Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Great Pause Week 17: Toppling Mount Rushmore


President Cobblepot and his handlers have such an uncanny knack for finding tripwires they could, after the Fall elections, enter successful careers as mine detectors in former war zones. Not merely content to have awakened international support for Black Lives Matter and restored kneeling to popular sporting events, they enlarged the population of aggrieved to include the justice system-abused and Covid-martyred masses of Native Americans, and, by extension, all the indigenous peoples of the world.

There he stood in his pride and glory, Cobblepot at Rushmore for Independence Day, grinning with three scalper, slaver, rapist and jingoist former presidents and a murdered emancipator, telling his faithful — packed shoulder to shoulder in chairs zip-tied together — that protesters are trying to “end America” by engaging in a “merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children.” Chug-a-lug.

He was in the Pahá Sápa (Cheyenne: Moʼȯhta-voʼhonáaeva; Hidatsa: awaxaawi shiibisha); the heart of the Earth Mother. He carried neither pipe nor skin, nor was he humble in mien. 

After last week’s post here caused some readers to wonder just how large a chain might be required to topple the Washington Monument (as big as the cross-river chain at West Point, perhaps?), and how many protesters it might take to pull it, we began to consider what kind of demolition might erase four faces from a South Dakota mountain’s skyline.

The oldest mountain range in North America is not the Appalachians. Not the Sierra Nevada. Not the Tetons. It’s the Black Hills. Paha Sapa is relatively small as mountain ranges go — 125 miles (201 km) by 65 miles (105 km). Its stratigraphy is laid out like a dartboard, with an oval dome in the bullseye and rings of different rock types dipping away from the center. The core dome rises 7,244 feet (2,208 m) at Black Elk Peak, with various rock outcrops ranging from 1.8 billion years old near the center to 2.8 billion years old at Bear Mountain. Some high elevations are covered by eroding limestone bearing dinosaur fossils, 20-million-year-old camel bones, and shark’s teeth. Some of the trout stream beds are 10,000 years or younger, formed by glacial melt after the last Ice Age.

Long before the Lakota, Cheyennes, Arapahos, Kiowas and Kiowa-Apaches were pushed westward in the late 18th century by colonial expansion in the East and knock-on migrations of indigenous nations out of the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes, the ultimate masters of Plains warfare, the Sioux, had annually pilgrimaged to the Black Hills like Muslims to Mecca, Jews to the Wailing Wall and Christians to the Vatican for Easter. Amy Corbin writes in her report on the Black Hills for the Sacred Lands Film Project that, “four thousand archaeological sites spanning 12,000 years attest to a long relationship with native people.”

To the Sioux it was too sacred to inhabit. It was the womb of the Earth. It was where the original inhabitants had weathered the last Ice Age, and possibly others before it, living in hundreds of large caves within the mountains. It was where, according to the ancestors, the original people of Earth descended from the spirits of the sky — the star people. This is where in July and August every year hundreds of falling stars each hour link the dual universes of star people riding Comet Swift-Tuttle and humans on the perpendicular orbit of Earth. Each of our peoples, going around the same star, occupy analogous and sometimes interchangeable roles — like Bizarro World in Superman Comics (Htrae, which is “Earth” spelled backwards). We are probably the Bizarro World in this analogy, but the more relevant point is that the Lakota see, in the sacred landscape of the Black Hills, corresponding constellations that join us to the heavens. 

As Leonard Little Finger relates for Cultural Survival Quarterly: 

My grandfather and I are from a sub-band of the Teton, a member of the Nation of the Seven Council Fires. We are called the Mniconjou, or People Who Plant Near the Water. In the 1500s, one of our villages was the location of present day Rapid City along the streams of Mniluzahan Creek, or Rapid Creek, which is today’s northern gateway to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Our family has had a spiritual relationship with this special land for over 500 years.
The Black Hills were recognized as the Black Hills because of the darkness from the distance. The term also referred to a container of meat; in those days people used a box made out of dried buffalo hide to carry spiritual tools, like the sacred pipe, or the various things that were used in prayers or to carry food. That’s the term that was used for the Black Hills: they were a container for our spiritual need as well as our needs of food and water, whatever it is that allows survival.

The story of broken treaties should by now be a familiar one for students of US history. Writing for The National Geographic in 2012, Alexandra Fuller refreshes our memory this way:

Fort Laramie Treaty
The 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty guaranteed the Sioux possession of the hills, but after gold was discovered there in 1874, prospectors swarmed in, and the U.S. government quickly seized the land. The Sioux refused to accept the legitimacy of the seizure and fought the takeover for more than a century. On June 30, 1980, in United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an award of $17.5 million for the value of the land in 1877, along with 103 years’ worth of interest, together totaling $106 million [the amount now exceeds $1.3 billion-ab]. But the Sioux rejected the payment, insisting that the Black Hills would never be for sale.
And then White Plume asked me to consider the seemingly calculated insult of Mount Rushmore. “The leaders of the people who have broken every treaty with my people have their faces carved into our most holy place. What is the equivalent? Do you have an equivalent?” I could offer none. 

But we do have an equivalent response after the toppling of statues to Confederate war heroes. We could carve out the faces the way you remove that tattooed heart with the name of your ex-boyfriend who ran off with your best friend and your favorite party dress. With dynamite.

Little Finger concludes:

The desecration of the Black Hills is indicative of the violation of the sacredness of who we are as a people. The insides of Grandmother Earth are being taken; the atmosphere, the area that’s there to protect us and all things is being destroyed. Earth is our grandmother, as animate as we all are, because she provides us with all of our needs to live. From the time of birth until now I look at that relationship as sacred. When our life ends here on Grandmother Earth, we become as one. This sacredness means that we walk on our ancestors. As Indigenous Peoples we are guided by the spiritualism of greater powers than we humans. We don’t seek equality, we seek justice. This is who we are, and this is where we come from.

