Weird Al Yankovic and the Global Phase Shift

“We’re living by science and data, not our constitution.
That’s wrong. We are not safe if we are not free.”
—Darwin Award contender, protesting in Pennsylvania

The target won’t stop moving. Not so long ago the WHO came out with a mortality rate of 3.4%; country specific rates span the range from almost 10% to virtually zero (let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be stuck in Italy or North America right n— oh, wait…) A Lancet study from the beginning of the month derives a China-wide mortality rate of less than 1.4%, though, which is closer to earlier estimates based on contained populations with complete sampling. That’s good.

On the other hand, the infection rate R0—originally estimated as somewhere between 2 or three— might in fact be as high as 5.7. That’s bad. And over on the good ship Theodore Roosevelt—you know, that aircraft carrier whose captain was fired after he had the temerity to ask for assistance with an on-board C19 outbreak— a solid 60% of the sailors who tested positive were asymptomatic. That would also be bad, if it didn’t pale compared to asymptomatic figures reported from other closed populations: 80% in China, over 90% in US Prisons (the biggest “closed population” on the planet, depending on your definition). Also a lot of C19 victims present an abnormally high incidence of clotting, which while maybe not downright dire in Big Picture terms is certainly curious.

In the meantime, the number of recorded cases worldwide has sailed past three million as I write this; deaths over 200,000. People who’ve survived one bout with C19 are starting to test positive for it again. Still no treatment or vaccine. Here in Canada our politicians speak hopefully about the way we’re flattening the curve, while at the same time warming us up to the possibility of food shortages in the not-too-distant future. And apparently there’s a plan afoot to lock a skeleton crew inside local generating stations—to isolate them from the growing social unrest and chaos beyond the fences—so they can keep maintaining the plant and forestall the day the grid goes down.

None of this is news most folks would describe as hopeful. So you might be forgiven for giving me a funny look when I tell you that I really don’t think Covid-19 is a problem.

I think it’s a symptom.

*

For a while, rumor had it that C19 had been built in a Chinese bioweapons lab, that bats and pangolins were just innocent fall-mammals. When that proved inconsistent with the evidence, the rumor mutated into a less virulent strain that suggested C19 might have at least escaped from a lab, even if it hadn’t actually originated there.

I kinda wish it had, although not for the reasons you might expect.

I played with a similar idea on this very ‘crawl back in 2016, when I expressed modest and wistful hopes for the impact of the Zika virus—a bug that never killed anyone, barely even inconveniences adults, but whose deformation of fetuses was proving enough to scare even dyed-in-the-blood-of-Christ Catholics out of reproducing. In that post I lamented my own failure of imagination: I’d imagined Zika would expand its range by switching from its original tropical-mosquito host to one with a more temperate distribution, spreading out of the impoverished Third World into the gluttonous First where a reduction in our numbers might actually make a difference. Instead, Zika had ditched the insect vector altogether and gone into sexual-transmission mode, a much more effective strategy that spread it throughout the lower states in a matter of months.

Yet here I am again, with yet another mea culpa about my limited imagination: because my scenario described a gradual reduction in our impact, a fear of breeding that would take decades to manifest in any ecological sense. I never imagined that a relatively benign bug could cause us to drastically reduce emissions, to change our very lifestyles literally overnight. Which is why I think it would’ve been cool if C19 had been conjured up in a lab and deliberately released: not as a bioweapon, but as an object lesson. A teaching moment. An inspiration.

Because we know, now, that we can do it. We can live without the luxuries. We can live without the billiona—sorry, the job creators. We know who the essential members of this society are, and we can identify the parasites1. We can watch with awe as New Zealand kicks Corona’s ass: we can whoop with schadenfreude as church-going evangelicals and MAGAmaniacs re-enact the airlock scene from Avenue 5, while their stumbling demented child-king cheers them on. We can clear the skies in a matter of days; you’ve all seen the pictures. All it takes is for us to be in imminent fear for our lives.

Also for the crisis to be over by the time we’ve finished bingeing Tiger King.

*

That’s the Big Question, of course. What happens after. If there even is an After.

Imagine The Who’s next Farewell Concert. People file into the local stadium and find their seats; tinny music plays from the speakers up in the rafters. It’s an hour or two before even the opening act sets up. And yet, a distressingly large number of people seem to think this preamble comprises the Main Event.

How else do you explain those idiotic memes juxtaposing Mad Max with “Let’s stream our art for free! Let’s sing to each other!”? How else to explain the fact that even the usually-brilliant Laurie Penny has bought into the whole “fuzzy teledistant social apocalypse” model. More Douglas Adams than Danny Boyle, she writes over on Wired. Maybe now. Maybe on Month 2 of an interminable slide. Try sharing your homemade sourdough recipes when the grid goes down. Have you forgotten that two weeks ago, people were coming to blows over toilet paper?

For what it’s worth, I don’t think the grid will go down—this time. I expect we’ll get a bit of a breather. I don’t expect it to last—hell, I’ve been writing about this shit for over twenty years, I’m hardly going to heave a sigh of relief just because the Reavers haven’t kicked in my door by Week 8—but let’s put that aside for the moment. Let’s ignore William Hanage, accept that Covid-19 will subside in a few months (outside the US, at least), and restrictions will ease enough for us to come outside again and rub shoulders with the occasional stranger before the second wave comes back and does it all over again. We’ve learned some important lessons over the past weeks. We’ve learned how many “impossible” things were actually just inconvenient to the guys holding the reins. The question now is, will any of those lessons stick?

Because all those reduced emissions, all the before/after pics of the sky over Paris, the whole ecofriendly mass-migration to work-from-home—none of it matters. 2020 is still on track to be the hottest year in recorded history. The Great Barrier Reef is still in the throes of yet another devastating bleaching event. A whole shitload of fold catastrophes will still be taking out ecosystems in sudden waves, starting within the decade. We’ve been fouling the air for generations; a few months of lowered emissions isn’t even a drop in the bucket. (I’m pretty much on-side with climate scientist Kate Marvel on this score, right up until she tries to absolve us of all blame and hang responsibility on the plutocrats. I hold us to blame as much as them. But that’s a whole other post.)

Clear skies over LA? Nice start, but meaningless on its own. Have we learned anything that we’ll apply going forward? (Beyond the take-home message that front-line medical professionals should be evicted from their homes or beaten in the street because they might be carriers, which people from Toronto to Kolkata seem to have already internalized just fine.)

*

There’s some cause for hope. The Democrats, for example, came out of the mid-pandemic election with a massive majority (thanks largely to their exemplary handling of C19) and have embraced the Green New Deal, pledged to end the nation’s reliance on coal, and to go carbon neutral by 2050. Looking for a silver lining that’s less nihilistic than Hey, at least it’s reduced the number of idiot hominids fucking up the planet? Look no further than the Democratic Party.

(The South Korean Democratic Party, that is. Over here, the US Democrats are still helmed by people who pledge craven fealty to Wall Street, who treat the Green New Deal like a magical unicorn some six-year-old girl wants for her birthday, and whose Chosen One’s strongest selling point is that he hasn’t been accused of sexual misconduct as often as the sitting president.)

Then there’s the city of Amsterdam, which has committed itself, post-Covid, to swapping out conventional rapacious economics for the more eco-friendly “doughnut” type. Germany is talking about enshrining the right to Work From Home into law. Hell, even here in Canada—just last week— our own empty-suit PM opined that “Just because we’re in a health crisis doesn’t mean we can neglect the environmental crisis”. Sure it was a platitude; but a platitude from someone who traditionally provides billions in annual subsidies to the oil industry. This time, the payout was earmarked for the clean-up of abandoned oil wells and limiting methane emissions. It’s a teensy step in the right direction.

But if there’s cause for hope, there’s also more than sufficient grounds for skepticism. Other parties have internalised their own lessons, not always with epidemiology foremost in mind. Governments around the world have lost no time ramping up their surveillance states under cover of “tracking the virus”; anyone want to lay odds on how quickly Ontario stops passing our health information to local law enforcement once the danger has passed, given how responsibly the cops have treated such data in the past? (The question is barely rhetorical even in Canada; there’s no point even asking it about China or Russia or the US.)

China is easing back on environmental enforcements to help its economy recover. The Czech Republic is using Covid-19 to advocate ditching the European Green Deal. The US oil industry has responded to the pandemic by demonizing renewables as “unconscionable and immature political opportunism in a time when Americans’ lives are literally at stake” (without, apparently, any sense of irony). The Trump administration has wasted no time suspending environmental regulations for Big Fossil, under cover of Covid Hardship. So has Alberta, whose premier responded to the cratering value of oil by investing $1.5 billion of taxpayer’s money into the Keystone XL pipeline. The Canadian oil lobby is demanding that our pesky carbon tax be shelved in this tragic time of economic crisis.

They may have history on their side, in terms of public opinion at least. The Canadian public was increasingly in favor of strong climate action back in the last decade, until the crash of 2008 made everyone forget about everything but The Economy. Given how much worse said Economy is this time around, it’s reasonable to wonder how much we’ve learned in the meantime.

Not much, if columnist Heather Scoffield is any kind of metric. Over at the Star she coos sympathetically about our “oil-centered” provinces, laments “all the pain” endured by the hard-working souls trapped in that industry. As though they’ve all been caught completely unawares, as though nobody could have possibly foreseen the hardship that price wars and pandemics might have inflicted.

