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      Are humans good, bad or neutral? It’s an old philosophical debate, and not just in the West. Confucius thought they were born neutral, for example, while the later Confucian Mencius felt they were good, noting that everyone who saw a child fall into a well would be horrified. Others, including many Confucians and the Christian church, with original sin, have […]
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Covid origins: looks like it probably was not a lab leak.

A new report on the origins of Covid 19 strongly suggests that the Wuhan market was the likely source of the outbreak. See the story here.

The thing that points it in the direction of the market is the graph of the city and suburbs, and the early known cases. The locations of of the seafood market and Wuhan Institute of Virology are overlaid on the map. The number of cases starts to grow out of the immediate vicinity of the market.

Ah, but what about the lab? Until I read this article, other posts I read made me think that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was a couple of blocks away or at least in the same neighborhood. In actuality, the institute is located 10 miles away from the market. There are no early cases of Covid around the institute. The locus of infection is very clearly around the market.

It kind of makes sense that natural selection was the culprit. The wild type virus would have had up to 32 species of animals in that market to jump around to. That leaves a lot of room for multiple mutations and species jumping.

On the other hand, if it happened in a lab, there are a couple possible routes. First, if it was intentionally engineered, then the lab got extraordinarily lucky. They would have had to have some pretty good crystal structures and clever molecular biologists to figure out how to make the right changes. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen. I just think it’s harder than you think when you are trying to design what is essentially a protein-protein interaction. They are pretty difficult to model without a lot of guesses and molecular dynamics. Lots of structural biologists spend years trying to do it. Most of that modeling was around antibodies and they are tricky but have some common structural features that make them doable. Other protein-protein interactions are a lot harder to model. I don’t have evidence that the Chinese are better at this than anyone else so call me skeptical.

Second possibility is that it was the result of a lab accident. But let’s think about this for a second. How would that work? Either there was some kind of expansion of the mutations in the lab that simulated a natural selection process or it was a one off mutation that just happened to be really good at infecting humans. I mean, I guess. But that points to such lax lab standards and sketchy experiments that it would be strange if there weren’t other viral outbreaks associated with the lab. Why not SARS or MERS?

It could be the case that the Chinese government is withholding information. I think that’s a possibility that we have to seriously consider. But the cluster of cases around the market is pretty compelling.

It all comes back to what I predicted. The origin is much more likely to be natural and zoonotic and less likely to be lab related. We may never know for sure. I’m ok with this outcome. We need to prevent either scenario from happening in the future. The fact that we don’t know for sure should make us a lot more proactive and careful.

But the people who thrive politically on conspiracy theories will seize on that uncertainty because it’s something that we will never be able to pin down with 100% certainty. Just that little chink of “what if” will fuel the conspiracy theory indefinitely. The Chinese government and the global scientific community will become the bad guys, keeping the truth about their plans for global domination away from the purifying effects of enlightening transparency.

So, this report is unlikely to convince anyone except the geeks. And none of the geeks I know have any ambitions for global domination. Or none they will admit to anyway.

Bwahahahahhhh!!

Motivations

Have you seen the Dow today? It’s down about 900 points. That’s because there is a global concern that the Covid delta variant is going to slam the not quite recovered economy. You know, slowing down shipping, shipping containers, manufacturing, new cars, all that stuff. Who knows, maybe the food supply will take a hit this time. Don’t we rely on poor people from poor countries to do the farm labor?

So anyway, I was wondering about what motivates the vaccine refusenik as well and I’ve heard a couple different answers. Frank Luntz says they are getting a consistent message from their news sources that go like this:

1.) Covid has been blown out of all proportion by the Democrats. It’s not as bad as they say and healthy people aren’t going to get sick.

2.) The vaccine is unapproved. This is a technicality. The vaccines have been approved on an emergency use authorization and they had the required data for approval. The mRNA has the fewest moving parts and confers pretty good protection. The j&j vaccine is older technology and uses an adenovirus that requires more quality control and surveillance for averse reactions but, in general, this argument is just silly. Billions of doses have been delivered and the vast majority of recipients have had zero issues.

3.) Those of us who want to end Covid lockdowns and issues, are not respecting the opinions of the refuseniks. Well, yeah, this is true. It’s because these opinions are uninformed and pointless and lead to the worst aspects of the covid pandemic being repeated again and again. We want it to stop. But they have a knee jerk, almost robotic response whenever we bring up the vaccination, almost like the response has been buried in their subconscious just waiting for the right cue to vomit the deflecting “you don’t respect me!” thing. It’s the kind of thing Steve Hassan and Frank Luntz know all too well.

