false impressions amid his pursuit to take down the president. “Chairman Schiff has made so much of the House’s case about the credibility of interpretations that the House managers want to place on — not hard evidence — but on inferences,” said Patrick Philbin, deputy counsel to Trump.

“It is very relevant to know whether assessments of evidence he’s presented in the past are accurate,” Philbin said of Schiff. “And we would submit they have not been, and that that is relevant for your consideration.” The defense team portrayed Schiff as having first launched his overreaching efforts against Trump during former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and continuing through Trump’s impeachment trial. The attacks on Schiff were perhaps unsurprising, as the House Intelligence Committee chairman has emerged as the lead prosecutor among House managers pressing the case against Trump in the Senate.

In fact, Schiff anticipated the offensive and delivered a warning to senators last night that spelled out specific attacks he expected to be lodged against him, some of which materialized Saturday. “I think the second thing you’ll hear from the president’s team is, attack the managers. Those managers are just awful. They’re terrible people,” Schiff said. “Especially that Schiff guy. He’s the worst. He’s the worst.” [..] Trump’s team today called into question whether Schiff can be trusted as an honest broker. At one point, Trump’s defense team played video of Schiff on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” saying that he had seen “evidence that is not circumstantial” that the Trump campaign had colluded in Russia’s 2016 election interference.

Trump’s lawyers contrasted Schiff’s claim with Mueller’s conclusion that his nearly two-year probe had established no coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow. The defense team also accused Schiff and his staff of coaching the whistleblower, who raised a red flag over Trump’s July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president that set in motion the impeachment. They paired the allegation with a clip of Schiff asserting on national television that “we have not spoken directly with the whistleblower,” a claim which fact-checkers found was false.

Read more …

The war party.

Adam Schiff Is a Dangerous Warmonger (Jacobin)

Assuring us that he is aware, actually, of what century this is, Schiff said in 2015, “Now, we’re not seeing the same bipolar world we had between communism and capitalism.” (Phew!) He then added, “But we are seeing a new bipolar world, I think, where you have democracy versus authoritarianism.” Schiff has not viewed this as a mere contest of ideas: he constantly advocated for Obama to impose tougher sanctions on Russia and give more weapons to Ukraine.

Although delicately opposed to violence in some contexts — he’s a vegan! — this isn’t the only war Schiff has championed. He supported the Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya wars, greater US intervention in Syria, as well as the Saudi war with Yemen (although he has, in the past year, turned against the latter adventure, seeming to draw the line at sawing up journalists with bonesaws — he is a moderate after all, plus very popular with the media), and he has voted for nearly every possible increase in the defense budget.

As Jacobin’s own Branko Marcetic observed two years ago, Schiff’s bellicosity is extensively funded by arms manufacturers and military contractors. A Ukrainian arms dealer named Igor Pasternak held a $2,500 per head fundraiser for Schiff in 2013, as the late Justin Raimondo reported in a terrific analysis on Antiwar.com in 2017, at a time when Ukraine was desperately trying to counter the Obama administration’s disinterest in funding its war with Russia. Despite that disinterest, the State Department approved some very profitable dealings for Pasternak in Ukraine after that fundraiser.

And that’s only one example. In the current cycle, donations from the war industry have continued to flood his coffers. Many come from employees of firms with extensive Department of Defense contracts, including Radiance Technologies and Raytheon. PACs representing the defense industry also make a robust showing among Schiff’s contributors, according to data on Open Secrets.org; companies funneling money to Schiff — sorry, contributing to those PACs — include Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Radiance, and others, including L3Harris Technologies (which got in big trouble with the State Department in September and had to pay $13 million in penalties for illegal arms dealing).

Read more …

Why is everyone still talking about Biden? He’s out.

Joe Biden Lied About His Record On Social Security (IC)

Over the past few weeks, former Vice President Joe Biden has been making an effort to recast his record on Social Security as one of a champion who defended the program from assaults, rather than one who consistently argued that it ought to be cut. The value of such a revision is clear: Austerity is no longer a politically viable platform for Democrats to take in the primary. His defense of his record has included multiple television interviews, public comments, and even an ad attacking Sen. Bernie Sanders for “dishonest smears” challenging him on Social Security. In the ad, Biden makes a sweeping claim: “I’ve been fighting to protect — and expand — Social Security for my whole career. Any suggestion otherwise is just flat-out wrong.”

At Vice’s Black and Brown Forum in Iowa this week, when pressed on his proposal to freeze Social Security payments by moderator Antonia Hylton, he simply lied: “I didn’t propose a freeze.” In fact, Biden has argued for cuts or freezes to Social Security throughout much of his career. Earlier in January, The Intercept wrote about several instances in which Biden advocated for cutting Social Security over the course of his career. Biden, when he acknowledges his past support for cuts, portrays the advocacy as deep in the past. But a close inspection finds reams of more recent evidence of Biden’s support for cuts — including in Biden’s recent recounting of a conversation he had with China’s president, Xi Jinping, and in his choice of Bruce Reed, a longtime deficit hawk, as a senior policy adviser in his current presidential campaign.

Reed, a longtime Biden aide, played a central role in advocating cuts to the New Deal-era program as a co-founder of the Democratic Leadership Council, as the top staffer for a controversial commission dedicated to slashing the deficit, and then as Biden’s chief of staff during the Obama administration. In Washington, D.C., he would be the last high-level staffer a campaign would bring aboard if it was genuinely intent on expanding, not cutting, Social Security.

This past week, Biden steadily ratcheted up his revision of his record. At Vice News’s Brown and Black Forum in Iowa on Monday, he was pressed on Social Security. “Do you think though that it’s fair for voters to question your commitment to Social Security when in the past you proposed a freeze to it?” he was asked by Vice moderator Hylton. “No, I didn’t propose a freeze,” he said. “You did,” she corrected. On Tuesday, he released an ad attacking Sanders for what he called “dishonest smears.” The hit prompted a response from Sanders, who posted a short ad showing Biden boasting of his willingness to cut Social Security on the Senate floor. The Sanders ad has been viewed some 4 million times, to Biden’s less than a million.

Read more …

Does he even know?

VP Pence Appears To Suggest Americans, Nor Russians, Liberated Auschwitz (RT)

US Vice President Mike Pence’s speech on the Holocaust left the impression it was American soldiers who liberated Auschwitz, erased the Soviet Union’s well-documented act, and even used the solemn occasion to lash out at Iran. Speaking at the World Holocaust Forum in Israel on Thursday, Pence said that it was “soldiers” who opened the gates of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. Which soldiers? Pence does not say, whether accidentally or on purpose. Pence’s omission became much more glaring a few moments later, when he honored the memory of “all the Allied forces, including more than two million American soldiers, who left hearth and home, suffered appalling casualties, and freed a continent from the grip of tyranny.”

Listening to Pence’s speech, one might be tempted to conclude that it was these American soldiers who liberated Auschwitz, or bore the brunt of the burden of liberating Europe from the Nazis. Yet if we want to talk about truly “appalling casualties,” how about the nearly 27 million soldiers and civilians of the Soviet Union who perished in that war? What about the Red Army’s 322nd Rifle Division, under General Pyotr Ivanovich Zubov, that actually kicked in the doors of Auschwitz, only to be ‘erased’ from memory by an American vice-president 75 years later? One word – “Soviet” before “soldiers” – would have sufficed to give credit where it’s due. There is nothing wrong with being an American patriot, but this sort of dissembling is at best ignorance, and at worst outright stolen valor, both entirely unbecoming of a statesman.

Pence ended his speech by praising the US alliance with Israel and urging the world to “stand strong against the Islamic Republic of Iran” as “the one government in the world that denies the Holocaust as a matter of state policy and threatens to wipe Israel off the map.” Meanwhile, at the same event, Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the use of the Holocaust in present-day political disputes and proposed a summit of the five permanent UN Security Council members – representing the nations principally responsible for defeating Hitler and establishing the post-war world order – to address the challenges of the world today and “demonstrate our common commitment to the spirit of allied relations, historical memory and the lofty ideals and values for which our predecessors, our grandfathers and fathers fought shoulder to shoulder.”

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https://twitter.com/i/status/1221188593290366976

 

 

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Feb 112019
 
 February 11, 2019  Posted by at 10:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »


Pablo Picasso Glass, bread and cheesee 1923

 

Plummeting Insect Numbers ‘Threaten Collapse Of Nature’ (G.)
IMF Cuts 2019 Global Growth Forecasts Again: “We Have No Idea” (Mish)
UK Public Services Face Post-Brexit Squeeze (R.)
Theresa May Rejects Corbyn’s Ideas For A Compromise Brexit Plan (G.)
May Rejects Corbyn’s Customs Union Offer, What’s Next? (Mish)
All The Ways Gen X Is Financially Wrecked (MW)
Warren: Trump Might Not Be President Or ‘Even A Free Person’ In 2020 (MW)
Viktor Orbán: No Income Tax For Hungarian Women With Four Or More Children (G.)
Pompeo Trip Marks US Re-Engagement With Long-Overlooked Central Europe (R.)
China Retail Earnings Up 8.5% During New Year Holiday (R.)
Oil Prices Fall On Rising US Rig Count, Pressure On OPEC+ Supply Cuts (R.)
Spain’s Right Wing In Mass Protests Against PM’s Catalan Policy (Pol.eu)
Imitating Escher Is Not Easy (G.)

 

 

This should be the only topic left on all media and political agendas. Instead, everyone’s talking about music awards. Mankind had its promises, but they came with fatal flaws. The ability to lie to ourselves and others -including about the relative importance of various events- is doing us in.

We do have the brain structure to foresee future dangers, but also to discard them. We can see ourselves do things we know are devastatingly stupid, but we cannot stop ourselves from doing them. In the end, no matter how smart we think we are, only stupidity is left.

Even here, when people talk about the collapse of nature, the media present it as something separate from us. While we’re right in the middle of it, and we know it only too well.

Plummeting Insect Numbers ‘Threaten Collapse Of Nature’ (G.)

The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review. More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century. The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.

Insect population collapses have recently been reported in Germany and Puerto Rico, but the review strongly indicates the crisis is global. The researchers set out their conclusions in unusually forceful terms for a peer-reviewed scientific paper: “The [insect] trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting [on] life forms on our planet. “Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” they write. “The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least.” The analysis, published in the journal Biological Conservation, says intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. Urbanisation and climate change are also significant factors.