And yet, far more credible than the Commander-in-Chief.

To which I say: hey, you know who was ranting about the threat of climate change way back in 1977? Weird Al Yankovic, during his high school valedictory address. Not a scientist. Not a prophet. He couldn’t even look things up on the Internet (which barely even existed back then, and couldn’t be accessed by high school students in any case). A nerd with an accordion saw the writing on the wall over forty years ago—three years before Exxon officially (if not publicly) recognized the global threat of climate change in its own internal memos— and we’re supposed to feel sorry for an obscenely-profitable multinational subsidy-siphoning parasite because they never bothered to diversify over the past four decades? We’re supposed to pity the poor blue collars laboring on the rigs who had access to the same wall, could see the same writing— and who continued to shit on the tree-huggers and elect haploid brainstems like Ralph Klein and Jason Kenney?

Fossil had all the money in the world and almost half a century to prepare. All they did was spit on those who tried to raise the alarm. Let them rot.

(And to head off an obvious rejoinder: anyone who bleats some variation of Think of the children! gets circular-filed. Every generation has children. Every generation squeezes out a brood who— for a few years, at least— can be described as “innocent”. To claim that you should avoid accountability for your crimes because it will hurt “the children” is not an argument; it’s a hostage scenario. If you cared so much about about your fucking children, you would have cleaned up your act before having them.)

*

Full disclosure, there’s no evidence that climate change played a significant role in the spread of Covid-19 (in fact, hot weather seems to be anathema to the little bugger). Climate change is but one of the major variables contributing to the global spread of disease. The other two are destruction/encroachment of wild habitat (bringing people into contact with new and undiscovered pathogen reservoirs)2 and the globalization of travel (which carries said pathogens to new— and newly-habitable— locations at lightning speed). Any of those variables can be enough to provoke an outbreak. Put ‘em all together, and you’ve got a world in which the incidence of emerging diseases have more than quadrupled since 1970 (and a world in which only about one percent of wildlife viruses are thought to have even been identified, much less countered).

This time, wilderness intrusion and global travel gave us a coronavirus pandemic courtesy of the People’s Republic. Climate change didn’t happen to play a role, but that was just the luck of one draw: China has other gifts waiting in the wings, in which it takes center stage. Climate change causes drought; drought results in increased rodent populations, and voila: pneumonic plague kicks off its comeback tour.

If not plague, Henra virus. If not Henra, West Nile. Babeiosis. Anaplasmosis. Nipah: now there’s a scary little fucker. The original reservoir was in bats, but it jumped to humans via pigs: back in 1998 it infected 276 people in Malaysia, killing 106 of them. That’s a 38% kill rate—higher than smallpox. Nipah’s been on intermittent tour throughout Bangladesh and Malaysia ever since, racking up kill rates as high as 90%. Half the cases are transmitted human-to-human.

There is no cure.

I keep saying this is only the beginning. I’ve said it so often that people are starting to say “Peter Watts predicted a global virus pandemic in 2019”, as though the predictions actually were mine, as though I wasn’t just repeating what other, vastly-better-informed experts have been saying for years. But just as each new outbreak reflects an interaction of different causal variables, pandemics themselves are but one factor in a wider, even more catastrophic cascade. This isn’t just about pandemics, it’s not just about climate change: it’s about emptying the oceans and strip-mining the seabed, it’s about cutting down the world’s forests, it’s about hormone disruptors and plastics and insect pollinators cratering in fast-forward. It’s about a civilization build out of cards and supply lines that span hemispheres; an economic system so out of touch with reality that oxygen and clean water are accorded zero value, while mine tailings in a river are accorded zero cost.

We appear to be headed towards a scenario described in Nafeez Ahmed’s recent essay “Coronavirus, synchronous failure and the global phase-shift”: a series of synchronous failures along multiple axes that will pretty much gut The Way Things Are from the inside out. What comes out the other side—whether we come out the other side—depends on how well we can transpose the lessons we’re learning during this mild, training-wheels minipocalypse.

Unexpectedly, a small minority (photo credit Joshua A. Bickel).

I honestly don’t know if we will. I didn’t believe we had the political will to take the necessary steps even for C19—yet here we are, banded together, changing the very shape of society from the highest reaches of government to the face-masked peasants lined up uncomplainingly outside the supermarket, a requisite two meters apart. As an added and unexpected bonus, the stupider members of the population are altruistically gathering together in churches and public spaces, drinking bleach on presidential advice, and otherwise helping to weed themselves out of the equation. (Not to mention increasing the mean IQ of the species a bit.) It’s a vision that—how strange it feels to say this— gives me hope.

At the same time, I can’t help but wonder—like a myriad others— why we can respond so effectively to this relatively small immediate crisis but not to the gargantuan one that’s been swallowing the planet for generations. Even as one part of my brain serves up the same old answer— the future isn’t real to us, we’ll run like hell from the charging grizzly but we couldn’t care less about the slow boil— another part doesn’t quite buy it. Put aside the mind-boggling statistics, the three million infected and two hundred thousand dead. The gut doesn’t do numbers. It goes by immediate experience— and for most of us C19 is still something we watch from a distance, far less “real” than the countermeasures implemented to fight it. We’ve watched our cities shut down. We’re in this quarantine. So many of us are suddenly unemployed, staring destitution in the face. Next to that, how many of us even know someone who’s died of Covid-19?

I don’t for a split nanosec buy into that idiotic bullshit about The Cure Being Worse Than the Disease—but dammit, it must feel that way to the gut. And yet most of us are buckling down, against all my expectations. Most of us accept the need for drastic action.

Could the molehill have possibly, finally, primed us to deal with the mountain?


1 We always could, of course, but nobody ever seemed to act on the knowledge.

2 Sixty percent of our emerging infectious diseases originate in other species.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Tuesday April 28 2020at 07:04 am , filed under In praise of biocide, scilitics . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

78 Responses to “Weird Al Yankovic and the Global Phase Shift”

  1. Regarding the test positive again cases no one seems to finding active viruses in those tests. They are finding chunks of RNA from the virus. One theory is that this people are , in effect, still coughing crap up from the bottom of the lungs. It is somewhat like positive test cases in poop where they find RNA but not actual viruses that they can grow.

  2. “As an added and unexpected bonus, the stupider members of the population are altruistically gathering together in churches and public spaces, drinking bleach on presidential advice, and otherwise helping to weed themselves out of the equation. (Not to mention increasing the mean IQ of the species a bit.) It’s a vision that—how strange it feels to say this— gives me hope.”

    This has been a silver lining for me since the start of the pandemic.

    At first the dumb were drinking bleach in response to some weird shit percolating on QAnon-inspired social media. I did not expect it to become official White House advice, but I welcome this development.

    “And yet most of us are buckling down, against all my expectations. Most of us accept the need for drastic action.”

    I was also pleasantly surprised by this. Excepting the negligible percentage of idiotic trash protesting against these restrictions to their freedumbz (I expected these numbers to be far higher), folks are following instructions, staying at home and doing their best to social-distance when out of doors. Most people, it seems, still really dislike the idea of dying.

  3. We’ve been hit like this before, haven’t we? The plague of Justinian slew half the population of Europe. The Black Death wiped out a hundred million at a time when the world’s population was under five hundred million. The third instance of the bubonic plague spread from Yunan to Hong Kong to the United States and hit San Francisco. We seem to be incredibly bad at taking lessons from pandemics until it becomes baked into public policy.
    And woe to all those who read Rebecca Solnit once and wave A Paradise Built in Hell like some kind of naive ‘people will volunteer and fix everything!’ crap. History shows us how hard systemic change is.

  4. (God damn it, your system ate my comment. (That, or it is being held for moderation with no notification of that fact. Oh, now I see: I had to press that little icon next to the green check-mark. Sigh.) Let’s see if I can reproduce what emerged in a rush of typing.)

    //And yet most of us are buckling down, against all my expectations. Most of us accept the need for drastic action.

    //Could the molehill have possibly, finally, primed us to deal with the mountain?//

    It’s a refreshing change to see Peter Watts being optimistic about something – anything, but I think your surprise about how most of us are behaving not only decently but intelligently in the face of an unprecedented emergency says something about a blind spot you have concerning mass behaviour.

    I was particularly struck by an un-footnoted mention in your recent book, *Angry Sentient Tumour*, about the descent into savagery in post-Katrina New Orleans. As we now know, we were lied to about that: what savagery there was was almost entirely perpetrated by agents of the State or of corporations. For the most part, actual citizens of New Orleans worked to *help* each other, even as ostensible authorities were murdering them (cf, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danziger_Bridge_shootings).

    My point is, most of us really *do* want to live in peace with our neighbours, care for our families, and enjoy the fresh air when the day’s work is done. It takes deliberate manipulation on the part of leaders, spiritual or political, to turn us into murderous savages. (Granted, it sometimes doesn’t take too *many* lies to do it, but my point remains; launching pogroms is not a default human activity.)

