Delta Blues — Variant that overwhelmed India threatens the West

Delta Blues

variant that overwhelmed India threatens the West

July 29th 2021

Three states totaling one fourth of the US population made up 40% of new cases of COVID-19 last week. All were in the South, all were heavily Republican, and all had very low rates of vaccination against COVID. Even more dismaying, over 80% of new cases were the Delta variant.

There is more news about the Delta variant, and most of it is pretty bad. First, there’s the matter of the transmission rate. It has an R0 between 5 and 8, which means that an infected individual can be expected to infect between 5 and 8 susceptible individuals. For comparison, the Alpha variant had an R0 between 4 and 5. A report by the Washington Post tonight suggest the R0 estimate may be revised upward, which is catastrophically bad news.

When the R0 is four, this is how it can spread: If you infect an expected four people, and each in turn infects 4 more, that’s 20 people. Those sixteen new cases go on to infect 64 more. Those 64 infect 256 more. It’s exponential growth, and the numbers grow very rapidly.

But if the R0 is eight, then one person infects 8, they in turn infect 64, they in turn infect 512, and they infect 4,096. Same number of stages of growth, but one number is eight times as high. The gaps widens exponentially. The gap is 16 times as high in the next stage.

By way of comparison, the flu has a R0 between 1.3 and 1.6, depending on the strain. In a typical flu season, millions get the flu, thousands die, although vaccines are causing a drop in those numbers. (Because of social distancing, a happy side effect was that “flu season” last winter was the smallest in at least 100 years). The common cold has an R0 between 2 and 3, and yet nearly everyone gets at least one cold in a given year. Of course, there’s hundreds of strains of virus out there that cause the cold, and it’s just a part of our lives. But those R0 rates should scare any one capable of doing simple arithmetic.

Rubella, which is notoriously contagious, has an R0 of 6 and 7, making it essentially as infectious as the Delta variant. The mumps, which used to routinely wildfire through entire school districts, has an R0 of 10-12. So does chickenpox. The regular measles has an R0 of 12-18.

It gets worse: people who have received both shots, either Moderna or Pfizer, may only have an 8-10% chance of being infected with the Alpha variant and are considered fairly low risk to carry it on. With the Delta variant, the chance of infection is higher, although it is yet to be determined how much higher. The one bit of good news is that 90% of those with vaccines will have mild or non-existent symptoms. However, they “virus load” (i.e. become as contaminated) as non-vaccinated people, and can pass the disease along to nearly all unvaccinated and an unknown but sizable number of vaccinated people.

When I was a kid, measles, mumps and chickenpox were very nearly inevitable, and sometimes killed kids. I’m glad they are part of our past, along with diseases like polio and smallpox.

The elephant in the room is “long COVID”–a galaxy of aftereffects that range from annoying to debilitating. Respiratory issues, vascular problems, “brain fog”, fatigue and susceptibility to other diseases. It is known to show up in people who remained asymptomatic in the initial stages of the disease. We have no clear idea how or even if it manifests in people who have gotten their shots and become infected. It may take years before we really do know. But the threat is there.

So if you have your shots and you’re swanning around maskless, stop doing that right now. What for you might be nothing worse than a mild cold could mean potentially significant health issues for you in the future.

You will also be a deadly threat to anyone you encounter who hasn’t been vaccinated. If you infect 8 people and they infect 64 and they infect 512, the odds are you just killed a half dozen people, and hospitalized about 24 others.

So mask up and observe social distancing. Yes, we’re all sick to death of it, and furious at the fools who won’t take steps to defend themselves and everyone else, but unless we want America to be the first country to stupid itself to death, we need to keep taking these steps and hope our social recklessness doesn’t open the door to even bigger medical problems.

Mask up. Keep your distance, and if you haven’t yet, get your shots. Over 163 million have, and it’s clear they are safe and effective. And yes, Delta variant is effective in its own way, but it sure ain’t safe.

Stay safe, exercise better sense than a squirrel on the freeway, and we’ll get through this.

The Great Hack — Is it time to burn the burners?

The Great Hack

Is it time to burn the burners?

July 20th, 2021

The news about Pegasus and NSO Group, its parent company, is horrifying. Pegasus can be used to hack into any mobile phone – Apple or Android – without the operator of the device taking any action. Without so much as a click, it can explore and copy all data on the phone—phones, contact lists, passwords, everything. It can surreptitiously turn on the camera and the microphone and record everything it sees and hears. And of course it knows the exact location of any cell phone it monitors, and can record phone calls—not just the metadata, but the conversations themselves.