“If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind,” said Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, at the University of Sydney, Australia, who wrote the review with Kris Wyckhuys at the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing. The 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years is “shocking”, Sánchez-Bayo told the Guardian: “It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.” One of the biggest impacts of insect loss is on the many birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish that eat insects. “If this food source is taken away, all these animals starve to death,” he said. Such cascading effects have already been seen in Puerto Rico, where a recent study revealed a 98% fall in ground insects over 35 years.

[..] “The main cause of the decline is agricultural intensification,” Sánchez-Bayo said. “That means the elimination of all trees and shrubs that normally surround the fields, so there are plain, bare fields that are treated with synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.” He said the demise of insects appears to have started at the dawn of the 20th century, accelerated during the 1950s and 1960s and reached “alarming proportions” over the last two decades. He thinks new classes of insecticides introduced in the last 20 years, including neonicotinoids and fipronil, have been particularly damaging as they are used routinely and persist in the environment: “They sterilise the soil, killing all the grubs.” This has effects even in nature reserves nearby; the 75% insect losses recorded in Germany were in protected areas.

The world must change the way it produces food, Sánchez-Bayo said, noting that organic farms had more insects and that occasional pesticide use in the past did not cause the level of decline seen in recent decades. “Industrial-scale, intensive agriculture is the one that is killing the ecosystems,” he said. [..] “When you consider 80% of biomass of insects has disappeared in 25-30 years, it is a big concern.”

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“It’s refreshing to hear Lagarde say “we have no idea”. The IMF should say that every month.”

IMF Cuts 2019 Global Growth Forecasts Again: “We Have No Idea” (Mish)

For the fourth time since October, the IMF revised its global growth forecast lower. The Wall Street Journal reports IMF Lowers 2019 Global Growth Forecast. “The global economy is starting the year on weaker footing, according to new quarterly forecasts from the International Monetary Fund.” That report was on January 21. For details, see the IMF’s World Economic Outlook Update, January 2019.

“Last month, the IMF lowered its global economic growth forecast for this year from 3.7% to 3.5%. Lagarde cited what she called “four clouds” as the main factors undermining the global economy and warned that a “storm” might strike. The risks include “trade tensions and tariff escalations, financial tightening, uncertainty related to (the) Brexit outcome and spillover impact and an accelerated slowdown of the Chinese economy”, she said. Lagarde said trade tensions — mainly in the shape of a tariff spat between the United States and China, the world’s two biggest economies – are already having a global impact. “We have no idea how it is going to pan out and what we know is that it is already beginning to have an effect on trade, on confidence and on markets,” she said, warning governments to avoid protectionism.”

“Lagarde also pointed to the risks posed by rising borrowing costs within a context of “heavy debt” racked up by governments, firms and households. “When there are too many clouds, it takes one lightning (bolt) to start the storm,” she said.” The IMF is perpetually far behind the curve. It never sees the clouds or the lightening bolts in real time. It’s refreshing to hear Lagarde say “we have no idea”. The IMF should say that every month.

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As if things are not bad enough. Get out while you can.

UK Public Services Face Post-Brexit Squeeze (R.)

Many British public services risk ongoing real-terms cuts for years to come, despite a softer fiscal stance from Chancellor Philip Hammond, a major think tank predicted ahead of a half-yearly budget update next month. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) expects Hammond to give more details of the money available for a multi-year review of public spending when he updates budget plans on March 13, just two weeks before Britain is due to leave the European Union. In his annual budget in November, Hammond loosened the government’s purse-strings, giving support to the economy as it slowed ahead of Brexit. However, rising healthcare spending leaves little spare for other public services, the IFS said.

“This suggests yet more years of austerity for many public services — albeit at a much slower pace than the last nine years,” IFS research economist Ben Zaranko said. Public services outside of health, defence and overseas aid saw budgets fall by an average of 3 percent a year in real terms after 2010, and now look set for declines of 0.4 percent a year in inflation-adjusted terms going forward, the IFS predicts. [..] “In the short run … government might well raise spending to support the economy, mitigate the impacts for the worst-hit sectors or areas and provide funding to departments now required to perform additional functions, notably at the border,” the IFS said. In the long run, higher taxes or further spending cuts would be required to pay for this spending, as well as to compensate for weaker growth caused by trade restrictions, the IFS added.

[..] Brexit uncertainty has damaged the economy already and will slow growth further over the long term, even with a deal. Last week the Bank of England estimated the costs to date at 1.5 percent of GDP — more than the forecast budget deficit for 2018/19. During 2016’s referendum campaign, Brexit supporters including former foreign minister Boris Johnson said leaving the EU would free as much as 350 million pounds a week to spend on public services such as healthcare.

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OK, where are the street fighting men?

Theresa May Rejects Corbyn’s Ideas For A Compromise Brexit Plan (G.)

Theresa May has effectively ruled out Labour’s ideas for a compromise Brexit plan, shutting off another potential route to a deal as business groups warned that with less than 50 days to go the departure process was entering the “emergency zone”. The prime minister’s formal response to Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal, in a letter to the Labour leader, stressed her objections to keeping the UK in some form of customs union, saying this would prevent the UK making its own trade deals. But in an apparent renewed bid to win over wavering Labour MPs, May made a concession on environmental and workers’ rights, discounting Corbyn’s idea of automatic alignment with EU standards but suggesting instead a Commons vote every time these change.

The letter comes amid a growing presumption that while May remains officially committed to putting a revised Brexit plan to MPs as soon as possible, in practice this is unlikely to happen before the end of February, if not later. The communities secretary, James Brokenshire, said on Sunday that if no finalised deal were put to the Commons by 27 February, MPs would again be given an amendable motion to consider, allowing them to block a no-deal departure or make other interventions. “If the meaningful vote has not happened, so in other words things have not concluded, then parliament would have that further opportunity by no later than 27 February,” he told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.

May remains officially committed to getting the EU to agree to significant changes to the Irish border backstop as a way of winning over the DUP and agitated Tory backbenchers who helped bring about the heavy defeat of her plan. But with the PM’s meetings in Brussels last week yielding no real hope of this, there had been speculation she might embrace suggestions from Corbyn, who last week outlined five commitments Labour needed for it to back a deal, including joining a customs union. In her letter May argued that her own Brexit plan “explicitly provides for the benefits of a customs union” in terms of avoiding tariffs, while allowing “development of the UK’s independent trade policy beyond our economic partnership with the EU”. She wrote: “I am not clear why you believe it would be preferable to seek a say in future EU trade deals rather than the ability to strike our own deals?”

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“..she successfully took another four days off the clock.”

May Rejects Corbyn’s Customs Union Offer, What’s Next? (Mish)

On February 6, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn offered UK Prime Minister Theresa May a Customs Union Deal in which the Labour party would back a deal with May. She could have easily rejected Corbyn’s offer on the spot. Instead, she successfully took another four days off the clock. Today we see, May Rejects Corbyn’s Offer as Businesses Warn of Brexit Cliff Edge. She wrote: “I am not clear why you believe it would be preferable to seek a say in future EU trade deals rather than the ability to strike our own deals?” Great Question! Actually, the question itself is not great. May could have just as easily asked anything else. Thus, the question was irrelevant.

The importance is Corbyn now has to respond. How long will that take? Even if it’s a single day, that another day off the March 29 Brexit clock. Theresa May has effectively splintered the Labour party. Some want a new referendum, some want Brexit, and some want a custom’s union. Corbyn is now a clear loser in May’s tactics. The other side of May’s gambit is the Tories are now united. They still do not want her deal. [..] The biggest fear for the Tories was a new election. May’s gambit remains what it has always been, to play on the fears of both sides such that they would support her silly deal. While May succeeded on one front, she categorically failed on another. She now needs to win over DUP and splinter the Tories. If she can do that, then she wins. Meanwhile, the clock is running down.

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There are many more ways than these.

All The Ways Gen X Is Financially Wrecked (MW)

Reality bites. While millennials garner much of the negative press around financial issues — they live with their parents because they can’t get jobs! They spend all their money on avocado toast! — Gen Xers may be the ones who are really in trouble. Just 16% of Gen Xers say that they included financial planning in their 2019 goals, according to a recent survey from Allianz Life. That’s compared with 27% of millennials. And when asked what 2019 resolution they were most likely to make, and to keep, just 38% mentioned managing money better and saving more; meanwhile 50% of millennials said that. That lack of planning and goal-keeping could make a bad situation worse — as Gen X may already be financially worse off than other generations in a number of ways.

They’ve got the most credit card debt of anyone — yet still spend more than anyone on non-essentials. Members of Gen X have higher levels of credit card debt — which tends to carry a higher interest rate than most other debt — than other generations. Indeed, credit card debt levels peak between the ages of 45-54 at $9,096, with the second highest levels of debt being or those who are 35-44 at $8,235. Meanwhile, the under 35 set has just $5,808. “Millennials and individuals over 74 years old held the least credit card debt. These two groups are also among the least likely to have a credit card, which can serve as a potential explanation behind the trend we are seeing here,” ValuePenguin explains of their data.

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Don’t do it, Elizabeth. Dumb move.

Warren: Trump Might Not Be President Or ‘Even A Free Person’ In 2020 (MW)

Back in Iowa as a full-fledged presidential candidate, Democrat Elizabeth Warren took aim at President Donald Trump on Sunday, saying he “may not even be a free person” by next year’s election. The Massachusetts senator’s comments came a day after Trump renewed his criticism of her past claims of Native American heritage. In a tweet, Trump called Warren “Pocahontas” and said he would see her “on the campaign TRAIL.” The White House didn’t explain what the president was referring to in his tweet, though some Democrats accused him of making light of the Trail of Tears — the forced removal of Cherokee and several other Native American tribes from their lands in the 1830s. Warren’s campaign wouldn’t say what the senator believes Trump was referencing.

Warren has largely avoided talking about Trump since she began testing the waters for a campaign more than a month ago. During her first of three events Sunday in eastern Iowa, Warren said the president shouldn’t be allowed to dictate the direction of the campaign with divisive attacks. “Every day there is a racist tweet, a hateful tweet — something really dark and ugly,” she said. “What are we as candidates, as activists, as the press, going to do about it? We’re going to chase after those every day?” She continued: “Here’s what bothers me. By the time we get to 2020, Donald Trump may not even be president. In fact, he may not even be a free person.”

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Orban’s success: “..a labour shortage means jobs cannot be filled.”