    It is easy – all too easy – to point to idiotic mob behaviour and chortle about how it will raise the average IQ by a few tenths of a percentage point. It should be just as easy to remember – and to point to – the deliberate lies and distortions fed to us by our presumtive leaders that lead to that behaviour. On the one hand you have the true believers who don’t doubt the lies, no matter how ludicrous, while on the other you have those so jaded they believe nothign; the rest of us have to sift through the dross like Kremlin watchers of old, trying to guess whether this claim or that is true or false.

    Turns out there was such official unanimity on Covid19 that the vast majority of people were and are quite willing to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to deal with the situation. Imagine what we could do if we had leaders who had our best interests at heart.

  5. Minor aside to the bit about lack of treatment. Derek Lowe’s In The Pipeline column is a good place to follow for roundups of drug and vaccine trials. He does a big update every few days. Here’s one about Anti IL-6 drugs. He explains things on a reasonable enough level that someone with no clue (me) can (mostly) follow. I read along for some vague wish to see that there is research going on.

  6. Geoffrey Dow: It should be just as easy to remember – and to point to – the deliberate lies and distortions fed to us by our presumtive leaders that lead to that behaviour.

    I could buy that argument in 2005. Today I have to respectfully call utter bullshit.

    Today there are plenty of alternative sources to verify these deliberate distortions against. Even in the Katrina days, the “descent into savagery” narrative could easily be disproven by anyone who bothered to do about 10 minutes of internet searching. But let’s say not everyone had internet, old people were unlikely to use it, etc., etc.

    In 2020, that excuse no longer applies. Those who believe these distortions choose to believe them, and they choose to dismiss factual evidence as manipulation by Satanic (or whatever) mainstream media. Rubbing one’s hands gleefully at the behavior of this cretinous mob is therefore appropriate.

    Geoffrey Dow: Turns out there was such official unanimity on Covid19 that the vast majority of people were and are quite willing to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to deal with the situation.

    But there wasn’t, and they weren’t.

    Not sure where you’re based, but in the US we pretended that everything was “business as usual” and trotted out specious comparisons to death tolls of the seasonal flu (lie) and car accidents (stupid). “Official sources” are still giving contradictory advice today. The Italians and Spaniards made obscene gestures at the TV screen and completely ignored government recommendations. Meanwhile China and South Korea were shutting entire cities down and spraying disinfectant in the streets.

    People are following the rules now, which is indeed surprising, but let’s not pretend it didn’t take them a while to get there. And all they had to do was sit on their asses, poke their phones and watch some bad shows on Netflix. No real sacrifice required.

  7. Living in South Korea, it’s been pretty fascinating to watch all this unfold — from looking like we were the fuckups in early February, to getting things under control and seeing most of the Developed World fall apart. Nearly 3,000 dead in Canada … 24,000 dead in Spain now (where I used to live), And the USA … geez, in that country effed up.

    But here in Korea, even though people live in very dense cities, life is feeling more and more normal all the time. Koreans are slowly coming to grips with the idea that they’re actually a positive benchmark for much of the world — and they rewarded the Democrats accordingly with a record-setting majority in the recent National Assembly elections.

    I’m still working from home and schools are still closed (mostly), but we seem to be through the worst. For now … until yet another religious asshat decides to go to a church buffet, But it’s nice to be living in a country that basically works.

  8. Being childless myself I hesitate to hand out any Darwin awards, as I’m well on the running for one by default

  9. Peter W: “It’s a vision that—how strange it feels to say this— gives me hope.’

    I’d really watch that if I were you. Hope will fuck you over almost every time.

    Along those lines, here’s an interesting paper from a Swiss research team suggesting that antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE) may play a role in Covid-19 pathogenesis, i.e. the virus uses antibodies to help it invade human cells, paradoxically increasing disease severity in an immunized population.

    ‘Is antibody-dependent enhancement playing a role in COVID-19 pathogenesis?’
    DOI: https://doi.org/10.4414/smw.2020.20249
    Publication Date: 16.04.2020 Swiss Med Wkly. 2020;150:w20249

    Abstract
    The pathogenesis of COVID-19 is currently believed to proceed via both directly cytotoxic and immune-mediated mechanisms [1]. An additional mechanism facilitating viral cell entry and subsequent damage may involve the so-called antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE). ADE is a very well-known cascade of events whereby viruses may infect susceptible cells via interaction between virions complexed with antibodies or complement components and, respectively, Fc or complement receptors, leading to the amplification of their replication [2] (fig. 1). This phenomenon is of enormous relevance not only for the understanding of viral pathogenesis, but also for developing antiviral strategies, notably vaccines.

  10. // Could the molehill have possibly, finally, primed us to deal with the mountain? //

    I hate to say it, but not an effing chance. As long as the extremely wealthy have escaped largely unscathed and still worship the stock exchanges, nothing will change. They will continue to own the American, British, Russian and many other media organizations and political parties/machines. Most ‘democracies’ are now reduced to thinly disguised police states, especially the USA and GB. (Russia and China don’t count as democracies IMO.)

    Douglas RushKoff’s 2018 article ‘Survival of the Richest perfectly describes the 1% mindset:
    https://onezero.medium.com/survival-of-the-richest-9ef6cddd0cc1
    Some of my spouse’s wealthy relatives and their friends have demonstrated this mindset over the past couple of decades that I’ve known them. It’s firmly entrenched in the scions at the top of the family tree and infused into their offspring, grandkids and great-grandkids from Day One.

    I’m afraid it will take something civilization/infrastructure-breaking that nobody can foresee or see coming to save us over the long term, and it had better happen soon. Maybe something on the order of John Varley’s ‘Slow Apocalypse’.

    I feel like Bill the Cat; ACKPHFT. I’m off to throw another episode of ‘Strike Back ‘ into the video player and numb my mind for an hour.

  11. So, as we enjoy the first inklings of the Apocalypse to come (I have polished my LARP Mad Max Gear already in anticipation. I will ride all shiny and chrome.) i have only one question: Will we get to read Omniscience before it all collapses? Seriously, i NEED to know what happens next.

    Also as someone who works in retail in Germany: I am eagerly anticipating the next wave of Corona to really do a number on us after we have weathered the first one just fine. People are mostly compliant, but they are starting to grumble. A few weeks more of this and all dams will break and then the Corona cases will skyrocket.

    Also, since i remember you liking Fallout, have you tried Fallout 76? Started rough, but it is really fun now. Also features a deadly virus, funnily enough.

  12. Nestor,

    Jeez, yeah. Important point. Never thought of that.

  13. Fatman: The Italians and Spaniards made obscene gestures at the TV screen and completely ignored government recommendations.

    Excuse me?
    Fatman, you dont know what you are talking about.

  14. I’m not sure where to start. Maybe here: lots of people in these comments give your their bona-fides up front in a post to prove ingroup status with you, and I am not going to do that. Here’s my most negative things: I live in the US, I have 3 children, I voted for Trump, I am more of a Republican than anything else, I abhor the lockdown, I have no specific animosity or affinity for nature, and I like driving. I think the first world is a wonderful place to live. I’m an easy target.

    Dr. Watts, have you read any James Kuntsler? I taught his text “The Long Emergency” (and “Blindsight,” years on) to honors students in college. That nonfiction combined with his fiction work set in the same scenario (the “World Made by Hand” series), is what I still consider perhaps the most plausible near-future set of apocalyptic works. He rallies against suburbia, sprawl, and consumerism, talks about real upstream and downstream consequences as fossil fuels collapse, and has been steadily predicting, well, a long global emergency. Everything gets Real Bad for most everybody, for a long time, complex systems collapse, mass deaths due not to war or social shear or climate change, but a little bit of all of that, plus famine, epidemics, and broken systems. Eventually, we learn to fail forward and come out of it, much diminished, mostly stateless, and changed forever. A touch simplistic maybe in terms of primary source data analysis (although he does do his research), but a good gestalt IMO.

    I read Kuntsler’s blog (https://kunstler.com/writings/clusterfuck-nation/) and over the past decade it has slowly changed from general primers on modern economies and insightful social commentary to mostly invective, aimed at the elite and the idiotic. I understand that his blog in some way reflects the market segmentation of his readership, and probably refines it. I don’t know, and that’s my best guess because it makes me a little upset to be occasionally included in his targets and I need a little cog. dissonance to get over it (“they’re all idiots, those suburbanites- not YOU, of course, but the others,” the little narrative in my head reads). I suppose here is where I say I also consider you to be in the same camp; a writer of apocalyptic fiction with an invective blog to boot.

    I’ve read in earlier posts of yours where you cautioned against ad hominem attacks (look at the data!) and yet we sure see a lot of, I don’t know the proper Latin, perhaps “ad populous” attacks in your blog? Labeling whole groups (or all of us) as idiotic based on behaviors and data? Maybe that’s the yardstick, but I’ll tell you this; there’s a whole lotta people you consider “idiots” in your precious little supply chain that keeps your pantry stocked (12.5% of Canada’s workforce, depending on how you slice it), presses the “buy” button on Amazon Prime for your titles, makes your lemon-soaked paper napkins for your trips to Lithuania or wherever for one of those post-postmodern conferences, tops off the Jet-A in the tanks for your big old carbon footprint-trip back home, und so weiter.

    Dr. Watts, I sure wish you’d please mitigate the target acquisition on people in general to support your diatribes. You’re alienating many who want to be persuaded by your superb data analysis. Don’t disguise ad hominem as ad populous.