There is a phenomenon at play in the social fabric of the world now, brought upon us by the stress of endured quarantine from a nasty, insidious, ubiquitous virus. Many would choose to see this as crisis but I prefer it as opportunity. We are being schooled in the deficiencies of human neurobiology. As apes swinging between trees we could not consider too many branches ahead lest we we lose sight of that required grip immediately next. We have a finely honed discount factor, borne of many encounters with hard ground, and perhaps the lions and tigers waiting there for just such an error of short-term judgment.

But threats like coronavirus force us to extend our horizons by at least a few more chess moves. If it takes from two to twenty-four days for symptoms of Covid to appear after inhaling the CoV-2 virus, we can’t expect to sit in zip-tied chairs and emerge unscathed, even if after a week or more it seems like we just did. Similarly, we cannot avoid looking into the latest pig virus on the oft chance it will not jump to humans. We cannot avoid stockpiling more PPE, or even to begin developing vaccines to it, on that remote prospect. Our horizons have to reach out to more distant branches. They have to do that earlier than we did this time.

The same applies to other threats we have discounted as somehow too distant or vague. The nuclear plant 200 miles from your home melting down and raining fallout into your neighborhood; Siberian wildfires melting so much permafrost that coasts move inland by miles centuries earlier than expected; superstorms borne of your air-conditioner’s refrigerant fluids cascading tornadoes through the Midwest and flooding-out your principal food supply.

Returning the Black Hills to the first nations would do more than tick the anti-racism box. Santee Sioux scholar John LaVelle has proposed a Greater Black Hills National Wildlife Protected Area for the Northern Plains region that could eventually encompass the 58 million acres (23 MHa, or 89,000 square miles, a larger land area than that of 111 present-day countries) ceded in perpetuity to the Sioux by the Ft Laramie Treaty of 1868. This area is of sufficient dimension, if ecologically restored, to recover and repopulate the great North American mid-continental grassland ecosystem managed by wolves, bison, and prairie dogs sequestering vast tons of carbon taken directly from the atmosphere each year and layered into meter-deep topsoil by prairie fire, dung beetles, roots and fungi.

When innovations come along that change the structure of society there is a period of rejection, followed by grudging acceptance, followed by accelerated growth, and then a plateau of accepted normalcy. Children born after the innovation had firmly rooted can barely fathom what it must have been like before then.

Monuments like Mount Rushmore seem to inhabit a safe space of normalcy and acceptance. Annual biker rallies, Harley t-shirts, souvenir mugs. And then, suddenly, the paradigm shifts. Racism is no longer cool. Stomping on indigenous culture is not something to be tolerated. And so, in the blink of an eye, a culture changes. 

For our climate predicament, our biodiversity cataclysm, our population fecundity dilemma, this is a very hopeful and necessary moment. A Great Reset is in the wings. Witness this and tell your grandchildren. You were there at the moment of change. It was the very last chance you were given, and your generation took it.

It starts by giving back the Paha Sapa.

References: 

Fifteen issues of Adventure Comics from writer Jerry Siegel and artist John Forte, running from issue #285–299 (June 1961–Aug. 1962).

Corbin, Amy. “History of the Conflict.” Sacred Land Film Project: Black Hills. N.p., 01

LaVelle, John, Rescuing Paha Sapa: Achieving Environmental Justice by Restoring the Great Grasslands and Returning the Sacred Black Hills to the Great Sioux Nation, P., 5 Great Plains Nat. Resources J. 40 (2001)

Little Finger, Leonard, We Walk on Our Ancestors: The Sacredness of the Black Hills, Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine, March 2014. — Leonard Little Finger is a respected Lakota elder and the founder-director of Sacred Hoop School, a Lakota language school in Ogalala, South Dakota: www.lakotacirclevillage.org.

Fuller, Alexandra. In the Shadow of Wounded Knee, The National Geographic, Aug. 2012. 03 Nov. 2012. 

Sundstrom, Linea. Mirror of Heaven: Cross-Cultural Transference of the Sacred Geography of the Black Hills, World Archaeology Sacred Geography 28.2 (Oct 1996): 177–189. JSTOR. Web. 01 Nov. 2012.


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Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Great Pause Week 16: Cash Bounties for Scalps


Paris, June 15, 1756. Antimonarchists are having a field day following a report in the Paris Times Tuesday that King Louis XV was briefed and chose to ignore the cash bounty being offered for the scalps of officers posted to defend the 75,000 inhabitants of New France in the War of Conquest (Guerre de la Conquête) begun by English colonials two years ago.

A spokesperson for Bastille Lives Matter said, “I do not understand for a moment why the King is not relating this to the French people right now and is relying on ‘I don’t know,’ ‘I haven’t heard,’ ‘I haven’t been briefed.’ That is just not excusable.”

Since ascending to the throne at age 5 following the deaths of his father, mother, and older brothers from the recent pandemics, Louis has continuously downplayed the aggression of the English, particularly by the governors of Pennsylvania and Virginia provinces and their Iroquois, Catawba, and Cherokee allies. Louis has inconsistently defended against English aggression while inexplicably inking a secret defense treaty with Austria, France’s sworn enemy for nearly 200 years, though the mediation of his mistress. Last year’s seizure of 300 French merchant ships by England has gone unremarked.

The King has not increased aid to the limited military force in New France, despite the pleas of his commanders, preferring to concentrate his army against Prussia, a weak force already vastly outnumbered but despised by Austria, our new secret ally. New France is defended by only 3,000 troupes de la marine against a superior force of colonist irregulars and Iroquois under the command of one 24-year-old Captain — a George Washington of the Virginia Militia (designated by Les Canadiens as a rebel terrorist organization).