Viktor Orbán: No Income Tax For Hungarian Women With Four Or More Children (G.)

Hungary’s populist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has promised that women who have four or more children will never pay income tax again, in a move aimed at boosting the country’s population. Orbán, who has emerged as Europe’s loudest rightwing, anti-immigration voice in recent years, said getting Hungarian families to have more children was preferable to allowing immigrants from Muslim countries to enter. “In all of Europe there are fewer and fewer children, and the answer of the west to this is migration,” said Orbán in his annual state of the nation address on Sunday. “They want as many migrants to enter as there are missing kids, so that the numbers will add up. We Hungarians have a different way of thinking. Instead of just numbers, we want Hungarian children. Migration for us is surrender.”

Orbán’s Fidesz party won a third consecutive electoral victory last year on an anti-migration platform, and the Hungarian prime minister rarely gives a speech without presenting the upcoming years as a do-or-die battle for the future of Europe. He has voiced a hope that after elections in May, all European institutions will be controlled by “anti-migration forces”. He has repeatedly claimed that the Hungarian-born American financier and philanthropist George Soros, a favoured target of the far right across the globe, is masterminding a conspiracy to destroy Europe by promoting mass migration. “The people of Europe have come to a historic crossroads,” Orbán said on Sunday, criticising the “mixed population countries” that result from allowing migration.

The process was moving so quickly, he said, that the transformation of previously Christian countries into those where Christians were a minority would happen in his lifetime. “There is no return ticket,” he said. [..] As the prime minister spoke, anti-Orbán protesters gathered in Budapest for the latest in a series of rallies against the government which began in December after parliament passed a “slave law” allowing employers to demand more overtime from workers. The law is seen as another result of the demographic problems in the country, as a labour shortage means jobs cannot be filled.

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And who does Pompeo visit first? Orban of course. Operating in the EU’s own back yard.

Pompeo Trip Marks US Re-Engagement With Long-Overlooked Central Europe (R.)

When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits Hungary, Slovakia and Poland this week he wants to make up for a lack of U.S. engagement that opened the door to more Chinese and Russian influence in central Europe, administration officials say. On a tour that includes a conference on the Middle East where Washington hopes to build a coalition against Iran, Pompeo begins on Monday in Budapest, the Hungarian capital that last saw a secretary of state in 2011 when Hillary Clinton visited. On Tuesday he will be in Bratislava, Slovakia, for the first such high-level visit in 20 years. “This is overdue and needed,” a senior U.S. administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Our message is we have to show up or expect to lose.

“Our efforts at diplomatic engagement are aimed at competing for positive influence and giving allies in the region an indication of U.S. support and interest in order to have alternatives to China and Russia.” Washington is concerned about China’s growing presence, in particular the expansion of Huawei, the world’s biggest telecom gear maker, in Hungary and Poland. [..] Pompeo will also voice concerns about energy ties with Moscow, and urge Hungary to not support the TurkStream pipeline, part of the Kremlin’s plans to bypass Ukraine, the main transit route for Russian gas to Europe. Hungary gets most of its gas from Russia and its main domestic source of electricity is the Paks nuclear power plant where Russia’s Rosatom is involved in a 12.5 billion-euro ($14 billion) expansion. It is also one of the EU states that benefit most from Chinese investment.

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Xi’s conundrum: does he play up how great this is, how it makes his economy look great, or does he try and cut down on borrowing even more, scared that Chinese are borrowing far too much?

China Retail Earnings Up 8.5% During New Year Holiday (R.)

China’s retailer and catering enterprises earned over 1 trillion yuan ($148.3 billion) during the Lunar New Year holiday, defying an economic slump to rise 8.5 percent from last year, the country’s commerce ministry said late on Sunday. The increase was down to the rapid growth in sales of new-year gifts, traditional foods, electronic products and local speciality products over a six-day holiday period ending on Saturday, the Ministry of Commerce said in a notice on its website. Domestic tourism during the new year break generated total revenues of 513.9 billion yuan, up 8.2 percent on the year, with the number of trips rising 7.6 percent to 415 million, the official Xinhua news agency said on Sunday, citing official data.

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The US is pricing itself out of the market: OPEC+ output cuts are meant to support prices, not to allow the US to fill in the gaps.

Oil Prices Fall On Rising US Rig Count, Pressure On OPEC+ Supply Cuts (R.)

Crude prices fell by around 1 percent on Monday as U.S. drilling activity picked up and as Russia’s biggest oil producer pressured President Vladimir Putin to end the supply cut deal with Middle East-dominated producer club OPEC. [..] In the United States, energy firms last week increased the number of oil rigs operating for the second time in three weeks, a weekly report by Baker Hughes said on Friday. Companies added 7 oil rigs in the week to Feb. 8, bringing the total count to 854, pointing to a further rise in U.S. crude production, which already stands at a record 11.9 million bpd. Elsewhere, the head of Russian oil giant Rosneft, Igor Sechin, has written to the Russian President Vladimir Putin saying Moscow’s deal with the OPEC to withhold output is a strategic threat and plays into the hands of the United States.

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Mea culpa. On the news yesterday that the Catalan court cases begin this week, I said nothing appeared to have changed from Rajoy’s days. Not true.

Spain’s Right Wing In Mass Protests Against PM’s Catalan Policy (Pol.eu)

Tens of thousands gathered in Madrid on Sunday to protest Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s plan to ease tensions with Catalan separatists, in a demonstration uniting the leaders of conservative and far-right parties. The protest of an estimated 45,000 people marked the first time that the leaders of the conservative Popular Party (PP), centrist Ciudadanos and far-right Vox were photographed together, El País reported. Protesters accused Sánchez of “stabbing [Spain] in the back” and called for a snap election because of his government’s decision to accept a long-held demand of Catalan secessionists to appoint a facilitator in talks between pro-independence and pro-unity political parties.

The ruling regional pro-independence parties in Barcelona have rejected the Socialists’ proposed framework for talks and are calling for a new independence vote, which the government opposes. “The time of Pedro Sánchez has ended,” said PP leader Pablo Casado. “There is no more room for surrendering by the Socialists, or further extortion from the separatists. Today, the reconquest begins.” Sánchez said at a separate rally on Sunday that “the government is working for the unity of Spain, and this means uniting Spaniards and not pitting people against one another like the right is doing.” He added: “Democracy is not heads or tails, there are many alternatives. Ours is coexistence, law and dialogue in Catalonia.”

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Off topic. What these works show, after you’ve watched them for 2 seconds, is how good Escher was, and others are not. The first one, cats and dogs, depends on cartoon animals. Escher used only real animals. The second comes closest to Escher’s work, but that makes it a bland imitation. The third is straight-up cartoon, not at all something Escher would have done.

Imitating Escher Is Not Easy (G.)

Alain Nicolas, aged 73, was inspired to create his own tessellations on seeing the work of Escher four decades ago. Escher’s tessellations of interlocking birds, fish and lizards are some of the most recognisable mathematical art of the twentieth century; striking and playful as well as breathtakingly ingenious. Nicolas’ work is also stunning and witty.

Now retired, he spends half his free time designing tessellations and recently finished his 400th. You can see many of them on his extensive website (but don’t peek until you have solved the puzzles!). Drawing tessellations is not easy. It takes a lot of geometrical acuity to make shapes that fit together and are convincing representations.

David Bailey, a British tessellation artist, believes that Nicolas is the best tessellation artist in the world. “His work has everything, recognisable silhouettes, quality, variety, number, level of innovation, next to no padding, and all rendered to a most pleasing standard of finish. Bravo, Alain!” Nicolas has – like Escher – no background in maths, but says all that is required is a sense of wonder and a desire to always do better. Here is a self portrait, sitting in a bar, reading his own book, and calling the waiter with his finger.

Read more …

Dec 112018
 
 December 11, 2018  Posted by at 8:45 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


Wilhelm Trübner A Gorgon‘s head 1891

 

The news still isn’t the news, and I’m getting afraid it never will be again, because not the news just simply sells so much better than plain old real events. Maria Butina suddenly popped back into the public eye, because she was either charged with something or confessed to it. And I’m thinking, excuse me, but that poor girl has been kept in isolation for how long now? And for what reason exactly?

I vividly remember thinking that when she first became ‘news’ for ‘infiltrating’ the NRA, for which there were plenty cute pictures taken, I remember thinking she would have been 22 or 23 years old when as a super- devious Russian redhead she allegedly penetrated the trillion dollar NRA, and the trillion dollar Republican Party, and the Trump campaign, which according to some people is now worth negative $1 trillion.

If any of said organizations allow for a 22-year old to take all of their most secret and damning secrets and send them to her alleged puppet master Vladimir Vladimirovich, I say they deserve everything they’re getting. But it IS the sort of thing that if you want to report it like it’s actual news, you sure need to be convincing, you need proof, that sort of thing, not the anti-Putin innuendo US media rely on as their main standard today. Butina with no proof is just a nice by now 30-year old girl who happens to be Russian.

As for the Trump campaign having a negative $1 trillion value, I derive that from all the people who’ve once again, after a handful Mueller tidbits, started saying the Donald will be impeached any moment now, and many around him will go to jail for decades. You know, I can read too, and that’s not what I see. Much of what I see comes down to the reasoning that Trump has not yet been impeached as President because .. he is the President.

Yes, that is pretty funny, but it’s not humor beyond my abilities, and I’m not a comedian by trade. We’re still, even after those Mueller bits, stuck with Papadopoulos who’s been framed and went to jail for 2 weeks for it (shame on Mueller for that, deep deep shame!), there’s Cohen who lost his tracks in between lying for Trump and lying about Trump, and Manafort, a thirteenth wheel on a wagon of which there are dozens in DC, fixers and handlers.

You tell me why Manafort faces years in jail while Rahm Emanuel became mayor of Chicago. But if you’d actually want to explain, I suggest you prepare well, maybe talk to a few lawyers in the process. Washington attracts shady characters like dung beetles to horse shit and honey bees to Mountain Dew, and only a special counsel would ever think of picking them off one by one if he can’t find any of the actual crimes that he was appointed for to find. Cue: Rahm Emanuel.

 

Meantime my pal in arms Jim Kunstler thinks Michael Flynn is laying low as Mueller whoops his ass because he can, only to hit back at Mueller as soon as he’s freed from what are at best shaky allegations. Talking to a Russian is not a crime, not even, or even especially, when you’re the security adviser to the next president.