    Ok, I lied. I’ll give you one ingroup thing. I also love John Brunner.

  15. B. Traven: Labeling whole groups (or all of us) as idiotic based on behaviors and data?

    But if data and facts both point to the behavior of a certain group as being idiotic, surely it’s not ad hominem to call them idiotic?

    There is “argument ad populum”, but that doesn’t seem to fit the bill here.

    B. Traven: Maybe that’s the yardstick, but I’ll tell you this; there’s a whole lotta people you consider “idiots” in your precious little supply chain that keeps your pantry stocked

    Sure, but what does that have to do with the topic being discussed? Stupid people contribute to the economy too, surely no one is arguing the opposite.

    I assume you’re trying to make a point in your post, other than to introduce yourself. It gets sort of lost in the introduction/word salad.

    ZMA: Fatman, you dont know what you are talking about.

    Quite possible, and I apologize if I’m wrong.

    This was very much the reaction of my friend’s elderly parents and their social group (to said friend’s immense consternation). The parents live in Lombardy. I read about similar things happening in Spain. But I should know better than to resort to anecdotal fallacy.

  16. Fatman: The Italians and Spaniards made obscene gestures at the TV screen and completely ignored government recommendations.

    Please visualize an appropriate obscene gesture in your direction. The country locked down overnight when the death rate was under 50 a day, no one could’ve anticipated we’d reach 1000/day post-lockdown

  17. Nestor: no one could’ve anticipated we’d reach 1000/day post-lockdown

    Without trying to be offensive, not exactly true, as 50 deaths per day already meant tens of thousands infected. Plus, you know, furbizia.

    But point taken, obscene gesture in my direction visualized.

  18. Fatman,

    “And all they had to do was sit on their asses, poke their phones and watch some bad shows on Netflix. No real sacrifice required.”

    Not to pile on, but are you kidding? I assume you don’t own a small business in Canada. Many of those people are fucked. And I’d guess that pretty close to 100% of them would not be severely harmed if they were infected.

  19. Chidwik is insane

  20. eriko: One theory is that this people are , in effect, still coughing crap up from the bottom of the lungs. It is somewhat like positive test cases in poop where they find RNA but not actual viruses that they can grow.

    Thanks. Good to know.

    Yudhanjaya: The plague of Justinian slew half the population of Europe. The Black Death wiped out a hundred million at a time when the world’s population was under five hundred million. The third instance of the bubonic plague spread from Yunan to Hong Kong to the United States and hit San Francisco.

    Geez, Yudhanjaya, count on you to put things in historical perspective. Now I feel lucky again.

    Geoffrey Dow: I was particularly struck by an un-footnoted mention in your recent book, *Angry Sentient Tumour*, about the descent into savagery in post-Katrina New Orleans. As we now know, we were lied to about that: what savagery there was was almost entirely perpetrated by agents of the State or of corporations.

    Yeah, that was a bad example. I should have known better.

    On the other hand, the fact that I got sloppy with a f’rinstance doesn’t necessarily mean that our species is likely to join arms and sing Kumbaya when the ceiling crashes in. We’ve still got people fighting in the aisles over toilet paper. That picture I stole above—the one that bears such a memey similarity to “Shawn of the Dead”—was not, so far as I know, Photoshopped. Health-care workers are still, if mainstream news reports are to be trusted, being beaten in the streets in India.

    Maybe my pessimism isn’t so much wrong as lacking nuance. People help others when they’re perceived to be members of the same tribe; regard them as threats otherwise. That would explain both the Helping Hand within a community, and the zombies with automatic weapons protesting in Michigan.

    I’m not ready to give up my dim view of Human Nature just yet. But for what it’s worth, I hope you’re right. I hope I’ve just got a blind spot.

    Geoffrey Dow: It should be just as easy to remember – and to point to – the deliberate lies and distortions fed to us by our presumtive leaders that lead to that behaviour.

    This I don’t buy. Speaking just for myself, I don’t have any great Security Clearance. I don’t have access to any inside info that isn’t available to anyone else with an internet connection. My university degrees may have given me an above-average appreciation for science as a process—and I may be more competent than many at assessing statistical results— but I’ve no great expertise in epidemiology (as a couple of past missteps should have made obvious by now). I have to filter through the same dross as everyone else; and somehow, I’m still better at recognizing bullshit than these other nimrods. So are you.

    It doesn’t take a Hawking or a Feynman to see through the lies; all it takes is an ability to think critically, and to recognize that no matter what end of the ideological spectrum we fall on we will be biased, and to try to make allowances for that. If I can do that, I expect others to. You don’t have to be a genius. Christ knows I’m not. You only have to not be an idiot.

  21. Sheila: Here’s one about Anti IL-6 drugs. He explains things on a reasonable enough level that someone with no clue (me) can (mostly) follow.

    Thanks. Bookmarked.

    Mark Russell: Living in South Korea, it’s been pretty fascinating to watch all this unfold — … But it’s nice to be living in a country that basically works.

    That’s right, you were right there. Someday you’ll have to share with me your first-hand experiences over beers. Assuming we will ever again live in a world where travel between Canada and Korea is a thing.

    Nestor:
    Being childless myself I hesitate to hand out any Darwin awards, as I’m well on the running for one by default

    I like to think that Darwin Awards are reserved for people whose zero fitness is inadvertent. Given that my own is entirely advertent.

    Mark Pontin: I’d really watch that if I were you. Hope will fuck you over almost every time.

    Yeah, probably. On the plus side, in the short term at least it increases the statistical odds of me performing well on final exams.

    Mark Pontin: suggesting that antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE) may play a role in Covid-19 pathogenesis, i.e. the virus uses antibodies to help it invade human cells, paradoxically increasing disease severity in an immunized population.

    Shit.

    I mean, they admit it’s highly speculative, which should give me, you know, hope. But…shit….

    The K: Will we get to read Omniscience before it all collapses? Seriously, i NEED to know what happens next.

    Yeah, so do I. If it all collapses within the next year, the answer is No. Past that, I suppose it depends on whether I can get a new agent. And how good they are. (I’m guessing environmental apocalypses may not be especially popular these days, given that “Counterpart” sank after two seasons and “Outlander” is still going strong…

  22. Phil: I assume you don’t own a small business in Canada. Many of those people are fucked.

    No, I’m not kidding.

    Small business owners are not fucked because of the lockdown. They’re fucked because of the pandemic. If movement restrictions were lifted tomorrow, small businesses, e.g. restaurant owners, would still be in the same dire position, because people would not be visiting restaurants where they run the risk of getting infected, or infecting someone. Same goes for bars, farmers’ markets, etc.

    TEH CONOMYNIE won’t bounce back the second restrictions are lifted. We’re not all chomping at the bit for bars to open so we can race inside with wheelbarrows of cash. Or lining up to take advantages of exotic vacation deals once we’re finally cleared to travel.

    8/10 people here aren’t going anywhere until the pandemic is under some semblance of control. I’d wager that even the protesting mouthbreathers would think twice. For them, this isn’t about economic hardship, but about deflecting attention from the colossal fuckup that was the US government’s reaction to the pandemic.

  23. B. Traven:
    I’m not sure where to start. Maybe here: lots of people in these comments give your their bona-fides up front in a post to prove ingroup status with you, and I am not going to do that. Here’s my most negative things: I live in the US, I have 3 children, I voted for Trump, I am more of a Republican than anything else, I abhor the lockdown, I have no specific animosity or affinity for nature, and I like driving. I think the first world is a wonderful place to live. I’m an easy target.

    You are. But there’s a lot to unpack here, and some ambiguity in your wording. A lot of people “abhor” the lockdown, while still seeing the need for it. And I can imagine a whole range of reasons why one might vote for Trump that don’t necessarily include being an idiot (I once advocated voting for the man myself, in the wistful hope that he’d weaken the USA enough to give Canada some breathing space before you guys ran out of fresh water and decided to “spread democracy” north of the 49th).

    Without knowing your specific reasons, I can’t pass judgment on your specific decisions. But there’s no shortage of MAGAnites who’ve been quite publicly explicit about their reasons, and I stand by my assessment. Those people are morons.

    Dr. Watts, have you read any James Kuntsler?

    I read a couple of his essays back during “Long Emergency” days. Haven’t really followed him since (didn’t know his stance on gay marriage until just now when I dropped in on his Wikipedia page). I’ve read none of his fiction.

    I’ve read in earlier posts of yours where you cautioned against ad hominem attacks (look at the data!) and yet we sure see a lot of, I don’t know the proper Latin, perhaps “ad populous” attacks in your blog? Labeling whole groups (or all of us) as idiotic based on behaviors and data?

    “Based on behaviors and data” seems pretty key here. What else should I base my assessments on?