The Israeli government commissioned the production of this nuclear spying software, and have been extraordinarily feckless in who they’ve leased it out to. In fact, they’ve been so reckless it’s hard to fathom if they aren’t simply trying a particularly involved form of national suicide. Among the people they’ve entrusted with this software are the United Arab Emirates (better than most middle-eastern governments, but gawds, that’s a low bar) Saudi Arabia, one of the most vicious theocracies on Earth, and Azerbaijan (I wouldn’t trust that government to feed my goldfish).

According to the Guardian, which broke the story, “A recent transparency report released by NSO Group acknowledged the company was ‘closely regulated’ by export control authorities in Israel. The Defense Export Controls Agency (DECA) within the Israeli defence ministry “strictly restricts” the licensing of some surveillance products based on its own analysis of potential customers from a human rights perspective, the company said, and had rejected NSO requests for export licences ‘in quite a few cases’.

I repeat: Azerbaijan? That renowned guardian of human rights? Saudi Arabia? The Emirates?

You have to wonder who the Israelis might consider unfit to have their nuclear spyware. Just the fact that a corrupt fascist pig like Benjamin Netanyahu had control over who got it was alarming enough. The Guardian is reporting that misuse of the spyware has roiled politics in Hungary, Mexico, Russia and other places.

NSO Group claims that it supplies the spyware to governments (51% of leases), police (38%) and intelligence agencies (11%). Given the list (both known and inferred) that the Israelis and NSO deemed fit to possess this spyware, that’s less than reassuring. Intelligence agencies? CIA, SIS or Mossad are bad enough. Russia’s FIS? China’s Ministry for State Security? Turkey’s NIO? We can assume the Ministry of National Security of Azerbaijan is in on the deal. How about North Korea? Kim likes to keep tabs on things, you know.

Police agencies are a concern. I wouldn’t trust Scotland Yard with a cyberweapon like that, and they have a faintly better rep than most national police forces. I definitely wouldn’t want it in the hands of the NYPD or the LAPD. And there’s a lot of police forces that have been surreptitiously infested with Nazis and fascists and other right wing nuts. Hell, I live right next door to Oregon!

Rahul Gandhi, one of the targets of abuse by this program, said: “If your information is correct, the scale and nature of surveillance you describe goes beyond an attack on the privacy of individuals. It is an attack on the democratic foundations of our country. It must be thoroughly investigated and those responsible be identified and punished.”

Edward Snowden felt that Pegasus should be treated like nuclear weaponry because of the mass damage it can do. “If they find a way to hack one iPhone, they’ve found a way to hack all of them,”

They can break in to pretty much any cell phone. You don’t have to click on a dodgy link or call the wrong number. Pegasus does it all for you. I’m told that just turning your phone off is no defense. They can turn it on. About the only way you can ensure your phone isn’t being used to spy on you is buy taking the battery out, at which point you may as well use it as a drink coaster because that’s about all it can do.

NSO Group and Israel say they are extremely careful and screen their clients to ensure that human rights to privacy are not abused. You know. Clients like Azerbaijan. Or the vicious religious cabal running Saudi Arabia? Or India under Modi? Or for that matter, Israel under its far-right government.

What’s worse is that now it’s only a matter of time before it ends up on the dark web (if it hasn’t already) and winds up in the hands of every terror group out there. Or anyone with a nasty sense of humor and a taste for chaos? Or the flat-out psychotic. Even if NSO can safeguard the source code of Pegasus (and Windows’ source code eventually got out), people will realize that the fact that the capabilities of Pegasus exist means that it can be reverse engineered or even reinvented.

It’s only a matter of time, and time may have already run out for 99% of us.

Cell phones are hopelessly compromised. ALL cell phones. Nobody is safe.

So now is the time to start thinking about life without cell phones. They weren’t our greatest cultural advance to begin with, being flooded with spammers and providing poor quality for the price, but now they are an active danger to the security and freedom of our lives.

It may be time to trash our cell phones.

Just be sure to take the battery out and smash the unit with a hammer. That’s the only way you can be sure the personal information it carries isn’t going to Azerbaijan, or the Proud Boys.

Gleichschaltung — The lessons of history lies in the history of lessons

Gleichschaltung

The lessons of history lies in the history of lessons

July 17th 2021

By educating the young generation along the right lines, the people’s State will have to see that a generation of mankind is formed which will be adequate to this supreme combat that will decide the destinies of the world” (Hitler, 1939).

The Germans had a word for it, because of course the Germans have a word for everything: Gleichschaltung. It is, according to Webster’s dictionary, “[T]he act, process or policy of achieving total coordination and uniformity by forcibly repressing or eliminating independence and freedom of thought, action or expression.”