Michael Flynn’s real suspicious job was advising Turkey on security issues, but then that’s not what Mueller targeted him for. So yeah, let Flynn rise. And once again, don’t let’s forget that he said when the whole circus began, that he saw no way he could defend himself against anything Mueller might have thrown at him, that his entire family was on the verge of bankruptcy.

“But you talked to a Russian!” say the news media. Cue mushroom clouds in the remote background. But don’t you see, Trump is a criminal with decades of crimes under his belt, and all of his family are too! Look, I don’t know these people, and I’m fine not knowing them, not my cup of tea, but how much time did any of them spend behind bars so far?

And now they would have to go to jail just because Donald was elected president and the DOJ appointed a friendly ex-FBI head special counsel on the basis of a dossier paid for by his political opponents? To what extent does that spell justice to you? Yes, feel free to cue Rahm Emanuel again.

See, if certain people can be sent to jail because they rise too high in certain circles that don’t want them to disturb the power inherent in their sphere, while other operatives from the exact same mold though perhaps another political affiliation, are nominated to lofty and lucrative careers and positions, isn’t there something awry?

Are any of them perfectly innocent? Hell no, but then if they were, they wouldn’t be in the positions they’re in, the very positions that allow Robert Mueller to target them. From that point of view, it obvious it’s just a little power game played out in front of your eyes, you who have nothing to do with it but think you’re supposed to have an opinion on it.

Is Donald Trump a worse and bigger criminal than George H.W. Bush was? One half of America can answer that in no time flat. The other is thinking they wouldn’t be so sure. How many people has the Donald condemned to death so far? And he’s already about half way through the time Bush41 spent in the White House.

Perhaps it’s not about who’s a criminal, but about who’s the prosecutor. And with Mueller’s role in the sordid Whitey Bulger tale, and his even more sordid testimony in the Iraq WMD fantasies that led to millions of legalized murders celebrated as victory by both Washington and the US media, which kettle is blaming which pot here?

 

But hey, I’m ready to be corrected. And it’s by no means just the US that feels twisted these days, either. How about French president Emmanuel Macron, who hadn’t addressed his people live for 10-12 days as the Yellow Vests protests just got worse and more violent by the day, and then yesterday decided to make his long awaited response to them through a pre-recorded video? Honestly, how far removed from reality can one be?

The only answer Macron has to the thousands of people who want him out, and who have been willing to express that opinion in 4 consecutive weekends, is money. He thinks if he gives them €100 a month extra, and some tax breaks, they’ll let them continue on his little Napoleon trip. Well, if they do, we’ll know who they are. But are they? I don’t think Macron counts on that.

And then, as Macron increasingly retreats into his little palace(s), cue Marie Antoinette, only to communicate with the unwashed masses who want him gone through pre-scripted and recorded promises of crumbs off his table in exchange for no power at all, British PM Theresa May reacts to her latest and ostensibly worst -though it’s hard to keep track- defeat by … fleeing the country.

That’s how its ‘leaders’ rule Europe these days. Angela Merkel says she’s gone, though she wants to be Chancellor until 2021 (that way no-one can hold her responsible for anything), Theresa May hops on a plane to Europe to grovel some hopelessly more in her already defeated stance.

And Macron has his servants shove crumbs off his table, a gesture that still costs him more than everything Salvini and Di Maio wanted to do in Italy which got them whistled down by Brussels. C’mon, who still believes in the EU? Everyone’s running away from it.

If Macron must hide from his own French people, how can he reform the EU? If May must flee the UK and go to the EU to get a Brexit deal, what’s her authority back home where 50% voted against that same EU?

And if Merkel can only remain in charge by relinquishing her power, who exactly’s going to run Europe? It’s kind of like the same question as for the US. Who’s going to run it? Not Trump, if Mueller and the Democrats have any say although they lost the election. Not Hillary, says about everyone else.

 

We all tend to think that these things are normal and eternal. Just politics. But all the usual suspects appear to be under siege. In Europe, France, UK, Germany are shaking heavily. Italy’s already overboard. That’s the biggest 4 EU members. That’s the EU. No certainties, no future, though the EU itself will never admit it, and instead just push for more EU.

And what’s certain politically in the US anymore? Trump has eviscerated the entire GOP, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. The Democrats killed off Bernie Sanders to allow Hillary to continue her dead before arrival power grab. She came she saw she lost.

My point, I think, is that political strongholds are being defeated everywhere at the same time. And when that happens, there’s always a reason for it. I think that reason can be found in the fact that the global economy is rumbling and crumbling as we speak, with politics and economics acting as precursors for one and other.

Like, Macron can only save his political ass by violating the EU budget terms he just chided Italy for. Merkel can only save her legacy by creating a situation she’s no longer responsible for. And Theresa May would be well advised, now that she’s on the continent, to simply stay there and let Britain figure things out without her.

The US won’t and can’t be so lucky. We’re still up for much more, marathon more, of Trump vs Mueller, and there will be many more courts and judges who have to speak on all of it before there’s anything even remotely resembling a conclusion. Because the whole Mueller circus -reluctantly- threatens to open up a Pandora swamp that’s been DC’s lifeblood forever.

Yeah, you got your Flynn and Manafort, but you also got your Podesta brothers. Yeah, there’s the Trump Foundation, but there’s also the Clinton Foundation, and Uranium One. Who’s worse? Good one!

Both things should be investigated, it shouldn’t just be Trump and Mueller, Hillary and the DNC and Comey etc etc also must be under the microscope. Or America will forever lose its faith in democracy. Not that there’s much of it left, mind you, but hey, at the very least it’s the thought that counts.

Bottom line: it all appears to be about local, domestic, national politics, but don’t be deceived: the global economy is tanking, and all of the political mayhem on all these levels is just a derivative of that. The dinosaurs want to live another day.

None of which is going to make your situation any better, but who knows, you just might feel better about it for a bit. Until you don’t.

 

 

Nov 152018
 


Max Ernst Ubu Imperator 1923

 

 

Ilargi: This is part 3 of Alexander Aston’s view of how upheaval and collapse can lead to new insights, new bursts of creativity, in science, religion, society and the arts. Part 1 of Quantum, Jazz and Dada can be found here, part 2 is here.

Here’s Alexander:

 

 

Quantum, Jazz and Dada:
The Dynamic Symmetry of Destruction and Creativity

 

Human Development

 

Every breath is a sacrament, an affirmation of our connection with all other living things, a renewal of our link with our ancestors and a contribution to generations yet to come. Our breath is a part of life’s breath, the ocean of air that envelopes the earth.”
– David Suzuki

 

As human minds first started to emerge from the ocean and step onto the shores of Africa, they increasingly began to respond to their own presence. Hominids co-evolved through the complex social structures generated through the ecosystem engineering of tool using communities, forming a kind of “multicellular” cognition. The unique features of human cognitive evolution emerged from the dense feedback between brains, bodies, and their environments. As humans learn to engage with the material world around us we transform our collective developmental processes. “The structure of the brain reflects its history: as an evolving dynamic system, in which one part evolves out of another”. (20)

Tools made available whole new energetic niches for early hominins while sharing and cooperation increased group resiliency. This stimulated the growth of new neural structures capable of mediating the growing complexity of hominin interaction with the world. It is from these socio-cognitive ecologies that the phenomena we call history has emerged. What is clear from our deep past is that cooperative behaviour is overwhelmingly the dominant evolutionary characteristic of our species. Early Hominins that shared and reciprocated effectively created a broader distribution of resources that safeguarded against ecological change, thereby producing significant advantages in the face of adversity. In this sense, cooperative behaviour can be understood as a form of counteractive niche construction in which other members of the species provide a form of ecological storage to buffer against environmental variability.

The active structuring of relationships within a species creates unique adaptive landscapes that produce powerful and often novel forms of evolutionary feedback. Through interaction and cooperation, the social “body” itself becomes part of the ecological inheritance in which the organism develops. The greater the selective advantage afforded to cooperative behaviour the more complex the adaptive landscape becomes through collective behaviours and group size. Effective cooperation can help to ensure against the monopolisation of and exclusion from resources, enabling a more efficient circulation and distribution of resources through the social system.

Thus, the effectiveness of this strategy provides an advantage to those individuals more willing to engage in cooperative behaviour. What is critical about this is that it illuminates the idea that social organisation in of itself can be understood as a form of niche construction. Through socially structuring the material and energetic flows of their environments hominins created powerful feedback loops between social cognition and organisation. The ecological benefits of cooperative behaviours fuel their own expansion.

Human beings have developed such intense feedback between their environments, brains and bodies that we can engineer ecosystems and construct niches with very little impact upon our underlying genetics beyond what amounts to fine tuning. Nonetheless, human systems are still subject to the fundamental patterns from which they have emerged. In essence, humans “internalised” the logic of co-evolutionary ecologies, analogous to the way mammals localised thermal regulation. Our capacity to manipulate environmental structures and collectively adapt has led to unparalleled growth in organizational complexity throughout the course of human existence.

“The cultural transmission of knowledge and practices resulting from individual lifetime learning, when combined with the physical persistence of artefacts, yields yet another source of selection impacting feedback.” (21) In other words, the products of human activity become ecological entities shaping flows of energy, matter, and information in the environment. Our minds emerged in the wild, but over millennia we have engineered socio-technical ecosystems to shaping our development, our ways of knowing and being in the world. It is through the active structuring of energy-matter flows in our environment that we create the medium through which we think and act.

This interplay between material structure and flows of energy shape human engagement by encouraging and constraining interactive possibilities, and making new forms of meaning possible. It is in this sense that the most significant feature of human cognitive evolution is the feedback generated between the plasticity of the brain and the plasticity of the material environment. “Constant transformation of what is out there to be perceived facilitates further projections [that] over time… may construct a creative ecology of recursiveness and metacognition.” (22) Material culture allows us to engineer our ecosystems, forming “cognitive ecologies” that structure the contexts and possibilities of human development and interaction. (23) We grow from the world we help to create.

 

 

It is in these regards that the seeds of the next system must be sown in the dynamics of human development, social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. The environments that we expose or subject ourselves to, shape how we think, relate and what we are capable of becoming. We must learn how to create healthy environments that support and empower human development in ways that are socially, economically and ecologically sustainable. Critical to this are intergenerational communities that allow us to observe and learn from the broad arc of human development, individual and collective. We also need educational processes that are truly dynamic. Experimental learning communities that are integrated into their societies are necessary. Yet, the most fundamental truth is that it will be co-operation that will be the single most critical trait that will lead to success. The more effective we are at sharing resources in mutual aid the more likely our systems will survive.