    You’re obviously an educated guy (which admittedly is giving me a bit of dissonance given your voting preferences); you’re aware of the difference between “this person is an idiot therefore we can dismiss their opinions” and “this person’s opinions make no fucking sense, therefore they’re an idiot”. You know the litany of Trump’s idiocy, from climate change being a Chinese Hoax to the suggestion that we can cure C19 by injecting disinfectant into our veins. You know the number of outright lies and self-contradictions the man emits day to day. If you’ve been paying any attention you’ve probably lost count of the number of times he’s praised his own intellect, while simultaneously committing an endless series of boners like confusing the Pulitzer with the “Noble”. You’ve seen him admit to the necessity of a lockdown one day, and tweet LIBERATE MICHIGAN the next. You’ve seen him roll back environmental protections and cut funding for pandemic response and then, when Pestilence came calling, blame Obama for the fact that cupboard was bare. (If you do grant credence to Kunstler’s ecological dystopias— or to mine— I’m going to assume that you’re not a climate-change denier, and that you recognize the value of environmental protections). And you’ve seen the MAGAnites parroting those talking points on command, or denying that they were ever made in the first place.

    These are not matters of opinion. This stuff has been documented and recorded along a dozen axes; the quote that heads up this very post is but one case in point. People are literally saying Fuck the lockdown; God will protect us, piling into their megachurches— and coming down with Covid-19. State health authorities literally have to release PSAs telling people not to drink disinfectant, because so many MAGAnites took that seriously.

    How can it possibly be ad hominem to describe such people as idiots, when they convict themselves with their own actions?

    Maybe that’s the yardstick, but I’ll tell you this; there’s a whole lotta people you consider “idiots” in your precious little supply chain that keeps your pantry stocked (12.5% of Canada’s workforce, depending on how you slice it)

    Okay. Did I leave you with the impression that I’d suggested otherwise?

    makes your lemon-soaked paper napkins for your trips to Lithuania or wherever for one of those post-postmodern conferences, tops off the Jet-A in the tanks for your big old carbon footprint-trip back home

    Um, I’m actually stomping a far smaller carbon footprint onto the planet than you are. In fact I could fly across the Atlantic every week of the year and still not have as big a bootprint as someone who’s had even a single offspring. Next to someone who’s parented three, I’m a goddamn carbon saint.

    Ok, I lied. I’ll give you one ingroup thing. I also love John Brunner.

    Which only increases my own level of dissonance, given the punchline at the end of The Sheep Look Up. Not to open a can of worms, but given all these bona fides: why did you vote for Trump? And would you do it again?

  24. Fatman: No, I’m not kidding.

    Small business owners are not fucked because of the lockdown. They’re fucked because of the pandemic. If movement restrictions were lifted tomorrow, small businesses, e.g. restaurant owners, would still be in the same dire position, because people would not be visiting restaurants where they run the risk of getting infected, or infecting someone. Same goes for bars, farmers’ markets, etc.

    TEH CONOMYNIE won’t bounce back the second restrictions are lifted. We’re not all chomping at the bit for bars to open so we can race inside with wheelbarrows of cash. Or lining up to take advantages of exotic vacation deals once we’re finally cleared to travel.

    8/10 people here aren’t going anywhere until the pandemic is under some semblance of control. I’d wager that even the protesting mouthbreathers would think twice. For them, this isn’t about economic hardship, but about deflecting attention from the colossal fuckup that was the US government’s reaction to the pandemic.

    You kind of undercut your own argument. If people are going to stay away in droves anyway, why bother with the government restrictions?

  25. Phil: You kind of undercut your own argument. If people are going to stay away in droves anyway, why bother with the government restrictions?

    To keep away the 20% who are dumb enough not to stay away, and would then spread the infection to the remaining 80%?

    Because even with almost everyone under some form of lockdown 60K are dying a month?

    IDK, it might not be a perfect solution, but it’s the only one proven to be effective at this point.

  26. Fatman,

    On the plus side, all my money’s in Costco and Walmart shares, where all those people out to buy food now buy their electronics instead of that computer shop down the street.

  27. Kind of agree with Ms. Marvel there but not because we’re angels but rather sheeples without anywhere as much agency as we think we have. It is this fact that makes more high-minded solutions seem beyond reach.

    Clotting would make sense, wouldn’t it? Based on what the thing does.

    Latest HBO Axios focused partly on farmers destroying milk and crops due to lack of demand from normal restaurant customers. Figured we’ll also have shortages at the same time.

    I had thought we might at least see, during the space between C19 and what comes next, FOX and some of these other disinfo “entertainment” {what shall we call this? Homocideducational? Murdinfo?} would get their pants sued off. However, I am seeing still more alt-right sites appearing and presenting {Colbert’s term} truthy info, like the requirement of exposure to bacteria and viruses in order to build *and maintain* a healthy immune system. Half true, but so slanted toward the “job killers” {calling them what they really are; the point is to eliminate costs, labor being one of them} that one can see past the bull without the doctor having to behave like Alex Jones.

    In other words, they thought this thru and have “scientists” at the ready to defend your right to die making our overlords richer with pseudoscience worded such that judges and juries won’t know WTF to do.

    Finally, my VR cherry on top of this multilayer shitcake, imagine for a moment that it did escape from a lab and that the people who screwed up never actually intended to release it; that from their perspective, it was an accident. But then imagine that brainhacking works in such a way that one can act without realizing one is acting. Kind of like those shoot-first helmets. What do we call that? How would we ever know? How do you function in a world where that is possible?

    Grab a fork.

  28. Yesterday I watched the eco-documentary “Planet of the Humans”, directed by Jeff Gibbs and executive producer, Michael Moore. Full disclosure, it was very depressing to say the least. Some highlights (spoiler alert): What is the silicon used in solar panels made out of? No, not sand, the silicon used in solar panels is made by smelting quartz with coal in a coal furnace; Deforesting the Amazon to produce more ethanol out of sugar cane; Coal power plants are being replaced with Biomass Power Plants which burn wood chips produced from trees.

    Bottom line, there are too many humans consuming too much too fast. An Economy based on consumption is the problem, the mindset that the more that is consumed the better off everyone will be.

  29. I’m struck by something a climate scientist said in an interview about 15 years ago.

    How do you avoid the worst effects of climate change?

    Be over 40.

    And that I think is the answer to your last question. Climate change lets the elderly off the hook. Not just the Rupert Murdoch’s of the world but a good chunk of his customers. Covid 19 on the other hand is an imminent threat.

  30. Whenever some Trump supporter or Brexiteer starts talking about in-group biases I for some reason start to imagine a hypothetical discussion between Flat Earthers and Astronomers.

    Flat Earther: You call us stupid and say we are ignorant, but you are just being tribal. We just have a different perspective to you. That doesn’t make us wrong or bad just different.

    Astronomer: You reject objective standards of argument and evidence. You ignore facts for opinions, faith and gut feelings.

    Flat Earther: Oh Astronomers! Don’t you see that your focus on rationality, evidence, and “facts” is just a way of signaling your ingroup status! Opinions, faith, and gut feelings are just as valuable in understanding the natural world.

    Astronomer: Look, we are experts who have spent our lives trying to ascertain the truth about the world. We are a community that builds on our knowledge with a peer-reviewed literature process that is constantly challenged.

    Flat Earther: There you go again showing off with your fancy peer-reviewed literature. Don’t you realise you are just in an echo chamber? Try watching Fox and Friends sometime to help you how much richer the world is outside your “peer-reviewed literature”

  31. Fatman: furbizia

    I’m not Italian. I misremembered the dates, Spain closed down schools on the 13th and began quarantine measures on the 15th of March when the total dead was less than 120, two weeks later while in full lockdown we were up to 6000. I was in the boonies myself at this time so I only moved a week later (That’s why I misremembered the dates), by then it was too late, obviously. It’s been an object lesson in exponential growth for all of us.

    Hindsight is 20/20 but politically I can’t see shutting borders (Flights from Italy were banned on the 9th) or quarantine measures of this force being instituted earlier in any feasible way. I was puzzling how to convince my relatives to take unilateral measures in their businesses when the government thankfully stepped in. The Cassandra problem applies, a closure a week earlier would’ve saved thousands of lives, but would’ve been exponentially (ha!) more difficult to enact. In a way the Italian warning was squandered, but in another the shutdown would not have been possible without the stark example next door.

    The goddamn borders are back! On the weekend of the 18th I drove across one of them to enter Portugal. Two days later the abandoned border control buildings were back in operation. This was not a step lightly taken, I assure you.

    Italy being culturally and ethnically similar was a big factor in pushing Spain to play along, I’m sure the Swedes, Dutch and Belgians could easily dismiss this whole thing as something that happens to sloppy southern foreigners who don’t know how to wash their hands. Unfortunately the virus may be expressing itself differently according to phenotypes, so they may be right for the wrong reasons.

    Peter Watts: I like to think that Darwin Awards are reserved for people whose zero fitness is inadvertent. Given that my own is entirely advertent.

    See, I know that, but I can’t help noticing that the fear of social consequences is almost as strong an aversive as the fear of physical harm. To the point that those who don’t have it (Trump being a good example) appear to have a superpower in comparison to the rest of us. So tripping over the wrong memecomplex may be in effect no different than enjoying bungee jumping with home made gear as a teenager. The results are the same as far as Darwin is concerned.

    Maybe Boko Haram is onto something…

  32. Ugh, forgot to put my name on my last post and it’s vanished into the moderation queue… well, ’tis the way of all information to vanish into entropy…

  33. Nestor,

    In the immortal words of Vincent Furnier, “Welcome to my nightmare…”

    It will show up eventually, I’ve learned…

  34. Anonymous: I’m sure the Swedes, Dutch and Belgians could easily dismiss this whole thing as something that happens to sloppy southern foreigners who don’t know how to wash their hands.