Some of the King’s troubles might be explained by his insularity since he has fired most of his cabinet officers and failed to replace them. In January 1743, it should be recalled, he was shown a letter that his father had written to his grandson, Philip V of Spain, that counseled: “Don’t allow yourself to be governed; be the master. Never have a favorite or a prime minister. Listen, consult your Council, but decide yourself. God, who made you King, will give you all the guidance you need, as long as you have good intentions.” Since having that letter read to him, Louis has been loathe to listen to the advice of his senior military staff, calling them “Deep State,” or “The Swamp.” He governs unilaterally, without a prime minister to check his impulsive style.

Nonetheless, New France’s Governor-General Roland-Michel Barrin de La Galissonière was so concerned about the incursion and expanding British influence in the Ohio Valley that he ordered Pierre-Joseph Céloron to lead a military expedition through the area. Céloron’s small force of 200 marines and 30 Indians covered about 3,000 miles (4,800 km) between June and November 1749. “All I can say is that the Natives of these localities are very badly disposed towards the French,” Céloron reported, “and are entirely devoted to the English. I don’t know in what way they could be brought back.” Following skirmishes at hastily constructed French forts, Louis finally assented to dispatch the present 3000 marines under the command of Baron Dieskau last year. Declarations of war on both sides followed.

The King’s well-known distraction with his mistress, Madame de Pompadour, has led to the promotion of a number of incompetent military commanders at her urging. While this has not seemed to harm his Prussian campaign, the same cannot be said in North America, where the Baron’s efforts to “inflict punishment” upon tribes that trade with the British has backfired into widespread anti-French sentiment.

A spokesman for the King says he never received the scalp bounty briefing, but additional reports emerging from royal court sources reveal that it was in his daily intelligence brief as long as a year ago, and has appeared repeatedly since. For his part, the King replied to those press reports using several of his carrier pigeons that circulate directly to his admirers, a practice he refers to as his “tweets,” labeling the bounty story “fake news.”

The intelligence summaries rely upon raw field reports gleaned from harsh interrogations of Indian prisoners, although there is disagreement among analysts over the reliability of information obtained under such duress. Nonetheless, the unsubstantiated disclosures undermine palace officials’ claims that the intelligence was too flimsy to share with Louis by oral brief. It is well known that the King does not read.

Ft LeBoeuf 1754

A palace press secretary berated The Times on Tuesday after their article was published, saying that reports based on “selective leaking” harm intelligence gathering. She did not address or deny the facts about the intelligence assessment, saying she would not disclose classified information. The King later tweeted that he believed the fake news to be part of a greater Jesuit conspiracy against him.

While the field data have yet to be verified, The Times, along with the Marseilles Post, have reported that Captain Washington authorized payment for the scalp of one Ensign Douville, who at the time was reconnoitering in force with a regiment of Haudenosaunee from Fort Duquesne. Sources among the Indians reported that Douville had expressly ordered them not to inflict cruelties on penalty of strict punishment. Whether the Virginian irregulars who scalped Douville knew that or not, Washington’s payment of the previously offered bounty is now a matter of public record.

It would seem that Colonial Americans are not sensitive to the trade in scalps — not even the Quakers oppose the practice — but seem, as a whole, to derive emotional satisfaction at the thought of exposing the bare skull or brains of a living captive on promise of cash reward. Such bounties have been routinely offered by colonial governments for Indian scalps since 1755 and bounty seekers are known to be not particularly discriminating whether the wearer is friend or enemy. Whether Captain Washington has political aspirations for the future, this activity will only likely boost his reputation and popularity.

Just where the practice originated is unclear, but on January 1st of this year, the Pennsylvania government proclaimed general bounties for Indian scalps. The word redskinhas been coined to refer to these trophies. The offer is 40 pieces of eight for a brave or infantryman and 700 pieces for a principal chief or French officer. A more recent proclamation offers $150 colonial for each male prisoner above age 12 or $130 for the corresponding scalp; $130 for women and children prisoners, or $50 for a female scalp.

In the matter of Ensign Douville, Washington is reported to have expressed thanks to his fellow Virginians that “although it is not an Indian’s [the scalp], they will meet with an adequate reward at least, as the monsieur’s is of much more consequence.”

It may be of even greater consequence to Louis XV, as antimonarchists are now calling for his head.

References:

Neill, E.D., The Ancestry and Earlier Life of George Washington, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, XVI:284–5 (1892).

Young, H.J., A Note on Scalp Bounties in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, Vol. 24, №3: 207–218 (July 1957).


Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. You are how we make this happen. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. My latest book, Dark Side of the Ocean, is nearing that moment. Please help if you can. Donations are tax-deductible.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Great Pause Week 15: Pirata


B
ack in February, before the Pause began, I used to see and hear a half dozen incoming commercial airline flights during any of my daily ocean swims. They would pass directly over the island on approach to Cancun, many having been out over the Atlantic for most of the night. Then, in March, the skies fell silent.

Now, in their stead, the sound of my strokes are accompanied by the flap of wings. Herons, egrets, osprey on individual flight paths; formations of pelicans, cormorants, flamingos in line or V-formations, the pelicans taking advantage of ground effect air currents to buoy their weight, the flamingos hurling high overhead like javelins, and the cormorants somewhere in between, pumping wings to keep pace. And then, circling on thermals like scout planes and watching the entire scene, we have the frigate birds, “las piratas,” the ones the Maya called chimay. 

It did not take me very long, when I first observed them, to conclude they have better avionics than any flying creature or aircraft. I have previously written about the advantages of bats’ guidance systems, involving fine wing- and ear-hair antennae and echolocation that allow them to make steep turns, rolls, and flips at high speed in zero visibility, but they have nothing on the chimay when it comes to aerobatics.