From Palaeolithic bands to the first city states and the contemporary global system, humans transform their environments, tapping new energetic resources and creating unique developmental pressures. As human social ecologies reach the limits of their growth or encounter novel conditions, people transform their energetic systems and their development. Human beings have gone from isolated bands to vast entanglements that dominate global ecology. Like atoms aggregating into stars and cells forming into bodies, minds have condensed into novel and dense relationships such as kinship networks, polities, religious communities, states and transnational empires. Diverse forms of human sociality have grown and withered countless times as unique cognitive ecologies,. The cosmos of identity and meaning that shaped our ancestors as they flourished, now erode in the elements, their ideas, knowledge and art forming the strata beneath our feet and the basis of our own understanding in the world.

Since the emergence of agriculture, elite groups have become extremely adept at dominating bottlenecks in the flows of complex systems, enabling them to reorganize social institutions around powerful monopolies and thereby establishing persistent, stratified political economies. Early states formed as identity cults with monopolies over specific behaviours and resources. In a sense, they were entropy-gathering mechanisms, domesticating and discipling human bodies in order to harness their energy and concentrate it in powerful cores. These hierarchical systems are effective at creating durable structures, yet their ability to create inertia also increases their fragility. The linear, overly centralised energy-matter flows of vertical control systems mean that they are only stable over a limited range of conditions as complexity increases. Not only do they often fail to adapt, but they are also powerful enough in the short term to fend off systemic changes, increasing the pressures upon the system as more energy is consumed to maintain stability.

This dynamic of inertia is where we stand at the end of the petroleum era with global institutions that developed around an immense energetic scaffolding of fossil fuels. These energetic throughputs have created powerful dominance hierarchies far beyond the scope of any previous social systems. The current “global” culture that has emerged from these processes comprises a unique way of understanding the world through developmental scaffolding afforded by industrial systems. “The assembling of ‘the economy’ [came] with the transition from a coal based energy system to a predominantly oil-base one… [a concept that] depended upon abundant and low-cost energy supplies, making post war Keynesian economics a form of ‘petroknowledge.’” (24)

Those at the core of the current system will resist changes because it is central to their very understanding of what the world is and how it functions. It is difficult for all humans to challenge and change the fundamental assumptions and logics of the systems in which we develop and create meaning, this all the more the case for the extremely privileged. Elites are at the centre of extremely dense and potent energetic flows that have developed into very powerful belief systems. It will doubtlessly require a great deal of energy and destruction to convince them of new possibilities. Such is the nature of all Ancien Régimes.

 

If we wish to create a new system, a healthier system for humanity, we must find ways of re-organising energetic flows from the ground up. There is no simple schema that can be imposed in such a process. Ecological design must emerge from its local context. The nature of sustainability will not be interchangeable across the globe. One of the critical things necessary for new, healthier systems to develop effectively is the decentralisation of production and consumption into locally stable configurations. There is no central authority with the sophistication necessary to impose a model or engineer a solution.

Down that path lay the horrors of the twentieth century. Rather, a new kind of society must emerge through negotiating the great diversity of human communities and their environments at multiple scales. What these social ecologies should share is a fundamental logic of co-evolutionary feedback, dynamic relational structures shaped by the flow and form of their environment. It is from those fundamental parameters that we can begin to organise new institutions. This requires engaging with the dynamics of the local environment and designing systems that harness and circulate energetic and material flows effectively.

The basis of our energetic systems is food production. It is critical that we begin to integrate our consumption with our ecosystems. There are many sophisticated techniques for bio intensive farming that have emerged over recent decades such as permaculture, hügelkultur, aquaponics and other experimental designs as well as extremely robust traditional practices across the world. Rethinking our systems from the ground up and engineering stable energetic feedback in our environments will allow us to reduce bottlenecks and increase local autonomy and resiliency. The more local the production of energy flows and their effective distribution in communities, the more they can create healthy developmental conditions as well as rapidly adapt to changing contexts.

This also can function as a way of creating counter power. Dominants (individual or institutional) will be less capable of creating differential access to resources and therefore dependency and power. Communities that harness their energy dynamics efficiently and effectively will have greater independence for they will be less susceptible to systemic coercion. Power, in a technical sense, is the expression of energetic capacity. The greater the autonomy of a community’s energetic capacity, the more power they can express in relation to the broader system. It is the counterbalance of power that creates stable feedback. Food autonomy is the cornerstone of this, from that foundation we must work to build counter economies, shaping new institutions around these energetic flows.

We must produce as much of our material needs from our immediate environment as possible. Recycle, reuse, repair while sustainably maintaining and harvesting local resources and reaching out to our broader communities for support in measured and considered ways. There are already many models and tools with which we can begin to design the institutions of a counter economy. DIY and maker spaces, cooperatives, social collectives, small businesses, sustainably powered micro-factories, all provide potential avenues for new networks of production and consumption. The point is to link up as many of these processes within our communities so that their synergy can start producing self-sustaining feedback.

Tools such as the P2P Foundation, Loomio, Opensource Ecology and countless other resources made available through digital culture allow us to design, implement and share in ways that can rapidly scale between local, regional and global, communities. Indeed, such resources opens the space for new forms of politics through consensus practices and highly refined, dynamically responsive voting structures. Through practice and participation we will learn how to create the next system as it emerges, co-evolving with it, creating it as it creates us. It is also critical that we do as much as possible to limit bottlenecks in informational networks.

 

 

It is only through communication and considered negotiation that we will be able to collectively adapt to the challenges that face us. The creation of alternative communication networks such as meshnets are extremely important, structurally distributed information flows ensure greater adaptability and coordination. This does not mean that we should not intersect with older or more traditional institutions. We should engage with those pre-existing structures that truly benefit our communities and learn how to transform and integrate them into new social configurations. We should also discover how to divert as many of the old systems energetic flows into new relationships, as long as such actions do not compromise our local systems.

Money is a powerful social technology by which we are undeniably dominated. Money mimics the dynamics of energy, acting as a kind of “fly-wheel” that facilitates the flow and storage of energetic capacity. “The flow of energy makes possible the circulation of money and the manipulation of money can control the flow of energy.” (25) In key ways, money is a cognitive artefact that humans use to store and express energetic capacity. Ultimately, it seems that if we want to have a materially grounded system of accountancy we should peg our currencies to measurable energetic flows. The creation of counter currencies, digital, local or otherwise, is one potentially fruitful avenue.

However, in our present circumstances, divestment from major banks into credit unions and other cooperative structures will help to ensure more democratic and local control over community wealth. Furthermore, the use of money to develop sustainable and shared resources is incredibly important. Investment into micro-grids, sustainable housing, community farms, consumer and producer cooperatives, tool libraries, time banks, transition towns and more, will all help to increase local resiliency. We must work to create configurations between such institutions that produce self-reinforcing dynamics. However, this does not mean that local communities will ever be fully disentangled from global flows of energy, only more resilient in the face of their disruption.

These dynamics must be mediated at local, regional and global scales. Indeed it would seem that one of the most potentially fruitful avenues for institutional frameworks would be to mimic the relational structure of the environment from ecosystems to biomes, ecotones and the biosphere. The communities and tools through which these processes are developing are far too numerous to detail. We should take heart that across the world communities are already developing solutions. Through observation, experimentation and communication we can begin to design feedback processes, positive and negative, that empower resilience and flexibility. The next system will emerge through communities working with the ecological flows in which they are embedded, developing new ways of articulating between the various scales of these processes. It will be a diverse kind of “Protestantism” rejecting and reorienting away from the demands of the current system as humanity searches for salvation.

 

Utopia and all that Jazz

 

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.”
– Oscar Wilde

 

It was a song that encouraged soldiers to lay down their weapons and cross the lines on Christmas eve of 1914. Of all the things humans create, it is music that most closely resembles the reality of our universe, the dynamic symmetry of patterns in time. A tension between becoming and unbecoming shaping movement. Crescendo and dissolution, trough and peak. It has been over a century since that silent night, in which a fragile utopia emerged amidst the freshly dug trenches for Europe’s impending self-immolation.

What will we choose to sacrifice and create as the last of the industrial empires enter terminal decline? Across the globe connections are breaking and new spaces are being created, often with great violence. The demands of the old system exceed the Earth’s capacity and with every passing year, more and more people will be searching for new solutions. We must discover new ways to sing to one another and build our utopias not as end goals but as practices through which we can learn how to better take care of one another. We must create it together, in all our diversity, to give new meanings to the way we live.

It is our historical moment to be such a generation, to live amidst such immense forces of change. The high priests of our system fiercely deny this and demand ever more blood sacrifice from us to end the eclipse of their infinitely growing future. The very logic of their organization precipitates their extinction. However, if we embrace our position, balanced between destruction and creation, we can begin to create harmony amidst the crescendo of the old world. We live amongst dinosaurs. The meteor is coming. We must learn to be warm blooded, how to flower. Will our successional ecology be a golden age or a toxic one? The choice will be ours.

We must try to imagine and prefigure societies where human needs are met by systems of production sustainably embedded within ecological and thermodynamic processes. Imagine a world where children dive and play amongst the reefs formed by our submerged cities, their communities growing like gardens surrounded by vast tracts of wilderness, connected to new global networks. Perhaps they will ply the seas in ships that cast their sails into the stratosphere, transmit radio waves into space and still listen to the classic musicians of our times. Think of institutions where education and learning are free from linear economic narratives and embraced as one of the great joys and passions of the human mind.

A world where Art, Philosophy and Science are acts of joy and play, where generations are conscientiously integrated into community learning environments. Vibrant and diverse cultures that grow from sustainably designed communities powered with solar steam engines, eco-farms, cooperative institutions and more. It is beyond our knowing. All that we are certain of is that it is our generation, our actions that will create the possibilities of the future. The next system must emerge as a dynamic scaffolding of energy, matter and minds through which we can nurture new institutions. The ultimate outcome is beyond our comprehension, however the old world is reaching a crescendo and it’s denouement will be in the hands of those with the sense of vision and endeavour necessary to create something truly revolutionary.