It’s very tiresome.

The rest of us wonder how do they benefit from any of them playing Covid Russian roulette? It’s kind of like a method actor asking, “what is my motivation here?”.

Greg Sargent wrote about this last week in his post about Kevin McCarthy’s slavish devotion to the man whose insurrectionist droogs nearly got him killed. Here’s the answer:

Sena says the 2022 elections will be fought in a fraught politico-psychological environment, one laced with anxieties about the aftermath of the covid-19 trauma.

That has several components: whether people feel the vaccination campaign successfully restored social normalcy, whether the transition back to school is smooth, and whether the economy is recovering from its self-imposed covid deep freeze, restoring workplace normalcy.

Yet on these topics, Sena continued, Republicans have a problem: The GOP base is fully in thrall to Trump. Their mythology dictates both that covid was a liberal hoax and that his heroic vanquishing of it showed his towering strength and leadership.

So everything Biden has done since then must be dismissed as having taken the country downhill in every way. Voicing this is essential, Sena says, because “the base agrees” with this premise, and Republicans are “speaking directly to their base.”

The idea is that if Covid hasn’t been fully resolved by Election Day 2022, the Republican suburban vote will come home and take it out on the Democrats.

This is a version of the apocalyptic “signs” concept that dominates eschatological evangelical cults. The worse the world gets, the closer they get to the messiah returning. If you want to make that happen faster, find the most evil person you can find to run the government and set him loose to make this “system of things” even more chaotic. I think there’s an ethical argument against the “ends justifies the means” strategy but fundies don’t care about secular ethics when they have a book of prophecies written by god. I mean, how can a rational person hold a candle to holy scripture?

In case you were wondering why evangelical Christians worship Trump it’s because god appointed him as his agent to mess things up, test us, and bring on Armageddon. They *want* him to be awful but they don’t think it will affect them. It’s all those unbelievers out there who are going to die horrible deaths, Then the Raptured will sit there all smug in the sky singing a song of schadenfreude by their newest Christian rock band.

So what’s going to happen when Covid *does* affect the Refusenik? After all, they’re the only ones that are going to get sick, possibly seriously enough to need hospitalization. Some may die. The rest of us vaccinated people might not get more than a passing “off” day or a mild illness. Frank Luntz says Refuseniks finally come around after Covid kicks their asses. But that might come after days lost at work, medical expenses and the risk of long Covid.

Luntz also says that the rest of us don’t phrase our requests right. We frequently include words refuseniks find unpalatable in a regular subject/predicate sentence. But since we don’t know in advance exactly what combination of adjectives, nouns and verbs will set them off, this is like the bad boyfriend appeasement ritual where we must all walk on eggshells so we don’t piss them off. And if you’ve ever had a relationship with one of those types, you know that eventually, you have to stop doing that. Eggshells will get crushed by the truth. Ain’t no one got time to endlessly rephrase. In fact, it’s a really good way to allow the Refusenik to persist in their delusion if they insist that we need to avoid upsetting them with, you know, words. Of any kind. Fine. Let them get sick. That’ll learn’em.

Still, unless we have people dying in the streets like they did in India, it might not be enough.

How about a hit to the 401k? Food shortages? Higher car prices? Higher everything prices as computer chips don’t get made, shipping containers sit on the wrong side of the ocean and food rots in the fields because there is no one to pick it?

I don’t know what might happen next. But I do know that it’s reckless to subject the economy to more shocks. That kind of thing is unpredictable especially if it affects all parts of the globe.

Will the refusenik finally see that there were many countries that were involved in hoaxing them or will they work their way out of this thought experiment? Well, as Frank Luntz will tell you, the fear of death tends make voters elect big daddy conservatives. It’s how conservative voters are wired. Their amygdalas are overstimulated and the fear tends to make it difficult to reason with them. There’s a good chance that they’ll assign the cause of a stock market crash and the loss of a good chunk of their retirement funds to Biden. It’s not that it’s his fault. It’s just that they’re going to blame him. He’s the most visible target.

You just have to wonder why the right would deliberately encourage it’s constituency to ignore safety precautions and put their own lives, livelihoods and retirements at risk for Trump. What does the right have to gain from it? What tasty scenario are they savoring while their voters get sick, or die, or lose their savings? Why would they make it a virtue for their base to sacrifice themselves in this way? What could they hate more than they love their own lives?

What is their motivation here?