Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Great Pause Week 15: Pirata

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


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.

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