Imagine…

The Industrials came from the ancient imperial-merchant cultures of Eurasia. Even today their ingenuity and technical prowess is astonishing. Their sciences still form much of the foundations of our knowledge, their stories continue to shape our identities. They were complex and contradictory peoples, capable of breath taking beauty and savage cruelty. Often one is left baffled at what they seemed unable to comprehend in themselves and their world, creating their own tragedies and traumas as if by compulsion. Yet, inexorably, the world changed. It would have been hard to see then, the seemingly disconnected and separate events that have only crystallised into history over the centuries.

There were signs of the gathering transformations at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Though the violence and trauma of the period was extreme, developments such as the Global Justice Movement, Chiapas, Occupy, Rojava, Nuit Debout, Standing Rock, and countless other innovations great and small were part of a gathering wave of transformation and reconfiguration. It was not a seamless and smooth process and over time it would create unanticipated problems that they and their descendants were forced to negotiate. Yet we owe much to those last generations of the industrial age.

Amidst all their challenges and shortcomings, they learned to create something new, an inheritance they have bequeathed us all. It must have often been terrifying and difficult during those final days of empire. Yet, as their world began to fall apart they started to produce whole new forms of art and philosophy, new systems of meaning and relationship, reshaping their communities and setting in motion the birth of the world we know today. Despite the horrors of their age, they still managed to create something beautiful. It is their redemption. They worked to build a renaissance rather than flee an apocalypse…

 

“We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. And the hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is. You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give.”
– Ursula K. Le Guin

 

 

20) Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 255.
21) Andy Clark, Supersizing the Mind Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension, (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press 2008), 259.
22) Lambros Malafouris, How Things Shape the Mind: A Theory of Material Engagement, (Cambridge: MIT Press 2013), 193.
23) Edwin Hutchins, ‘Cognitive Ecology’. Topics in Cognitive Science 2, no. 4 (October 2010): 705-15.
24) Timothy Mitchell, Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil. (London: Verso 2013), 139.
25) Howard T Odum, Environment, Power, and Society for the Twenty-First Century: The Hierarchy of Energy, (New York: Columbia University Press 2007), 41.

 

 

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Alexander Aston is a doctoral candidate in archaeology at the University of Oxford and is on the board of directors with the Centre for Cognitive Archaeology at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. He has prior degrees in philosophy and history. His work lays at the intersection of Cognitive Archaeology, Deep History and Natural Philosophy, examining the relationship between ecology, material culture and social cognition. Alexander grew up between Zimbabwe, Greece and the United States. He has worked as a stone mason, community organiser and collaborative artist focused on issues of sustainability, alternative education and economic justice for nearly two decades. He has helped to establish community collectives, free schools, participatory art projects, sustainability and education programs in several international projects.

 

 

Nov 112018
 


Hannah Höch Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany 1919

 

 

Ilargi: This is part 2 of Alexander Aston’s view of how upheaval and collapse can lead to new insights, new bursts of creativity, in science, religion, society and the arts. Part 1 of Quantum, Jazz and Dada can be found here. Part 3 will follow soon. Check TheAutomaticEarth.com.

Here’s Alexander:

 

 

Quantum, Jazz and Dada:
The Dynamic Symmetry of Destruction and Creativity

 

Energy, Ecology and Ecosystems

 

Erwin Schrodinger (1945) has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment – that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatim as a physical description of our economic process. A corollary of this statement is that an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.”
– Herman Daly and Kenneth Townsend

 

The concept of energy is essentially an accounting process we have devised for describing the relationships of flow and transformation observed in the fundamental structure of the universe. It is an elegant concept, whether discussing the life of stars, the feeding of bodies or the intensity of industries, the movement of energy is remarkably consistent. In other words, it is very hard to lie about. It has one key characteristic in its movement through systems, the creation of feedback between material structures. Matter congeals from energy, planets and the basic chemical elements of life originate in novae, bronze is forged with fire and earth.

Positive feedback structures the growth of energetic systems and negative feedback shapes their stability. Stars and atmospheres remain balanced between gravity and the void, bodies respire, species co-evolve, ecological cycles persist. A self-similar pattern begins to becomes apparent in the flows of energy and matter through our universe. Cascading from singularity to the stars, flowing from hydrogen and radiated upon oceans; denser and denser, energy whirls and eddies into myriad forms, binding them together in increasingly complex configurations. Defined as the capacity to do work, there is a deceptive simplicity to our description of energy.

A universality that encompasses all activity, almost undermining the value of the concept due to the complexity of what it describes. Part of this problem is an epistemological one; our language renders a world of interacting objects. In this discourse, there is a tendency to think of “energy” as an entity, one more “object” in a milieu of discrete, bounded things. However, energy is not so much a “thing” as it is a way that “things” happen. Energy is process; indeed, it is the ability for process to exist.

Exchanges of energy are what create causal change over time due to the fundamental characteristic of entropy, the spontaneous, intrinsic characteristic of energy to move from an organized state to a disorganized one.. “It illuminates why anything – anything from the cooling of hot matter to the formulation of thought – happens at all.” (12) Process and change over time are “hardwired” into the universe. Yet this leaves us with one of the most profound questions of modern science. How, if the universe is wired for disorder, does a complex phenomenon arise that seems to run counter to entropy? (13)

The very existence of pattern is counterintuitive to a universe dominated by the processes of entropy, something made even more paradoxical by the observation that this entropic universe has, thus far, manifested increasingly complex forms of organization. As we look through deep time we repeatedly see the emergence of relatively rapid and powerful bursts of complexity, from the formation of stars to the emergence of life, the human brain, agriculture and industry. The general feature of this pattern of emergence is the energetic binding of material structures into new ecological relationships, shaped by positive and negative feedback.

Negative feedback ensures structural stability while positive feedback generates the disequilibria necessary for both growth and destruction. Unstable structures such as supernovae die out, creating not only space for more stable structures to form but also the materials that provide the structural components of new energetic relationships. Given enough time and space, energy density and material complexity would logically result from the repetition of such processes.

Systems help to stall the process of entropy by circulating energy flows before they dissipate. The more efficiently this is done the more stable the system. Efficiency in this sense is the way in which a system taps available energetic resource, how effectively a system circulates energy before dissipation, and the ratio of waste to energy consumed over time. All systems are bound together by a constant throughput of energy. Without these required energetic inputs systems will break down into the most stable configurations available. It is in this light that we begin to see how entropy, complexity and emergence are woven together.

 

 

Energy bonds together the constituent elements of a system into a process of relational development that orders a systems overall behaviour. Likewise, changes to the way energy flows through a system will produce new patterns of organization. More specifically, the greater the density of energetic feedback in a system the more complex its organization and intense its environmental influence becomes. “New configurations emerge quite suddenly as once independent entities are drawn into new and more ordered patterns, held together by an increasing throughput of free energy.” (14) New systems create new sources of energy and thus new differentials and gradients along which further complexity can develop.

Systems emerge through processes of positive feedback; the amplification of an effect by its own influence on the process which gives rise to it. A clear example of this is seen in the formation of a star. The gravitational pull from slightly denser clusters of hydrogen draw surrounding atoms into concentrated areas. The gravity created by this increasing mass causes more atoms to coalesce until the density of atoms is so great that nuclear fusion ignites. If the positive feedback is not checked the star will continue to accrete mass until it either goes nova or collapses into a black hole.

However, the star will stabilize into a durable system capable of regulating the energy flows if it forms a negative feedback loop by which the function of the system counterbalances itself in such a way as reduces change. In the case of a star, the heat and pressure caused by the gravitational compression of hydrogen causes its mass to expand. However, the expansion of the star into the vacuum of space causes its surface area to cool and compress thereby increasing heat and pressure. In a sense, stable stars respire, heating and cooling, expanding and compressing in space. The elements of complex systems are bound together by the energy flows from which they are constituted and changes to the way energy flows through systems can lead to reconfiguration, dissolution and novel emergences.

Earth’s ecosystems are its primary way of storing and circulating energetic capacity. Energetic flows bind organisms into the dynamic co-evolutionary relationships we call ecologies, or the complex adaptive systems that self-organize through the mutually reinforcing interactions between their constituent species. In other words, the presence of life reshapes and changes the conditions in which it arose, forcing it to continually adapt to its own presence. In a sense, evolution is the dynamic continuity of an organism transforming and mutating in the changing currents of energy over the course of billions of years.

Organisms greatly increase available energy by excreting metabolic waste (such as when anaerobic organisms oxygenated the biosphere), as energy dense packets for predation, or simply by decomposing. By increasing available energy in their surroundings they fuel the emergence of new forms of complexity. “Ecosystems converge in the way they handle energy” suggesting that “ecosystems and organisms organize similarly under energy flow” and the “expansion of the complex system is thermodynamically mandated.” (15) These complex adaptive systems are predicated upon the way energy flows through their biotic communities.

Due to the logic of selection through adaptive cycles, they tend to expand in complexity over time as the individual elements of the system compete and cooperate for better access to resources. The more effective a species is at harnessing available energy the more it shapes environmental and evolutionary dynamics in its surroundings. This in turn creates selective pressure amongst other organisms to adapt to these changing patterns resulting in co-evolutionary feedback. All organisms are “ecosystem engineers” to some degree or another, altering the flows of energy within ecosystems to meet their needs and shaping broader environmental pressures and relationships. (16)

For example, when beaver dams gather silt until they burst, flooding the lands downstream to create fertile meadows. In these regards, organisms are also niche constructors to varying degrees of intensity, shaping their environments as a form of “ecological inheritance.” (17) Selection is understood as a reciprocal process in which the creation of developmental ecologies selects for developmental plasticity. Persistent environmental alterations have downstream effects on the organisation of energy and matter in the environment, and therefore the evolutionary dynamics experienced by a host of organisms.

In other words, the organism, and the others that it impacts, become dependent upon constructing behaviours and engineered environments for survival. In these regards, humans can be understood as ecosystem engineers and niche constructors without parallel on Earth. However, humanity’s unique evolutionary dynamics lead us to create what might be termed “cognitive-developmental niches” or the, “problem solving resource and scaffold for individual development and lifetime learning.” (18) Through understanding the co-evolutionary feedback created between human cognition and the environments it is possible begin to design more sustainable and healthier processes.