    Nah. If there are any takeaways from this pandemic, it’s that the veneer of Western/Northern civilized superiority is very thin indeed.

    I flew back to the US from an African country just as the dung was starting to hit the fan. Spent most of February there. Handwashing stations even in roadside eateries, disinfectant wipes handed out in supermarkets. When the first suspected cases appeared, the government ordered everything to shut down. At the same time, the ‘Murican government was calling the virus a Chinese/liberal/lizardman hoax and telling people it’s no worse than a cold.

    Fast forward a month and change. Over one million infected in the Land of the Free, and a body count higher than all of our overseas misadventures from ‘Nam onward. Meanwhile the third-world backwater I departed has had a grand total of 90 confirmed cases and 3 deaths. Sure, some of it probably due to low testing, but still.

  35. What I’m shocked by currently is the attitude that Premier Ford has taken in all this.

    He seems *reasonable* in his behaviour. Is there something I’m missing about him? I mean, of course, but in this instance I would have thought he would have dragged his feet on the emergency measures and closures and promoted as many businesses to stay open as possible and expanded what is an essential service to the point of meaninglessness once he figured out the economic consequences of a shutdown against his own party platform.

    Why has he gone against my expectations and what did I miss? Opportunity for learning, here.

  36. Tim Sellmer: Tim Sellmer, on April 30th, 2020 at 12:12 pm Said:
    What I’m shocked by currently is the attitude that Premier Ford has taken in all this.

    He seems *reasonable* in his behaviour. Is there something I’m missing about him? I mean, of course, but in this instance I would have thought he would have dragged his feet on the emergency measures and closures and promoted as many businesses to stay open as possible and expanded what is an essential service to the point of meaninglessness once he figured out the economic consequences of a shutdown against his own party platform.

    Why has he gone against my expectations and what did I miss? Opportunity for learning, here.

    Ford is self-centred, greedy and wants control over his environment. That said, he’s not stupid. If you believe the dope dealing allegations, it’s an example of him thinking ahead, planning carefully and staying focused so he doesn’t get caught while amassing his own fortune. Drugs were never the goal. Control over his environment and money were what he wanted. He got what he wanted.
    The Ontario Conservatives are simply the best vehicle for him to gain substantial political power, nothing more. He’ll keep that power by doing what’s necessary to solve the high profile problems. This will get him lots of votes in the next election.

  37. Peter Watts: Um, I’m actually stomping a far smaller carbon footprint onto the planet than you are. In fact I could fly across the Atlantic every week of the year and still not have as big a bootprint as someone who’s had even a single offspring. Next to someone who’s parented three, I’m a goddamn carbon saint.

    This is only true though if your children and their children are also consumerist swines that contribute to degrading the environment. On the contrary, having a child as an indigenous tribes-person does not contribute to CO2 levels more than e.g. a bear having a cub.

    Dale Allen: Bottom line, there are too many humans consuming too much too fast. An Economy based on consumption is the problem, the mindset that the more that is consumed the better off everyone will be.

    Completely agree. I hope this crisis will shift people’s priorities in life a little further towards health/medicine instead of mindless consumerism. I hope every manager and executive assistant loses their jobs and income forever.

    Also, regarding Trump, I like to think of him as something not quite self-aware, something more like a machine. Like some rogue AI turning worlds to post-stamps, he’s intelligent in the sense that he’s good at what he does and does it successfully, but at the same time he lacks some of the facets that baseline humans have, and his actions are all directed by some over-arching utility function that keeps directing him to make more stamps/obtain more power.

    But then again, all humans are machines and whatever happens happens because of statistical physics. I think in the long run humans will definitely survive because we’re entropically favorable.

  38. Great post, Peter! Thanks for your… gulp… hopeful view. Another fear-enhanced development seems to be people planting way more vegetables, often organically, this spring. Whoa. Never thought I’d see it happen, but organic seed and sprouts buying has risen significantly this year, spiking best-case demand predictions in several countries.

    No idea if this will translate into environmental improvement, but by the end of Summer 2020, if humanity persists, it might. That’s my hope.

    Gulp.

  39. Tran Script: This is only true though if your children and their children are also consumerist swines that contribute to degrading the environment.

    A very important distinction – thank you for pointing out.

    Sadly, the prevailing trend for people in non-consumerist-swine societies is to aspire toward mindless-consumerist-swine status, with a carbon bootprint to match.

    I share your hope for a less mindless-consumerist-swine world, but also subscribe to the old “wish in one hand, shit in the other” adage.

  40. RE: reinfections:

    “Tests in recovered patients found false positives, not reinfections, experts say”
    http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20200429000724

  41. Dale Allen: Yesterday I watched the eco-documentary “Planet of the Humans”, directed by Jeff Gibbs and executive producer, Michael Moore.

    I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, but it’s certainly stirred up a shitstorm. I’m generally very skeptical of people who rail against anything that makes people “lose hope”— and anyone who dismisses any discussion of population reduction as “ecofascism” can fuck themselves up the ass with a cactus— but according to a review I read by Elizabeth May, a lot of the claims in that movie are flat-out wrong. (Apparently they were making it back in 2012, and simply didn’t bother to update their facts to reflect eight years of technological progress.)

    Dale Allen: Bottom line, there are too many humans consuming too much too fast. An Economy based on consumption is the problem, the mindset that the more that is consumed the better off everyone will be.

    That’s a bottom line I agree with, at least. If the criticisms I’ve read have any validity to them, it’s just too bad this particular movie played fast-and-loose with the truth to to get there.

    Jose: How do you avoid the worst effects of climate change?

    Be over 40.

    Good line. Good point.

    Tim Sellmer: What I’m shocked by currently is the attitude that Premier Ford has taken in all this.

    He seems *reasonable* in his behaviour. Is there something I’m missing about him?

    I’ll admit it took me by surprise as well; I expected a much more Trump-like response. That said, let’s not give him too much credit. He may call service workers “heroes”, but he didn’t rescind the legislation that cut the $15 minimum wage out from under them. And sure, in the wake of C19 he pumped twenty million into Covid research; that’s still less than the twenty-five million he cut from the health research budget last year. I don’t see replacing part of what you slashed as an especially far-sighted strategy.

    He certainly seems to be getting significant political mileage out of his covid moves, though. He may be an asshole, but he’s not an idiot.

    Tran Script: This is only true though if your children and their children are also consumerist swines that contribute to degrading the environment.

    Very true. The study I linked to was explicitly talking about first-world consumers when it derived those numbers.

    That said, though, B. Traven self-describes as a Republicanesque Trump supporter with “no specific affinity” for nature, who likes driving. With three children. What are the odds that any of those children are gonna drop off the grid and start gardening for a living?

    I mean, before the collapse of the grid leaves them no other choice?

  42. @ Peter Watts, “Apparently they were making it back in 2012, and simply didn’t bother to update their facts to reflect eight years of technological progress.”

    I’ve gone back and read the Elizabeth May review “Michael Moore’s dreadful, ill-informed, unhelpful film” and read Ketan Joshi’s critique “Planet of the humans: A reheated mess of lazy, old myths”. Both make some valid points about the some of the information represented in the movie about the wind and solar technology as being outdated. The movie project was probably started about decade ago and appears to have been a work in progress right up to the release date; there’s a part in the movie that shows a 2015 Earth Day and a lot of the last half of the movie looks to be more recent. They definitely should have edited out some of the older outdated wind and solar information in the film.

    Michael Moore has always been provocative and somewhat fast-and-loose with the facts since I knew him in Flint, Michigan, back when he was publishing “The Michigan Voice” 40 years ago.

    However, the slash and burn agriculture being done in the Amazon for growing sugar cane for ethanol, as we witnessed the wild fires in Brazil last summer is real. Both May and Joshi point out the information in movie on wind and solar being outdated/miss-leading, but don’t really talk about Biomass Energy Plants. Joshi does say, “Gibbs obviously has a long-running gripe with biomass, which has a whole range of serious issues associated with it. Though I don’t know the industry well, I suspect many of his gripes there are valid.”

  43. > and otherwise helping to weed themselves out of the equation.

    I somewhat dislike this version of social darwinism. Yes, humans are stupid. Problem is – why, and what to do about it? Yes, there is povetry of the minds – but just stating this will not help (and so making more specialized specialists will not help)

  44. The criticism of Moore’s/Gibb’s film is valid on several factual pints but not only misses the point but is also incredibly quiet on its main argument. The fact is that the environmental movement has migrated away from the consumption issue to techno-utopian visions of giving all of humanity the same lifestyle as your average American. Does anyone actually believe that we can get to a world where billions of people drive Teslas powered by Solar, and that this can have no environmental consequences?

  45. A couple of weeks back I rewatched the great Five Million Years to Earth, aka Quatermass and the Pit, which features the following exchange between Quatermass and Dr. Roney:

    Quatermass: “Roney, if we found out earth was doomed – say, by climatic changes – what would we do about it?”

    Roney: “Nothing. Just go on squabbling as usual.”

    1967, man.