The Nazis keenly appreciated the truism that if you educate the child you control the thinking of the adult. With absolutely no sense of irony, they adopted the philosophy of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, who believed that that if you “Give me just one generation of youth, and I’ll transform the whole world.” and “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.”

To that end, the Nazis transformed education in Germany. All subjects were to be patriotic, designed to instill awe, reverence and obedience to the German state. Biology taught the superiority of the Aryan race. Economics became lessons in the fiscal sacrifices children should expect to make in service to a Greater Germany. Large segments of physics were no longer taught, contaminated by “the Jewish influence” of most leading physicists. Geography studied borders in Europe in order to show how enemies of Germany had cheated the nation of its birthright over the centuries. Physical education was heavily emphasized as a strong and fit body was expected of every German child against they day he would have to fight for the state. There was no higher honor than dying for the Führer. And Hitler demanded that “A young German must be as swift as a greyhound, as tough as leather, and as hard a Krupp’s steel.

Perhaps the most transformed subject was that of history. Most history books, depicting Germany in less-than-glorious light, were burned. As were students who might agree with those books. Most of those students had already been sent off to the camps in any event.

German history could reveal no flaw or deficiency in the German characters, other than an ability to be sometimes tricked and set back by the perfidy of traitors, Jews, bankers, unions, intellectuals, and Germany’s many enemies, foreign and domestic.

As a sidenote, I’ve always wondered how, if a {country, culture, religion, etc.} was so wonderful and so benign, there was such a major problem with enemies. Or perhaps what I’m really wondering is why people being taught this sort of drivel didn’t see it for the self-serving bullshit that it actually is.

German history depicted Germans as brave, noble, resolute, Moral strength was always betrayed by cringing dissolute venality, another concept that I have Questions about.

Pretty much all of German history was turned into dualistic schlock, good versus evil, resolute versus the weak. It was all right to admit that Germany was defeated in the Great War, but not to say that they annoyed the neighbors and got their asses handed to them on a plate. No, the Germans were winning, as per God’s will, but power brokers tapped the sides of their hooked noses and evil minions swarmed out to undermine Germans, causing them to fall ill and die, whilst passing along German strategy and logistics to unfit foes who could never have prevailed without cheating.

The fascist right in America, applying their own Gleichschaltung to the lesson history has to offer about the fate of fantastical authoritarian movements, has adopted the concept for use in seizing control of America’s schools and libraries.

They needed a bogeyman to scare people into thinking that honest history was anti-patriotic, so they decided that liberals were misusing history to make children hate their own country, and in the case of white children, their own race. Sound familiar?

The bogeyman has a name: Critical Race Theory. Now, keep in mind that despite claims from the Republican party, Critical Race Theory isn’t taught in schools. No, that’s a college-level concept, one designed to examine the role systemic racism has played in America’s history, culture, economy and education. Teachers don’t sit the kids down and say, “Johnny, because of your skin color, you are an imperialist pig.”

It isn’t Critical Race Theory the fascist right wants to abolish: it’s honesty. To them, it’s utterly unthinkable that recitations of America’s glorious and morally resolute past should be defiled and debased by unnecessary references to slavery, subjugation of the native populations, or bloody wars against countries that posed no threat to America. “What do we need all that negative stuff for anyway?” they cry. “The only reason people would want to teach that sort of anti-American stuff is to make American children less resolute, weaken their morals, and make them less willing to serve the Führer.

To that end, I’ve seen some ridiculous examples of Republican-cleansed history. America didn’t want slavery—England forced it upon them! The South didn’t secede; they were just standing for State’s Rights. (Someone brilliantly asked the question the other day, “What did those States have a right to?” It’s a good question. States don’t have rights.)

All too often, history curricula are perverted to political and economic exigencies. We love to tell ourselves comforting lies. A nation’s history is far more likely to be undermined, not by its foes, but by its admirers. The greatest enemies to the teaching of history are the ones who want to glorify a nation, erase its faults and its flaws, and discount all the mistakes made.

When it is done for the direct and malevolent purpose of brainwashing, then it becomes truly evil.

This is a Reichstag moment, the gospel of the Führer,” said Gen. Mark Milley, the chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top US uniformed military commander, worried that Trump was about to try to stage a coup of some sort.

When the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is openly comparing the then-president to Adolf Hitler, then what should we say of the followers of Trump, who wish to impose Gleichschaltung on the schools? At the cost of honesty, in the futile aim of glorifying the State?

They aren’t concerned about history, they don’t have the maturity to admit America isn’t perfect. They are fascists. They live on control, and comforting lies.

Stop them while we still can.