Systems, cosmic, ecological, cognitive and social, all function through the dynamic feedback between matter and energy, something that we measure as information. When the growth of a complex systems begins to reach its energetic limits, it must either find a dynamic equilibrium between negative and positive feedback, intensify, or collapse. Understanding the dynamics of energetic feedback are key to designing effective solutions. The greatest transformations in the history of our societies are marked by the intensity with which humans have extracted and put energy to use. From hunting to farming, slavery to steam; like all organisms, human beings are shaped by the way in which they harness energy from their environments.

 

The greater the density of energetic flows, the more complex the human systems that emerge. Indeed, our history and “our relationship to the ecosystems we and our ancestors have inhabited is marked by scalar leaps in extractive capacity.” (19) Undeniably, the two most intensive reconfigurations and emergent dynamics yet experienced by the human species are the agricultural and industrial revolutions. Indeed, the magnitude of transformation that we face finds its closest parallel in these events. The human species must begin to reorganise the way in which energy is produced, stored and dissipated through their socio-technical ecosystems.

If such a reorganisation can be accomplished it will lead to a transformation of human developmental environments in what might thought of as kind of “eco” revolution, a move towards a more symbiotic integration with the energy-matter flows of the planet. Such a transformation can only be accomplished by observing the ecological dynamics of our environments and designing our institutions around them. In this way, we can design interventions that create feedback within diverse ecologies of humans, non-humans, technologies and institutions. In other words, we need to learn how to manage both growth and stability through feedback across a multitude of scales ranging from individuals to planetary ecology.

This means assessing the energetic and material flows that are available to our communities and their broader ecosystems in terms of efficient, sustainable use and distribution. Ecologies are the way in which the energetic capacity of the planet is organised and circulated through organic life. Their health and stability are the fundamental scaffolding upon which our societies are built. The idea of ecology is fundamentally one of relational and developmental systems. It has done much to breakdown our clockwork, factory inspired models and metaphors with their linear production processes.

It allows us to understand ourselves as caught up in complex predicaments, as opposed to merely complicated problems. Industrial societies have made this reality abundantly clear through the incomprehensibly vast changes they have wrought in their environments. Should humanity succeed, it will still be centuries before we will have ameliorated the damage to our global ecosystems. However, in creating stable feedback between environments, communities, institutions and technologies as part of an interdependent system, we can begin the process of such a recovery. It is through redesigning our developmental environments for dynamic equilibrium that the next system will coevolve with the planet.

 

 

12) P. W. Atkins, The Laws of Thermodynamics: A Very Short Introduction, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), xii.
13) “That’s the beauty of the system with the four fundamental forces chucked in, 1) gravity (for matter to coalesce), 2) electromagnetism (for light to be transmitted), 3) strong nuclear (for a nucleus to form from protons and neutrons, which then form atoms because electrons are needed to balance the charge) and 4) weak nuclear (which results in radioactive decay and various other interactions which lead to the chemical order we see today).” Personal correspondence from Dr. Vincent Hare
14) Christian, p. 45
15) Schneider and Sagan, p. 152
16) Alan Hastings, James E. Byers, Jeffrey A. Crooks, Kim Cuddington, Clive G. Jones, John G. Lambrinos, Theresa S. Talley, and William G. Wilson ‘Ecosystem Engineering in Space and Time.’ Ecology Letters 10, no. 2 (2007): 153-64.
17) Kevin N. Laland and Michael J. O’Brien. ‘Niche Construction Theory and Archaeology.’ Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 17, no. 4 (2010): 303-22.
18) Karola Stotz, ‘Human Nature and Cognitive-developmental Niche Construction.’ Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 9, no. 4 (2010): 483
19) Shryock, Andrew, Daniel Lord Smail, and Timothy K. Earle, eds. (Deep History: The Architecture of Past and Present. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 247.

 

 

Part 1 of Quantum, Jazz and Dada can be found here. Part 3 will follow soon. Check TheAutomaticEarth.com.

 

 

Alexander Aston is a doctoral candidate in archaeology at the University of Oxford and is on the board of directors with the Centre for Cognitive Archaeology at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. He has prior degrees in philosophy and history. His work lays at the intersection of Cognitive Archaeology, Deep History and Natural Philosophy, examining the relationship between ecology, material culture and social cognition. Alexander grew up between Zimbabwe, Greece and the United States. He has worked as a stone mason, community organiser and collaborative artist focused on issues of sustainability, alternative education and economic justice for nearly two decades. He has helped to establish community collectives, free schools, participatory art projects, sustainability and education programs in several international projects.

 

 

Nov 092018
 


Marcel Duchamp Nude descending a staircase 1912

 

 

Ilargi: Much to my surprise, I received a mail from an old friend. Alexander Aston last wrote for the Automatic Earth in 2014. But he hasn’t been idle. Alexander is presently finishing his doctorate in archeology at Oxford, after prior degrees in philosophy and history. And for this article, he’s been thinking about how upheaval and collapse tend to lead to new insights, new bursts of creativity, in science, religion, society and the arts. A view that’s -too- rarely contemplated. It’s so long I cut it into three parts. Please don’t miss any of them.

Here’s Alexander:

 

 

Quantum, Jazz and Dada:
The Dynamic Symmetry of Destruction and Creativity

Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke

 

Introduction

 

This paper is not about Quantum, Jazz and Dada per se, but rather a meditation on those radical bursts of human creativity that occur during historically destructive moments. Ultimately, my thesis is quite simple. Barring the possibility of extinction, humans are on the precipice of the most radical social reorganizations in the history of the species. In navigating this process of transformation, if we wish to create a world worth living in, it is necessary to understand the interactions between energy, ecosystems, cognitive development and social organization.

Without a grasp on the interdependence of these relationships there is no hope for shaping our world in a healthier manner. What is historically unquestionable is that periods of radical upheaval result in drastic reconfigurations of belief, meaning and knowledge. In the contemporary world, metaphysical and theoretical assumptions about the division of mind and matter, culture and nature, humans and environment all stem from a philosophical and scientific heritage that has divided form and flow. If we are to create something better out of the ongoing destruction of the current system we must radically rethink our understanding of energy, matter and the interdependence of humanity and the Earth.

 

Collapse Ain’t Nuthin New

 

At the beginning of the twentieth century the Industrial Empires and their world order collapsed, imploding into a cataclysm of brutality and desperation that persisted for decades. Czars and Kaisers, empires and vassals dissolved in the onslaught of history. The old order was left rotting in the trenches. Muddy altars to the gods of empire and industry that demanded a blood sacrifice beyond comprehension. In the wake of the destruction, new imperial orders and secular religions emerged in the search for control and stability, dominating and traumatising those that survived the slaughter. It is impossible to grasp fully the horror and devastation of the period.

The wars, depressions, epidemics, famines, revolutions and authoritarian regimes have become so normalised in our narratives that it is hard to grasp the magnitude of these events. It was a cascading systems failure of a scale and intensity without historical parallel in terms of the global scope and the speed at which it unfolded. There are few words for the early twentieth century collapse other than horrific. Yet, even as the tragedy unfolded, a profoundly creative dynamism emerged from the ashes. Like a successional ecology following a wildfire, scientific, artistic and social practices began to transform.

In the ruins physicists began to undermine radically the common pre-war belief that physics was an essentially complete science. Artists began to deconstruct the meaning of cultural institutions that could not account for such technological savagery, leading to the advent of post-modernism. As the global system reoriented it was the descendants of slaves, at the beating heart of American suffering, that catalysed the greatest musical renaissance in world history. Despite the tragedy, there is a kind of beautiful symmetry in the flourishing of Quantum, Jazz and Dada amidst the rubble and devastation of the war.

Destruction is part of the fecundity of life, the dynamism that creates the possibility for growth. Disruption and disintegration break the equilibrium of our systems and feed a creative evolution for more effective, resilient practices and forms of organisation. Peak and trough, complexity and entropy are bound together like a wave to the ocean. Life flourishes amongst dead and decomposing stars, extinctions produce radiations, ovulation leads to menstruation, death and renaissance produce one another. It is in this dynamic symmetry of creation and destruction that uncertainty produces physics, chaos creates art, and the persecuted compose music.

Much like our ancestors at the dawn of the twentieth century, we are on the precipice of immense changes. Indeed, we are already caught in the momentum of this wave. The complexity of the current system has begun to hit hard energetic boundaries, fracturing economic, political and social stability. For the first time in human evolution the species is confronting not only global resource limits but its own behaviour as a geological force. The energetic structure of the global system that has emerged over the past five centuries has begun to radically reorganise.

We are experiencing negative and positive feedback on a planetary scale and facing an ecological, evolutionary and geological transformation of an intensity that is unique in the existence of the biosphere. Extinctions, natural disasters, imperial wars, refugees, financial crises, Arab springs and Syrian deserts, all are systemically entangled with the transforming energy dynamics of our planetary system.

At one pole, we are experiencing the ecological effects of a thermodynamic expansion that has dispersed the fossilised energy of entire geologic ages into the atmosphere in mere centuries. We have amplified the thermal energy retained by the planet and the principle of entropy requires it to be dissipated. Energy that flows through storms, glaciers, and oceans. At the opposite pole, we confront resource depletion and contamination as we feed the energetic demands of the global economy. It is why we claw tar out of the earth in Alberta and drill into the earth miles off the coast of Brazil.

 

 

 

Certainly, no conceptual system can be imposed from the top down. To enforce such abstractions and simplifications on a dynamic reality would require overwhelming violence, as indeed it already does. One of the key insights of modern science is that complex systems are inherently non-linear. In other words, their interactions and emergent properties cannot be determined from initial conditions or inputs. “Our world is governed not only by nonlinear dynamics, which makes detailed prediction and control impossible, but also by nonlinear combinatorics, which implies that the number of possible mixtures of meshwork and hierarchy, of command and market, of centralisation and decentralisation, are immense and that we simply cannot predict what the emergent properties of the myriad combinations will be.” (1) The very nature of “complex adaptive systems” means that we cannot simply engineer solutions with determinate results. (2) This is humbling, it forces us to recognise the limits of our abilities to conceptualise and design systems.

It tells us that whatever comes next, whether for good or ill, is beyond our imaginations. We are akin to medieval peasants attempting to contemplate railroads and telegraphs. The only thing that we are assured of is our current system is undergoing a process of intense reorganisation. It is our burden and privilege to participate in this process. The coming years will take radical creativity and courage if we are to find new ways of living in this world that are balanced and humane. No genius, greater leader or collection thereof can solve this predicament. They cannot scale up to the task, the problems are too intricate, their instruments too blunt and their vision too limited. What we need is not some new ideology or five-year plan but an ethics of practice derived from the organisational dynamics of our world.