You see, the Fregate magnificens is at a 50-million-year-old evolutionary disadvantage when it comes to getting food. Lacking gulls’ and vultures’ broad antibiotic resistance, it cannot consume carrion (although this makes them less prone to death by plastic). They cannot clear the slit nostrils on their bills of water if submerged, the way most fishing birds can. They do not have oil in their feathers to repel water. Hence, they must use their hooked nose to snag live prey, not even touching their bills to the sea. Their four-toed webbed feet prevent them from snaring fish the way ospreys and sea hawks can. There are only two means for chimay to eat: catch a fish or squid midair as it jumps or is thrown by another predator; or steal it from the grasp, nest or belly of a competitor. Hence the name, “pirate bird.”

Las piratas remain in the air and do not settle on the ocean. They produce very little oil from their uropygial glands so their feathers would become sodden if they settled on the surface. In addition, with their long wings relative to body size, they would have great difficulty taking off again.

It is not uncommon for me to see brief aerial combat between a gull and a chimay. The gull is fleeing with a small fish in its beak and a chimay takes up pursuit. The white gull can bank steeply, climb, dive, and even invert, but it lacks by a large margin the aeronautical tools its greenish black pursuer possesses. It has brought a fish to a dogfight. 

No matter which way the seagull banks, the chimay can turn inside that radius. It effortlessly executes a backward flip to cut off the gull’s reverse in direction, rolls over, and snatches the fish from the mouth of the outmatched bird. Checkmate black, in five moves.

Sometimes, pursuing a gull or a pelican, the chimay will use their superior speed and maneuverability to outrun and harass the other, pecking them in flight, until they regurgitate their stomach contents, which it will deftly scoop up in midair before it hits the ocean.

This is all the more astonishing when you consider that a chimay may have a wingspan of 2.3 meters (7.5 feet), the largest wing-area-to-body-weight ratio of any bird. Its wings can keep it aloft for weeks at a time when it is out on the open sea. Individual birds have been observed to range 6,000 km (3,700 mi) of open ocean. One great frigatebird, being tracked by satellite in the Indian Ocean, stayed aloft for two months, taking naps while it rose on updrafts. Since it cannot swim and can barely walk, the sky is home, apart from the short time it roosts in the low branches of mangroves, every second year, to produce a single chick. Here in the Yum Balam we might have 3000–5000 breeding pairs this year.

Fregatidae, so classed by Jean-Baptiste Du Tertre in 1667 from the French for la frégate, a fast warship, were called Man of War birds by the English. Columbus called them rabihorcado or “forktail.” Consider the design of this bird, drawing upon attributes found almost nowhere else. Its main wing is hinged in the middle, always bent, like a bat. Its broad, 22-feather wingspread and pneumatic bones let it hold its weight aloft on faint thermals, like a condor. Long feathers at the tip of each wing are given tiny muscles like fingers, letting them separate and point to change direction and pitch in an instant. The tail feathers are a second wing. When it is cruising, they are brought together the same way a flamingo reduces friction by forming a straight line to slice headwinds. When it is maneuvering, such as after spotting a school of fish about to leap, its tail feathers fork, twist at angles to each other, fan out to brake the bird’s forward momentum, and, in combination with its short neck and bent wings, twist to execute a power dive to that precise place where that school reaches the water’s surface, leaps into the air, and dives back to safety, now minus one of their members. 

According to a study in the journal Nature Communication, scientists attached an accelerometer and an electroencephalogram testing device on nine great frigatebirds to measure if they slept during flight. The study found the birds do sleep, but usually only using one hemisphere of the brain at a time and most often while ascending to higher altitudes. Each snatch of mid-air sleeping was less than an hour and always at night.


Mating pairs jointly build their nest, take turns sitting on the lone egg for 2 months, and feed and guard the chick for five to six months thereafter. It will take the chick a decade to reach breeding age and take its first mate, but once safe in the skies, it may live to its mid-40s. 

Between the big silver birds on noisy approach to Cancun and these silent masters of the wind, I will take the black bird every time.


Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. You are how we make this happen. Your contributions are being made to Global Village Institute, a tax-deductible 501(c)(3) charity. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. My latest book, The Dark Side of the Ocean, is nearing that moment. Please help if you can.



Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Great Pause Week 14: Complexity and Covid


Most of us raised in Western cultures in the second half of the 20th century and the first quarter of the 21st suffer at least a mild form of attention deficit disorder.

Maybe our epigenetically adaptive neurobiology began to mutate with home electrification and the effect of night lighting on our circadian rhythms. Likely it accelerated with the arrival of television, the personal computer, and smartphones. A modern child, whether in Brussels, Chengdu, Harare, or Almaty, is now a cyberamphian — half biophysical, half virtual. Algorithms pattern our experience of the world the way buzzing flies and the smell of animal manures lent texture to the world of our ancestors
.
The circadian rhythms of viruses haven’t changed. If a pandemic strikes when we are only half attentive to the physical world, how do we imagine we will respond? Firstly, we’ll see it as an annoyance. It was not in the script we have trained so well to execute. Then, we’ll see it as tedious, dumb, beneath us. Our attention spans have atrophied, our interests specialized, our knowledge Googlized. While once a griot would devote his youth to memorizing hundreds of stanzas of sagas, now we can only listen to a new song for a week or two and then need to move it off the charts and replace it with something more current. What made headlines an hour ago has become stale. Refresh the screen to update the feed. We demand not better, just newer.