  46. Here we go. Doesn’t creating laws for immunity imply one thinks there is and can be a reason for being sued?

    https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/04/28/no-consequences-negligence-kills-mcconnell-wants-corporate-immunity-covid-19

  47. Andrew Randrianasulu: I somewhat dislike this version of social darwinism.

    This is the kind of social Darwinism I like best. There’s not even the merest whiff of eugenics about it; there’s no top-down imposition, no death camps, no enforced sterilization (of the sort we Canadians have practiced within distressingly recent memory). These people are doing it to themselves. They’re demanding to be able to do it to themselves. They are literally apoplectic at the prospect that they might be prevented from throwing themselves naked out the airlock.

    I love, love, love this kind of Social Darwinism.

    Greg Guy: The fact is that the environmental movement has migrated away from the consumption issue to techno-utopian visions of giving all of humanity the same lifestyle as your average American.

    They don’t stop there. There’s also an increasingly knee-jerk tendency to tar anyone who disagrees with them— who has the temerity to suggest that “too many people” is, in fact, the root of the problem— with labels like “racist” and “ecofascist”. The argument being that societies with the highest birth rates (in the developing world) have far smaller per-capita carbon footprints that those of us in the developed one.

    Which is of course true, as far as it goes. Which is why it puzzles me that their “solution” consists of raising everyone to the same planet-killing standard of living. (Such advocates also don’t seem especially mollified when I explain that my vision of enforced population control would be aimed squarely at profligate western societies.)

    PhilRM: 1967, man.

    Human Nature. Still the same after 50,000 years.

    Whoever: Doesn’t creating laws for immunity imply one thinks there is and can be a reason for being sued?

    Pretty much.

  48. Fatman,

    I’ll agree to disagree with you on just how easy it is or is not to find out what is really happening beyond the mainstream press’ accounts, except to say this: Yes, there are a lot of accessible sources of information out there if you’re willing and able to dig for them, but I suspect that an awful lot of people don’t even know that those sources are out there.

    People certainly won’t learn about them by watching Fox News or MSNBC, etc.

    You said,

    Not sure where you’re based, but in the US we pretended that everything was “business as usual” and trotted out specious comparisons to death tolls of the seasonal flu (lie) and car accidents (stupid). “Official sources” are still giving contradictory advice today. The Italians and Spaniards made obscene gestures at the TV screen and completely ignored government recommendations. Meanwhile China and South Korea were shutting entire cities down and spraying disinfectant in the streets.

    People are following the rules now, which is indeed surprising, but let’s not pretend it didn’t take them a while to get there. And all they had to do was sit on their asses, poke their phones and watch some bad shows on Netflix. No real sacrifice required.

    This kind of supports my point, I think. I’m based in Canada, and here too our officials were slow to take things seriously. (As was I, for the record and unlike my wife, who took it seriously pretty much as soon as the initial Wuhan outbreak was reported.) It is only recently that wearing masks has been recomended.

    That said, here in Ottawa, people have been mostly taking the lock-down seriously for at least six or so weeks. And my impression of the situation in the US is that the people are by and large taking the pandemic a lot more seriously than your federal and many state and local governments are.

    At any rate, I don’t find it remotely “surprising” that people are doing the right thing; most of us just need to be convinced the threat is real.

  49. I just watched Planet of the Humans and enjoyed it. Anyone who watches a Michael Moore film looking for balance is an idiot. The guy’s a polemicist, and a good one. Looking to him for balance is like looking to Foucault for solutions.

    Sure, the film could have used a clip with an updated efficiency rating for solar panels, and pointed out that they don’t all have to be placed in massive arrays, that they’re probably best on people’s roofs. And, yes, building solar panels, and electric cars, is not more destructive than building and deploying drilling equipment and making gas powered cars. But none of these technologies, green or fossil, actually help the environment. Some are just less harmful than others. And that’s not much of a consolation when global population continues to grow, and everyone on this planet, understandably, wants to have the same as what people who have more than them have.

    People on the right will jump (and are) on this film as a reason to not do anything. Yeah, over-population yada yada, fossil fuel consumption, there’s shit loads of oil, and burning it is cleaner than solar, etc. They’re assholes, and idiots, and their minds won’t be changed by anything that doesn’t affect them directly and immediately.

    As far as environmentalists having a problem with this film (and I’ve read May’s piece on the Green Party website), maybe they’re part of the capitalist co-opted cabal who believe in a pollyanna future “if we all just pull together and do the right thing” that the film is explicitly calling out.

    Yeah, maybe the film could have gone back to the population thing mentioned about halfway through, maybe could have looked for solutions such as the human extinction movement. But, Foucault. No one asked him to provide solutions (well, yeah they did, but fuck ’em). Didn’t make him wrong.

    It’s a great fucking film, because in the only real ways that count, it’s honest.

  50. Hey Peter. I don’t have much to say other than that I find your voice oddly comforting in these times. Your science-centric and evolutionary based perspectives are a breath of fresh air as a Michigan dwelling millenial who is subjects to rampant stupidity in this country. I posted one of your interviews to reddit: https://old.reddit.com/r/collapse/comments/gcmbdq/how_fucked_are_we_a_rundown_of_our_current/

    Thank you for being not just a voice of reason, but also a sardonically entertaining one too. Wish I could buy you a beer or three.

  51. The K: Also, since i remember you liking Fallout, have you tried Fallout 76?

    I have not (and if I do revisit that world, I’m likely to just play the original Fallout all over again in VR. Skyrim was certainly a new and wondrous experience in VR). A friend of mine came away from Fallout 76 a bit disappointed, said that it consisted of basically being a big asshole whose missions amounted to tearing down and wrecking everything you’d built in the original game. That was early days, granted. Maybe it’s gained nuance in the meantime.

    I’m even a little bit stalled out on Alyx right now. After a whole series of lightning dog encounters I discover that that little triffid-like thing clutching a little calcareous blob on the tip of its stalk is actually an organic grenade dispenser, so I’ve missed loading up on as many Xen grenades as I can carry. And the last time I encountered a Combine fabricator I was one lousy resin short of getting any new upgrades. Plus something fucked up in playspace calibration (only in Alyx, not in any other VR game) so I’m basically hovering a couple of feet above ground level and can’t physically grab anything lying on the floor any more. I can still use gravity gloves to snag stuff lying around loose but any useful items underneath bodies are now inaccessible.

    tl;dr I’m now hideously under-armed when I run into that fucking armored stormtrooper with the force-field shield outside the Northern Star. I keep dying 90 seconds into the level. So I’m not even playing Alyx that much any more.

    Just as well. I have a lot of work to do.

  52. Phil: Anyone who watches a Michael Moore film looking for balance is an idiot. The guy’s a polemicist, and a good one.

    If you regard Moore’s works as documentaries you will be outraged. If you think of them as feature-length, full-motion political cartoons— with all the caricature-in-the-service-of-making-a-point that implies—you’ll find them a lot more on-target.

    Andrew: Thank you for being not just a voice of reason, but also a sardonically entertaining one too. Wish I could buy you a beer or three.

    I wish you could too. Although you’d have to come up here to do that, even after they lift the lockdown; thanks to events that went down last time I was trying to leave your neck of the woods I’m not welcome in the US any more.

    (Although truth be told, “welcomed” was never really what I felt crossing that border even when I was allowed to.)

  53. Peter Watts: They don’t stop there. There’s also an increasingly knee-jerk tendency to tar anyone who disagrees with them— who has the temerity to suggest that “too many people” is, in fact, the root of the problem— with labels like “racist” and “ecofascist”. The argument being that societies with the highest birth rates (in the developing world) have far smaller per-capita carbon footprints that those of us in the developed one.

    Well, it’s not the numbers themselves that are the problem, it’s that we have a sick society where everybody wants to live like a god while at the same time being stuck in false realities. If we invested in public transport, nuclear power plants, and high-tech farming (i.e. no organic bullshit, but optimized GMO plants etc.) etc. we would significantly reduce emissions within no time.
    Unfortunately in the real world, the very same people who rail about climate change are also against the technologies that have the biggest potential to slow down climate change right here and now. Humankind literally has the technology to save itself, it’s just stuck in some mental narrative feedback loops and the only way to get out is shock therapy.

    Also, the reason why people might have kneejerk reactions to the numbers argument is because they’ve heard it too many times from people who genuinely think that giving the 3rd world contraceptives would fix the issues, i.e. Africans should stop breeding so they can keep driving their big SUV.

  54. Anonymous: It is only recently that wearing masks has been recomended.

    I suspect that the mask thing was deliberate, to prevent from people hoarding them and making them unavailable for front-line workers.

    Americans generally have a bizarre reaction to emergencies. In my area, pharmacies ran out of hand sanitizer and wipes as soon as the news started coming in from China, way before we had any cases or anyone even hinted at a lockdown. So I can see authorities being hesitant to recommend masks to prevent idiots from stockpiling them like they stockpiled toilet paper.

    Anonymous: And my impression of the situation in the US is that the people are by and large taking the pandemic a lot more seriously than your federal and many state and local governments are.

    I also find this encouraging. I just wish it didn’t take corpses stacked like cordwood to get to the point of taking things seriously.

    Anonymous: At any rate, I don’t find it remotely “surprising” that people are doing the right thing; most of us just need to be convinced the threat is real.