It should not be our goal to design and implement a system from the top down but rather to participate in a collective process of reconfiguration through applied practices and the distribution of knowledge, skills and resources. We can only discover how to do this through observation, experimentation and participatory engagement to create new learning environments and social relationships. The next system will not so much be designed as it will be cultivated by individuals, communities and societies seeking resilience and stability. However, our sciences do illuminate fundamental patterns that provide a guide to how we might create the conditions from which new, healthier systems can emerge.

To this end we must engage with three fundamental and interrelated dynamics; energy, ecology, and human development. In other words, we must consider how we produce the fundamental energetic capacity to create and maintain our systems and the ways in which they are integrated within their environments. In turn these elements must be understood in relation to how effectively they distribute available resources in terms of the physiological, psychological and social needs of human beings. In these regards, we must work with human developmental processes in order to create new learning environments that equip people to better articulate and shape these dynamics. Communities and institutions that successfully organise around these relationships will be the steam engines of the twenty-first century.

 

Entropy and Complexity

 

“Without birth and death, and without the perpetual transmutation of all the forms of life, the world would be static, rhythm-less, undancing, mummified.”
– Alan Watts

 

The “next system” will not develop in a context of expansion and growth, at least not initially, but through contraction and disruption. We must consider the dynamics of collapse or disentanglement and transformation that occur in complex adaptive systems so that we might effectively engage with these processes. The universe is an intricate dance of creation and destruction, a fractal of entropy and complexity. Complex adaptive systems emerge through the self-organising dynamics of energy and matter flows in a material and spatial medium.

Think of a murmuration of starlings and one can begin to conceptualise the patterning of relationships in space and time. The process we call history clearly reveals the self-organisation of human communities across multiple, emergent scales. The question is not if humans form complex adaptive systems but how? Ultimately, it is a question of social cognition and how it is that humans understand and understand with each other so as to form relationships that radically alter their ecosystems.

Complex Adaptive Systems are formed of interdependent relationships between “dynamic structures in which faster, smaller processes nest inside and interact with larger, slower ones.” (3) Organisms, ecosystems, and the biosphere interact, aligning and diverging, shaping one another through ongoing developmental processes. The stability and coherence of any self-organising dynamic can be understood emerge through a tension between resilience (the ability to “withstand disturbances and still continue to function”) and connectedness (the ability “within a system to moderate the influences of the outside world”). (4) A highly connected system may be less influenced by external variables; however, the rigidity of its connections only allows it to operate within a limited range of conditions.

Ultimately, the organisation of any system makes trade-offs between forms of high entropy coherence, and low entropy stability. The very nature of entropy ensures that all such systems transform over time, and these processes of change can be schematised into adaptive cycles of rapid growth, conservation, disruption and regeneration. During the conservation phase of a system the “growth rate slows as connectedness increases to the point of rigidity and resilience declines. The cost of efficiency is a loss of flexibility. Increasing dependence on existing structures… such a system is stable, but over a decreasing range of conditions.”

However, it is moments of cascading transformation that are the most dramatic. “The surprise is caused by cross-scale interactions or suites of novelty that ricochet through the system as it reorganizes around alternate sets of mutually reinforcing processes.” (5) Our global system is currently exiting a period of conservation and entering a period of systemic disruption in which “a disturbance that exceeds the systems’ resilience breaks apart its web of reinforcing interactions.” (6)

Such fractal adaptive cycles can be observed repeatedly throughout history, the Neolithic emerges as Pleistocene ecologies begin to break down, the Iron Age emerges from the Bronze Age collapse, the Iroquois Confederacy consolidates out of European epidemics. The examples are numerous beyond recounting; it is an ecological pattern fundamental to the organisation of complex systems. Indeed, it is the breakdown and reorganisation of systems that appears to be one of the key motors of complexity.

Consider for a moment the broad arc of “western” history since Rome. The Roman Imperial system materialized through the resources and slaves extracted from conquered territories. As the empire expanded it required increasing amounts of energy to ensure stability and coherence between the cores and peripheries. Overtime, the cost of maintaining the imperial infrastructure exceeded the energetic returns from further expansion. It is the law of diminishing returns. The growth required to fuel the Empire stalled, sending it into a long, tumultuous process of contraction and decline.

Halting and grinding across the centuries like a receding glacier, the system broke apart, shattering across the Mediterranean world. The very language of the empire fractured, and composed anew as people congregated around the villas and farms that germinated the manorial systems of the Middle Ages. As the crises deepened and intensified a Jewish cult of ostensibly twelve families at the outset, flourished in the cities, providing sustenance and basic care as a result of their cosmology. As plagues, famines and warfare swept through Roman communities in the Third Century AD, patriarchs and patricians fled to their country estates, leaving civil administrations immobilized.

 

As the old patronage systems broke down, the religion spread among the most marginal and vulnerable communities, providing stability by reorienting the basic organization and distribution of social resources around new spiritual practices. Christianity was born within a dying Rome, preserving its bones in the liturgies and communication networks that flowed along the old roads and into the agricultural fortresses of Feudalism. By the time of the High Middle Ages a robust, fractal like system in the throes of a wind and water powered industrial revolution had emerged. With the end of the Medieval Warm Period, famines, schism and conflicts began to erupt in Europe as the Mongols brought the greater part of Eurasia into a single imperial system.

The riders from the Steppe likely helped spread the plague that sent the European Middle Ages into terminal decline. The system initially reoriented around the Italian City States. Those communities that were the gateway of the epidemic also created the first quarantines and effective civil responses while church and aristocracy lay paralysed. As the epidemic burned out, these merchant powers could offer high wages for the scarce labour that survived, drawing people off the manors and into the cities. In turn, the Renaissance transformed into the holocausts of the Reformation and conquests of the Atlantic Empires which in turn produced the Enlightenment and industrialisation, leading to an age of revolutions that would ultimately founder in the trenches.

Breakdown and reorganisation is a critical dynamic driving the evolution of complex systems. Transformations that reconfigure energy-matter flows create ecological bottlenecks as well as new niches to occupy. The biosphere is a “complex thermodynamic system” in which selection occurs around access to available energy gradients. (7) Organisms seek out those sources of energy that sustain their biological function. It is, along with reproduction, the most intense arena of competition amongst biotic communities. The logic of evolution dictates that selective advantage will be conferred to any organism that is more effective at harnessing and sustaining energy flows within its ecology.

In these regards, “selection” can understood “in terms of increasing energy flow through autocatalytic matter-energy loops. Selective advantage will go to those autocatalytic systems that best increase energy flow through their system, those that do so better than their competitors.” (8) Those forms of organisation that are the most flexible and efficient with their use of available resources are the most likely to adapt and succeed. One of the most dramatic examples of such processes are mass extinctions “because they remove incumbents… and unleash a scramble for post-extinction opportunities that can produce bursts of evolutionary novelty.” (9)

Periods of collapse reward forms of organisation that are the most adaptive to radically altering energy-matter flows. “After each mass extinction, the recovery included new species living off new gradients and new habitats. Here we can see a crucial pattern in which complexity declines after a major stress or disturbance and recovers, and often intensifies, during successional processes.

This dynamic of disruption and regeneration holds true across scales such as biosphere and ecosystem evolution. After a perturbation or stress, an “ecosystem rebuilds itself from the remaining species and their genetic material.” (10) These adaptive cycles algorithmically fuel the growth of complexity by selecting energetically efficient and resilient structures that form the baseline of future evolution. A perfect illustration of this is the radiation of endothermic mammals and broad-leafed angiosperms following the extinction of the dinosaurs. Endotherms have greater energetic density than exotherms.

However, though their energy requirements are higher, this was initially offset by the size of early mammals. Their internally self-regulating metabolisms allowed them to better survive in the reduced warmth of the post-meteorite environment. Similarly, with flowers and deciduous trees, their broad thin leaves allowed them to better photosynthesize in the reduced light of the nuclear winter, radiating as the coniferous canopies began to clear. A picture begins to emerge in which energy flows are organized into systems that undergo selection processes shaped by adaptive cycles.

The breakdown and reorganization of those systems has thus far resulted in the emergence of growing complexity, creating increasingly energy dense feedback in ecosystems over time in which “the level of complexity achieved by a living organism can be measured, roughly but quite objectively, by estimating the density of energy flows.” (11) It is why the energy density of ecosystems are far greater than that of stars, and why human brains far exceed both. To light, our world is dominated by institutional dinosaurs caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of resource depletion and climate change.

The future belongs to the “mammals”, those forms of organisation that can most effectively and efficiently harness the energy available in our transforming ecosystems. It is in the cycles of this process that growth occurs, the breakdown or disentanglement of systems create the possibility for new configurations and provides the raw materials from which new complexity emerges. This is how we must approach the next system, the creation of a new and resilient energetic ecology from the ground up as the old-world crumbles.

 

 

1) Manuel De Landa, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, (New York: Zone Books, 1997), 273.
2) Neil F. Johnson. Simply Complexity: A Clear Guide to Complexity Theory, (Oxford: Oneworld, 2009).
3) Lance H. Gunderson, and C. S Holling, Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems, (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2002), 22.
4) Ibid., p. 17-19
5) Ibid., p. 47
6) Ibid., p. 6-8
7) Eric D. Schneider and Dorion Sagan, Into the Cool: Energy Flow, Thermodynamics, and Life, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 152.
8) Ibid., p. 254
9) David Jablonski and Paul D.Taylor, ed., Extinctions in the History of Life: The Evolutionary Role of Mass Extinction, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 173.
10) Schneider and Sagan, p. 253
11) David Christian, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 80.

 

 

Part 2 of Quantum, Jazz and Dada will follow soon. Check TheAutomaticEarth.com.

 

 

Alexander Aston is a doctoral candidate in archaeology at the University of Oxford and is on the board of directors with the Centre for Cognitive Archaeology at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. He has prior degrees in philosophy and history. His work lays at the intersection of Cognitive Archaeology, Deep History and Natural Philosophy, examining the relationship between ecology, material culture and social cognition. Alexander grew up between Zimbabwe, Greece and the United States. He has worked as a stone mason, community organiser and collaborative artist focused on issues of sustainability, alternative education and economic justice for nearly two decades. He has helped to establish community collectives, free schools, participatory art projects, sustainability and education programs in several international projects.