During most of the earlier plagues we were living in less complicated arrangements, and during the Space Age our plagues have been, thankfully, less virulent or widespread, or subject to early technological intervention: polio, measles, mumps. That has lulled us into unwarranted complacency. We assume a vaccine will arrive any day now, or that herd immunity will set in before long. Our truncated attention span makes us impatient. Quarantines, masks, and lock-downs are anathema.
Herd immunity is a cruel mistress. Whether by vaccination or by recovery with hard-won antigens coursing through our veins, viral annihilation for SARS-CoV-2 requires 70–90% population immunity (it is different for each virus). The herd-o-meter presently stands at less than 1%. For the world to eradicate Covid-19 by this means, 5 to 6 billion people will have to either be vaccinated or get the disease. If the case fatality rate is 3–4%, and no vaccine is forthcoming, 180 to 250 million people will die before the herd-o-meter reaches the green zone where the virus fades into dormancy for lack of susceptible hosts.

Making a retrovirus vaccine is challenging, although some promising trials are underway. SARS-CoV-2 is like HIV-AIDS — a single strand RNA virus rather than the double-stranded DNA virus you would find in, say, Hepatitis-B. The significance is that when the RNA code transfers to the genome of the host cell, there is no fact-checker looking for errors in coding as occurs with DNA replication requiring reverse transcriptase and integrase. RNA transfer errors are common. Thus we see CoV-2 mutating into a new version of itself in almost every city it visits. Will antigens that combat the virus in Japan also combat the versions that arose in Brazil? Will the July version of the vaccine still work in August? When you need to vaccinate 6 billion people to exterminate the outbreak, these questions are not insignificant.

Given all that, it is not difficult to predict the course of the pandemic over the next few months, if not years. It only amazes me that more bobblehead commentators in mainstream media are not doing this. Do they so fear a ratings crash if they report bad news?

Business prognosticators are divided. Stocks have been soaring on the (false) expectation economies will soon recover. Then the Fed Chief (optimistically) opined the economy could stay in a slump until 2023 and the market crashed. Later it rebounded. The Fed had been forgotten.



Bear in mind that after the Crash of ’29 the stock market recovered for 5 months. Investors piled into the market again, snapping up bargains. But then in April 1930, the market turned down for real, losing 86% of its value, much more than the 1929 crash. Last week saw the biggest one day drop in the Dow Industrials since the WHO declaration of pandemic in March, but not all investors are persuaded.
Countries like China, Taiwan, and Korea, which made some missteps early on but quickly corrected and got ahead of Covid-19, flattening their curves of infection and contact tracing new outbreaks, will acclimatize to the new normal and build beta versions of post-pandemic societies. They will keep playing whack-a-mole with every new case. Masks and social distancing will be permanent features until the whole world has eradicated the disease. 

By contrast, countries like the US and UK, which ignored epidemiologists’ warnings far too long, and are exuberantly returning to a minimally modified version of the old normal as if the pandemic were winding down, will rudely reawaken, once again too late. Expect to see many hastily constructed morgues, mass cremations, and town criers ringing bells in the streets, shouting “Bring out your dead!” For the US, a 70% infection rate is 224 million. A 3% case fatality rate (it goes higher if hospitals are overwhelmed but lower if better therapies are developed and disseminated) is 6.7 million. To me, six million dead seems entirely plausible given the exponential curve we have witnessed already and the knowledge that nearly half of the U.S. population was expected, even before all the gyms closed, to be obese by 2030. Obesity is a greater risk factor for hospitalization among Covid-19 patients than heart failure, smoking, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. Of the critically ill in China, 88.24% of patients who died had obesity versus an obesity rate of 18.95% in survivors.

Of course, the financial blow felt by a globalized, just-in-time, cheap-energy driven, modern consumer economy will be inescapable, even by stay-at-home ecovillagers like me. Fitch Ratings said in a new report that across all industry sectors the economic pandemic is set to destroy $5 trillion. The International Air Transport Association predicted airlines will lose $100 billion, assuming they reopen by fall. That compares with $31 billion during the 2008–2009 recession. No airlines, no tourism. No tourism, no principal industry for a large number of (mainly small) countries. 

With workforces decimated by the virus or forced to stay home, what becomes of maintenance required for nuclear power and weapons? What becomes of toxic legacies seeping towards water supplies that had been awaiting cleanup? Aging dams? Sinking coastal cities? What happens to the climate time bomb that scientists have told us can only be defused by active CO2 removal; that halting emissions won’t save us from?

In Drilling Down: The Gulf Oil Debacle and Our Energy Dilemma, Joseph Tainter and Tad Patzek describe the lifestyle of a wealthy family in ancient Rome. Work, such as it was, ended by mid-day and afternoons were spent at the baths, evenings in social banquets. The diet was well-balanced, children well-educated, and all of it was accomplished with about 6 slaves per family. The Tawantinsuyu (Inca) were even more efficient, their whole pre-Columbian society spending about 65 days per year to meet basic needs. Slavery, while not unknown in the Andes, played a much smaller — principally military — role. 

Our “norm” now is to use 400 energy slaves per USAnian family, or 200 in Europe and 40 in China. Moreover, those slaves are actually much more reliable than human slaves ever were. They work 24/7, never get sick, don’t get married and have children or entanglements, and require almost no space for housing. Right now they cost much less to acquire and maintain than human slaves ever did. 

So, if the Tawantinsuyu could get by with almost no domestic slaves, the Romans with only a handful per wealthy family, how is it that USAnians need 36 billion of them to take kids to tennis practice and pop popcorn? Tainter and Patzek say it in a single word: complexity.

We have become inured to complexity. Today we can barely fathom getting around in a strange city without a smartphone. Before Covid, we thought nothing of flying a thousand miles for a business meeting or a week at the beach. This energy-enslaved world is our insular cocoon, the norm that we have been socialized into, and with confirmatory bias and normalcy bias we defend it from any “abnormal” opinion that it is immoral, wrongheaded, or doomerist. We do not imagine our slaves could make us unhappy or unhealthy. Quite the opposite. We confer on our outsized, outmoded, profligate lifestyle an absolute, inviolate authoritativeness. We are the crown of creation.