The Great Federal Divorce — “We’re Doing it for the Children”

The Great Federal Divorce

We’re Doing it for the Children”

July 14th, 2021

YouGov.com had a poll this week that showed that amongst Republicans in the South, a full two-thirds (66%) favored secession from the United States. I didn’t find it particularly surprising (If you had asked me to guess at the number, I would have said ‘half,’ but things are becoming more polarized because of recent events), since the South, for years a victim of genial federal neglect (a neglect demanded by by the South in the name of ‘States Rights’ and in reaction to Reconstruction), became a victim of it’s own cultural blend of aristocracy and authoritarian corruption. Washington kept getting blamed for the deep flaws and corruptions of the various state governments and the power brokers who ran those governments.

Now we have the dominant party in the region steeped in the madness of a cult of personality, rife with paranoid beliefs that communists, blacks, Jews and liberals plan to open concentration camps so they can put microchips in people. The craziness is wide spread (50% of independents and 20% of Democrats ALSO support secession) and infused with the inculcated notion that secession would really, really work this time, that the South could rise again and be a gentil bastion of apartheid and corporate and autocratic manipulation.

It’s nonsense, of course. North Carolina, Texas, Georgia and Florida are the only states that would have a hope of a go at it economically, and they would immediately lose hundreds of billions in Federal dollars (just all the Federal military facilities closing!) and a great deal of their tourist trade. And they would be dragged down by the resultant pauper states that would comprise most of CSAv2. But these are people who believe Trump is a noble and heroic Christian, that COVID-19 is a sinister plot, and that Democrats are all secretly Marxists.

But while I was looking over that poll, I noticed something, Out here in the West, the same poll revealed a similar sentiment. Forty seven percent of Democrats—almost half—want to secede. Thirty three percent of independents, and 27% of Republicans also favor secession.

Those are surprisingly big numbers.

Nearly every state in the country has a secession movement of one kind or another. In fact, it’s a nearly world-wide phenomenon. Local interests believe (or fantasize) improvements or profits if they can only over throw the tyrannical interests in whatever capitol happens to be ignoring them. Where I live, near the Oregon border, we have a “State of Jefferson” movement that would create a state from the six southernmost counties of Oregon and roughly the top third of California. While culturally and financially homogeneous, which led to its appeal (a straw vote in our county back in the 90s showed 90% approval for the idea) it would have been a disaster, since even back when we had healthy forests, logging, tourism and ranching would not be enough, and we would quickly become the poorest state in the Union. The movement was funded by ranchers, loggers and other local power brokers as a way to feather their nests, but in recent years has been taken over by the Sovereign Citizen crowd and more recently, the QAnon freaks. It’s still a popular notion, but in the harsh glare of reality, it’s a terrible idea.

The Pacific Northwest has always had a secessionist movement. Clear back in 1975, there was a book, “Ecotopia” by Ernest Callenbach, that wanted to create a stable ecological paradise from Northern California, Oregon and Washington. Some of the more radical members of that movement also wanted to include British Columbia and Alaska, giving the nation monopolistic control over the entire west coast. Others, including me, suggested simply joining Canada, and inviting the rest of America that wasn’t part of the deep South. A fictitious map in the ‘90s showed such a division, with the US (and/or Canada) in blue, and “Jesusland” in red. Some included the prairie states, such as Kansas and Oklahoma.

But few took it particularly seriously. Especially since the only way Ecotopia would be a going concern would be through massive exploitation of natural resources, a somewhat forlorn hope for imagined prosperity even back when the forests still had some water in them. And given the vast economic cost to the United States such a secession would entail, it’s very unlikely the US would allow the west to break away peacefully. Few would miss Mississippi, but California is a whole ‘nother matter. That state alone is about 18% of the American economy. And almost a third of the food supply.

Secession is always a background hum in local politics. In some cases, such as Hawai’i or British Columbia, it’s an ongoing struggle by the Indigenous against the colonial cultures that invaded and destroyed their worlds. Others, such as Ecotopia, are benign fantasies of local rule, a mish-mash of idealism and utopianism. Others have a dangerous edge of anger to them, a desire to remedy wrongs that often as not, are self-inflicted, and a desire to restore a vicious and ugly past, transmogrified into a kind and just lost world but with the same underlying currents of oppression and bigotry.

The numbers are disturbing: in a healthy society, one might expect secessionist sentiment to range between 10 and 15%. But they are elevated, and in the case of America, fostered by interests that would benefit from a national breakup.

Chances that their interests will dovetail with yours are slim. Your most likely fate is to end up a serf in a third world pisspot country.

For those who want a divorce, think it over. In this case, the odds are greatly against you benefiting from it.

NOTE: Two corrections made: Georgia was omitted as one of the states that might be self-sustaining in the event of secession, and surf is now down, and serf’s up.