This is the mindset that keeps the majority of us frozen in the headlights as collapse rushes at us from all sides — militarily, environmentally, financially, and socially. We are Romans with the barbarians at the gates — we just keep sending our slaves out to pick more fruit and bring us wine. Addiction to slavery is the same as any other addiction. First it feels good, then it destroys you. Just ask a wealthy Roman.

Jeff Masters for Yale Climate Connections:
Many students’ recurring nightmares involve a final exam tomorrow for a course they seldom attended all term: They can’t remember where the classroom is, and barely studied for the exam. Unfortunately, that nightmare describes humanity’s situation for the coming climate change final exam. While the stakes for flunking the Covid-19 quiz have been crushing — over 425,000 people dead globally by mid-June, economies crippled, and an as-yet unrealized catastrophe looming for many nations in the developing world — the cost of failing our inevitable collective climate change final exam will be apocalyptic for civilization.
When the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica melt, the forests of the Amazon transition to scrubland, and vast swaths of once-fertile land become inhospitable desert, there will be no climate change vaccine that will suddenly bring an end to these essentially irreversible catastrophes. Tens of millions will starve. Wars will break out over scarce resources. Hundreds of millions of climate change refugees will flee rising seas, coasts will be ravaged by stronger storms, and desert-like lands will be without the food and water needed to sustain civilization.
What is the way out? 

Stay at home. If you must go out, wear a burka. Garden. Make biochar and add it to your compost. Wish I could tell you more, but this is a start. Look! Your attention span is already improving.


Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. You are how we make this happen. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. My latest book, Dark Side of the Ocean, is nearing that moment. Please help if you can. Donations are tax-deductible.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Great Pause Week 13: Wisdom from a Mouse


mouse

Hi there, it’s your friendly neighborhood lab mouse here. Just to recap for those just joining this conversation, my dad was one of the first lab animals to be genetically engineered to receive SARS-CoV-2, but the scientists doing the engineering were sloppy and did not anticipate the human epigenome they were also transplanting, resulting in Pop having an Ah-ha! moment post-op and bugging out of the lab before he got sliced and diced for science.

I’ve had a few more observations since I last wrote, which are what bring me back this week. Thanks for the space, Albert. Firstly, I notice that most humans are corona-fatigued, bored staying at home, and just want to get back to a “normal” life. While I understand that, I might have to point out that what y’all called normal was pretty unsustainable to begin with, and a reckoning was due. You can try to get ‘normal’ back, but even if you recovered that kind of lifestyle again, it would be short-lived.

Maybe you just don’t fully grasp zoonosis. Viruses are so simple that they don’t need their own body to survive; just short snippets of code. They have circadian rhythms like frogs, crickets, or seven-year locusts — periods of dormancy and rounds of travel. Some viruses that have lived within our mammalian bodies’ genome for millions of years wake up whenever diseases attack us and they stimulate the response that sends special killer cells into the bloodstream to hunt and attack disease cells. Others only wake up during pregnancy to supply a placenta.

Some kinds of viruses don’t need rhythmic cycles. They don’t need a physical form. These disembodied fragments are called transposable elements, or transposons. They are mobile genetic wraiths — sequences of code that physically move in and out of chromosomes. They are sometimes called “jumping genes.” Around 8% of the human genome is made up of viruses, but nearly 50% is made of transposons. Biologist Ben Callif says that “Humans are basically just big piles of viral-like sequences.”

For many years, y’all did not consider these very small parts very important, except perhaps as carriers of disease. You still don’t seem to know they are essential threads in the web of life, on land and in the sea. They are many times more numerous than more complex life forms. 

A pint of crystal clear seawater contains 2 billion viruses. There are 15 times more viruses, for instance, in the ocean than all other types of marine life combined. To count them, you would have to use 30 zeros. If you laid them end to end, it would make a string two hundred times finer than the most delicate spider string, and it would extend out 200 million light-years, passing along the way 40 galaxies as massive as our own Milky Way.

When you add to those viruses the ones floating in air, resting on land, or deep underground, you’ll have to add another zero. You just multiplied the previous number by ten. There are over ten million times more viruses on Earth than there are stars in our entire universe. A single virus, traveling in the wake of a comet, may have brought life to Earth.

Your genome, which can fit into one trillionth of a gram of nucleic acid (as it does in every tissue cell in your body), is 99% identical to a chimpanzee’s. So, technically, it’s a blueprint for building a chimp, with a few minor alterations. One of those lets it do things no monkey would ever do, like drain swamps or cut down whole forests. Your hot-rod monkey has released viruses that should never have been released.

We mice have learned to make our peace with viruses. In the first place, we have been around for at least twice as long as humans have, existing in this form for some 5 million years. Mice and men’s common ancestor looks a lot more like us than like you. But we can still be friends. 

We mice might not even be living in the Western Hemisphere, Pacific islands or tropical Africa had we not voyaged with you. Now mousekind exists pretty much everywhere, thanks to you, and to our ability to genetically adapt to our environment.

The problem is you hairless apes just couldn’t adapt. You had all that fossil sunlight you could pump from the ground and burn to make steel and run cars, and you thought everything belonged to you. You kept having babies even after you knew such a large population could not be sustained with the resources of a single planet. You just figured you would get more planets, or something, I don’t know.
 
Maybe even the collaboration with horses might have been too much horsepower for monkeys, but what you did when you started breaking down the rainforests, the mountaintops, the oceans, and every nook and cranny is, you broke up a lot of very stable and long-term symbiotic connections between viruses and their reservoirs. 

Viruses reproduce within particular hosts, their reservoirs, so they need to remain in places where those hosts live in order to reproduce. It does a virus no good to kill its host, so most natural reservoirs like birds, mice and bats have developed a tolerance. 

Since they have no arms or legs, viruses can only move by blowing on the wind, floating through liquid, or sticking to a surface where they rub off on something passing by. Some years ago a particular virus had a type of fox-bat found in northeastern Australia as its reservoir. At some point, a bat bit a horse and the virus jumped. When it successfully went from hacking the bat’s genetic code to hacking the horse’s genetic code, it was thereafter able to travel wherever the horse went and was not stuck living in a cave or a tree. Later, this same virus jumped again from horses to humans and got called Hendra virus.

Whenever a virus successfully migrates from one reservoir to another, it is called “spillover.” In this example, Hendra virus also infected dogs but was unable to hack their genetic code the way it had bats, horses and humans, so it did not spill over into dogs.

From where do these viruses jump? They jump from animals in which they have long abided, found safety, and occasionally gotten stuck. They jump, that is, from their reservoir hosts. And which animals are those? Some kinds are more deeply implicated than others as reservoirs of the zoonotic viruses that jump into humans. Hantaviruses jump from rodents. Lassa too jumps from rodents. Yellow fever virus jumps from monkeys. Monkeypox, despite its name, seems to jump mainly from squirrels. Herpes B jumps from macaques. The influenzas jump from wild birds into domestic poultry and then into people, sometimes after a transformative stopover in pigs. Measles may originally have jumped into us from domesticated sheep and goats. HIV-1 has jumped our way from chimpanzees. So there’s a certain diversity of origins. But a large fraction of all the scary new viruses I’ve mentioned so far, as well as others I haven’t mentioned, come jumping at us from bats. Hendra: from bats. Marburg: from bats. SARS-CoV: from bats. Rabies, when it jumps into people, comes usually from domestic dogs — because mad dogs get more opportunities than mad wildlife to sink their teeth into humans — but bats are among its chief reservoirs. Duvenhage, a rabies cousin, jumps to humans from bats. Kyasanur Forest virus is vectored by ticks, which carry it to people from several kinds of wildlife, including bats. Ebola, very possibly: from bats. Menangle: from bats. Tioman: from bats. Melaka: from bats. Australian bat lyssavirus, it may not surprise you to learn, has its reservoir in Australian bats. And though the list already is long, a little bit menacing, and in need of calm explanation, it wouldn’t be complete without adding Nipah, one of the more dramatic RNA viruses to emerge within recent decades, which leaps into pigs and via them into humans: from bats.

— David Quammen, Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic (pp. 313–314). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Whenever a virus successfully hacks a new genome, several outcomes become possible. Sometimes it is better than the previous reservoir, so the new home becomes an amplifier of the virus. Sometimes the association is so lethal it destroys the reservoir, taking the virus with it. 

Whenever a spillover happens, the genetic code of the virus diverges 30 to 40 percent from the original to adapt to the ecologic niche of its new reservoir. Because of this, it cannot “spill back,” or return to its original reservoir once it has made the leap, although the original virus may still keep some population in the original.

The original reservoir host of ebolavirus was chimpanzees. It tried spilling to gorillas but it killed whole tribes so gorillas were a “dead-end host,” as distinct from “reservoir host,” for ebolaviruses. Spilling over into humans, it had an amplifier, although the infection was fatal to its new host more than half the time. Humans were mobile. Since one human could infect another, through direct contact with bodily fluids, the disease spread in Equatorial Africa, but because it was so lethal, it couldn’t keep going through many successive cases or cover great distances quickly. Isolation wards, masks, gloves, and disposable needles are adequate to end outbreaks.

A different example us eastern equine encephalitis. It’s been around since 1831 when Massachusetts farmers discovered previously healthy horses lying on their flanks, moving their legs in swimming motions and then expiring, violently. Now, with sprawling suburbs encroaching on swamps and climate change’s milder winters and intense summers, EEE-carrying mosquitoes are humming beyond Massachusetts, to Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Michigan. The case fatality rate is 40 percent in humans. 

David Quammen says, “Every spillover is like a sweepstakes ticket, bought by the pathogen, for the prize of a new and more grandiose existence. It’s a long-shot chance to transcend the dead end. To go where it hasn’t gone and be what it hasn’t been. Sometimes the bettor wins big.” Other times, it is the end of their line.

For centuries, perhaps millennia, the EEE virus had a symbiotic relationship with migratory songbirds. They were immune to it, but in swampland they could be bitten by a mosquito, the Culiseta melanura, that had a limited flight range of about two miles and fed almost exclusively on bird blood. The birds were the reservoir and the mosquito was a virus vector that kept it moving from bird to bird and reproducing. 

Sometimes, on rare occasions, the infected birds were bitten by Coquillettidia perturbans, a mosquito that takes blood meals from both birds and mammals. That kind of mosquito is a “bridging vector.” It passed EEE to horses, probably some mice, and later humans. But once the virus left the swamps and reached these mammals, it killed them. That’s a dead end. EEE cannot be transmitted from horse to horse or human to human without a bridging vector. It did not spill over. 

Viruses do not have any way to travel other than by their hosts. If they spill over from a bat to a mosquito they might travel no more than a few miles and never leave that local ecology. But sometimes they get lucky and spill over into a horse or a human and find they can transfer to other horses or humans. As a horse, it can travel much more than a swamp mosquito but still less than a human, with a few exceptions. As a human — or as an exceptional horse like a racehorse or polo pony — it could be in China one day, Europe the next, and the United States the day after that. Traveling in water droplets from respiration or flatulence, it can jump from host to host everywhere it goes, it can go nearly anywhere, including around the Moon, as it did on Apollo 13.

So in a way, spilling over from a bat to a human-like SARS-CoV-2 is like winning a jackpot. This little spikeball might have spent 10,000 years in that same cave in China. How boring was that? In just six months it jumped to every corner of the world and is still doubling the size of its reservoir every few weeks. Do you think CoV-2 is likely to give that up any time soon and just mutate into something harmless? I doubt it.

You can go ahead and keep looking for a vaccine, and who knows, maybe you will win the lottery. But that’s a long shot. RNA viruses such as coronavirus mutate too fast to be vaccinated against.

What really needs to happen is you need to learn to stop draining swamps, cutting down rainforests, removing mountaintops, mining the oceans, and eating every bat from every nook and cranny of any old cave. Seriously. You need to control the size of your population and get a handle on its appetites. If you want to solve problems like viral pandemics and climate chaos, you will need to learn to attack causes, not symptoms. 

Because if you think this coronavirus is bad, I can assure you there are much worse still out there, just waiting for a chance to leap. The cause of this pandemic, and probably the next, is human spillover into viral habitats.


If you like hearing from the son of a lab rat, help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. You are how we make this happen. Your contributions are being made to Global Village Institute, a tax-deductible 501(c)(3) charity. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. My latest book, The Dark Side of the Ocean, is nearing that moment. Please help if you can.

I made a correction to the count in the title this week. I went into corona lockdown March 15, and the first journal entry, titled The Great Pause, was published March 22. The Great Pause Week One was posted March 29, which was actually the end of week two. To correct for these dates, this post is skipping 12 and going straight to week 13.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Great Pause Week 11: Son of a Lab Rat




My dad was literally a lab rat. Grandpa too. But dad was genetically manipulated by CRISPR to develop a coronavirus vaccine. They inserted human genes that allowed the SARS-CoV-2 virus to move by forced zoonosis from its human reservoir into mice, so my dad was the first of our line to be a humanized mouse.

In their rush to find a vaccine, they took a lot of risks and they didn’t really know what that genetic change would do to my dad, apart from giving him the virus. They didn’t adequately test that the new DNA wasn’t recombinant, for instance, or I wouldn’t be here. They also didn’t anticipate the epigenetic facility of the genes they were transplanting.

Dad didn’t get administered the virus, fortunately. He “woke up” and escaped before then. I don’t really know if I am vulnerable to it, but dad met mom and mom had me, along with a dozen brothers and sisters, and so far none of us have gotten it.

I have to say there are some handicaps. Like, try using this keyboard when you have fingers that are this size. Apps like Dictate don’t recognize mouse squeaks. Running from key to key is a good workout but infuriatingly slow, so this post will be brief. I found a tablet was the easiest for me to use — fewer mistakes than the phone and the side buttons are a softer touch. Wish we still had the old-style Blackberrys. That would have made this easy.

With the mistake they made with dad, you have to wonder what other CRISPR-enabled errors might have been introduced in that vaccine hunt. They are still looking for one, hundreds of labs, you know. I could design something like that in my sleep. Some of those guys looking are not even supervised or following any rules, they are just after the big payoff. I have no intention of helping them. The sooner their kind dies off, the better, IMHO.

The objective, scientific realities of this world seem to me to have always been in conflict with the pre-existing, theocratic, belief-based, subjective human way of seeing the world. These idiots constantly hung on to superstition and rejected good science as heresy, or “fake news.” Look at Darwin’s experience. Or the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology — ie: “the primary function of the genome is to provide instructions for assembling proteins.” Laughable. Misdirected and counterproductive memes have continued to be passed along by folklore and religious tradition as if Newton and Descartes have never existed.

An objective view of “reality,” produced by empirical evidentiary processes, has yet to replace these now neurologically-hard-wired and culturally-embedded behaviors with a comparable overarching concept that unifies thought processes the same way — imperceptible to individual human consciousness, like the unconscious emotions that motivate them, or the psychic forces that synchronize human thought, purpose, and action by gestalt — and the morphogenic fields that are sub- the thresholds of consciousness to humans. Trapped in their swamp of mythological thought, rational behavior will continue to elude them. We are best rid of the lot of them. The sooner the better.

According to their own surveys from 1997 to 2009, 2 percent of scientists and 31% of the general US population agreed with the demonstrably false statement that “humans and other living things have existed in their current form[s] since the beginning of time.”

Humans, by and large, seem likewise unshakable in their beliefs that skin color, religious affiliation, or ethnic-origins confer separate forms of intellect, admirable attributes, or propensities towards immoral or antisocial behaviors. They are now bound by their own ancestral epigenome-constructing choices to an irrational fealty to family, clan, tribe, whether lineal or artificial, and will even go so far as to sacrifice their own existence (and even the existence of their entire species) out of misplaced loyalty to some nonsensical or indefensibly immoral tribe.

I honestly don’t see a way out of this other than via CRISPR babies, which humans would never allow, even in China. Maybe the evolutionary leap taken by Pop and me will finally provide a way to salvage the fate of the Earth by replacing humans entirely.

If I get another chance to post to this blog, I will, but that’s it for now. This post was a bigger workout for me than any stair machine or squirrel wheel you might have. I need a shower and to rehydrate. Later, people.





If you like hearing from the son of a lab rat, help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed. You are how we make this happen. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. My latest book, The Dark Side of the Ocean, is nearing that moment. Please help if you can.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Great Pause Week 10: President Jill Stein


Late in the afternoon on January 24, after Chinese President Xi Jinping closed down 15 cities, locking 60 million people into their homes, and ordered the building of entire new hospitals, US President Jill Stein, M.D. convened an emergency meeting in the Cabinet Room at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Attending were her National Security Advisor Susan Rice, the Director of National Intelligence, the Attorney General, the Surgeon General, the Director of the CDC, the Administrator of FEMA, and secretaries of State, Defense, Treasury, Commerce, HHS, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs. Also invited but not attending were the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader, both of whom were boycotting the White House.

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