    You’d think. And yet those most affected by extreme weather and “century storms” tend to also be the ones who believe climate change to be a Chinese hoax.

  55. Link to new paper out of Los Alamos —

    ‘Spike mutation pipeline reveals the emergence of a more transmissible form of SARS-CoV-2’
    https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.29.069054v1.full.pdf

    The Theoretical Biology and Biophysics Group at Los Alamos National Laboratory has been synthesizing global data for the last two months. They are drawing on the work of groups in the UK and China particularly.

    This new one is not entirely unsuspected — there was an earlier paper from Los Alamos about two weeks back that pegged R0 for COV19 at 5.7. I ran the paper by some real life-scientists and got a varied response, with some push-back. Well, this latest paper moves the higher transmissibility rate towards being ‘official.’

    It’s also not entirely unexpected in that higher transmissibility was where you’d expect COV19 mutation to go.

    One possible ray of hope here is that where mutation might also take COV19 is towards less virulence and lethality i.e. diseases that kill their individual host animals too quickly — Ebola is the prime instance that comes to my mind — tend not to be transmitted and reproduce in new hosts. A successfully reproducing pathogen, conversely, will tend to mutate towards less lethality.

    No evidence that we’re seeing this yet with COV19, though.

  56. Another unfortunate possibility I’ve previous mentioned re. COV19 does _not_ appear in the Los Alamos paper. There’s a possibility that the bug exploits antibody-derived enhancement (ADE) —

    More input now on that below. First, for them that don’t know —
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antibody-dependent_enhancement

    “Antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE), sometimes less precisely called immune enhancement or disease enhancement, is a phenomenon in which binding of a virus to non-neutralizing antibodies enhances its entry into host cells, and sometimes also its replication.[1] This phenomenon—which leads to both increased infectivity and virulence—has been observed with mosquito-borne flaviviruses such as Dengue virus, Yellow fever virus and Zika virus,[2][3] with HIV, and with coronaviruses.”

    As I say, there’ve been several research groups here and there releasing papers that suggest COV19 also exploits ADE. See forex —

    ‘Is antibody-dependent enhancement playing a role in COVID-19 pathogenesis?’
    DOI: https://doi.org/10.4414/smw.2020.20249

    ‘Is COVID-19 receiving ADE from other coronaviruses?’
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7102551/

    ‘Impact of immune enhancement on Covid-19 polyclonal hyperimmune globulin therapy and vaccine development’
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7161485/

  57. Apologies for duplication if I’ve double-posted this. I thought I sent this through before the ADA comment —

    Link to new paper out of Los Alamos —

    ‘Spike mutation pipeline reveals the emergence of a more transmissible form of SARS-CoV-2’

    https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.29.069054v1.full.pdf

    The Theoretical Biology and Biophysics Group at Los Alamos National Laboratory has been synthesizing global data for the last two months. They are drawing on the work of groups in the UK and China particularly.

    This new one is not entirely unsuspected — there was an earlier paper from Los Alamos about two weeks back that pegged R0 for COV19 at 5.7. I ran that paper by some real life-scientists and got a varied response, with some push-back. Well, this latest paper moves the higher transmissibility rate towards being ‘official.’

    It’s also not entirely unexpected in that higher transmissibility was where you’d expect COV19 mutation to go.

    One possible ray of hope here is that where mutation might also take COV19 is towards less virulence and lethality i.e. diseases that kill their individual host animals too quickly — Ebola is the prime instance that comes to my mind — tend not to be transmitted and reproduce in new hosts. A successfully reproducing pathogen, conversely, will tend to mutate towards less lethality.

    No evidence that we’re seeing this yet with COV19, though.

  58. Aww! I waited ages before checking the crawl again and we’re STILL not at the point in the C19-rifterscape where we seriously discuss biome-protective bodysuits. With matching helmets/hoods. 🙁

    Instead there’s grown-ups talking about stats and apocalyptic outcomes. And important science-y stuff and research.

    I just want a suit. sniff. (half-jokingly) Its what we should be focusing our talents on, especially if molehills are going to become the new norm. Lots of people have displayed excellent sartorial skills in mask-making – I am sewing-challenged and am in awe of such people but they clearly have no competitive traits because the all-out couture warfare / one-up-man-ship I hoped it would devolve into, to get to where I want them to get to, isn’t happening. 🙁

    Taking my silly childish ass elsewhere to mourn this forever-hole in the fashionscape.

  59. I suspect it has less to do with the human brain sucking at numbers, but that it prioritize close threats way above distant threats.

    That lion or snake across the river is less of a problem than the same right in your face.

    Similarly an invisible enemy, covid, among us right now trip the near threat trigger while GW a decade or more distant is “academic” compared to today’s shelter, food and procreation needs.

  60. One of the most hair-raising articles I’ve seen in a long time came up recently. It appears that the technocrats are in fact quite happy with the pandemic, as it is letting them expand their dreams of a hypercapitalist surveillance state.

    https://theintercept.com/2020/05/08/andrew-cuomo-eric-schmidt-coronavirus-tech-shock-doctrine/

    It’s really the perfect situation for them, the economic crash isn’t bad enough that mega-corporations are in serious danger of imploding if they play their cards right, but it’s bad enough that all the small fish will die off, leaving just the sharks to eat up their remains. They get political points for “helping” while pushing worse and worse invasions of privacy and civil rights abuses. And of course, governments are helping this process along as much as they can.

    Now, will they get their wishes? It’s hard to say. Like you said, there are contradictory and equally true narratives, one of people banding together for the common good and another of nations everywhere getting ever more militarized and inhumane. I think that either way, this is the beginning of the end for the American Empire(or maybe, if you want, the downward slope of the second peak, with the first being in 2007). I think it might collapse under its own contradictions very quickly, for better or worse. In the grand scheme of things, it will be yet another failed state that couldn’t survive its own ecocide.

    Now, personally, I have a lot of hope for the people 200, maybe 300 years from now. They will be living in a completely different world, one much less hospitable to humans, but adapting to inhospitable conditions has always been something humans are good at. And I think that in the process of adapting(and, let’s make no mistake, dying en masse), maladaptations like nation-states and wasteful consumption will hit dead ends. Maybe people will learn not to repeat our mistakes too. Hard to say. But I also don’t really expect to live past 50.

  61. I just woke up this Sunday morning — yesterday Bulgarian time, to my father was watching an interview with you for BNT2 as a rerun in the kitchen. It was a weird thing to wake up to. It was about the dangers of AI or something, and you were obviously more concerned your booth, at this book festival, with your booth. It was a bit surreal.

  62. Popefucker wrote: “It appears that the technocrats are in fact quite happy with the pandemic, as it is letting them expand their dreams of a hypercapitalist surveillance state.”

    This was always coming.

    It’s not generally known, but the data surveillance programs that became Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness project, and which then were brought under NSA and DIA control, were originally started in 1998 as biodefense programs at MIT and Carnegie Mellon.

    They were initiated with good intentions (the road to hell and all that) as aware members of the scientific establishment in this period lost their shit as they became aware of what was achieved by the Manhattan Project-sized bioweapons program that the former USSR had run for two decades. You’d lose your shit too. I’m not going to tell you about what the Soviets did here — with far less advanced technology than exists today — but trust me on this.

    Those initial data surveillance programs, like W. Binney’s efforts at NSA, would have had anonymization built in. But the U.S. Washington/Wall Street/MIC establishment exploited the left’s outrage at the violation of privacy etc. to move the TIA programs into the black at NSA, DIA, etc. There would thenceforth be no anonymization, the establishment would totally control and exploit those programs, and matters became as Edward Snowden reported them in 2012.

    It should be noted, too, that the TIA group were deeply impressed in 2003 when they went out there looking for test data to run their algorithms on by the fact that the credit-reporting data-surveillance capitalist companies, like Acxiom et al, already had almost all the data they could possibly want, short of IOT-enabled lavatory monitoring.

    Fast forward to 2020 with COV19.

    Here’s a link to an account on Twitter by an American who’s just returned from South Korea. These were the measures that would have contained COV19 in the U.S. —
    https://twitter.com/michaelvkim/status/1258987354934538248

    These measures and those applied in China were and are practically and sociopolitically impossible in the U.S.

    Practically impossible because U.S. financial and business elites have so looted the material U.S. industrial/scientific base that, forex, the U.S. is too incompetent to implement coronavirus testing on the one-hundred members of the U.S. senate (millionaires all).

    Sociopolitically impossible because the ‘Right’ in the U.S. Red states would react to the attempted implementation of such measures as has been seen with the protests in Michigan. Meanwhile, the ‘Left’ in the Blue states would again hyperventilate about the violation of privacy as in the Intercept article you picked up.

    Water under the bridge, anyway. It’s now too late for such measures to be implemented across the U.S. as a whole.

    A virologist who’s spent two decades at USAMRIID, Lawrence Livermore, and NIAID pegs COV19’s R0 at 9.2 over the long term and expects 1 percent of the global population to die.

    Sounds bad? To put that in perspective, the ‘Spanish Flu’ of 1918-19 killed something like 2.3 to 5 percent of the U.S. population. We’re getting off light, as Peter Watts has previously. pointed out.

    Still, worse is on the way, with the Siberian permafrost melting and other encroachments on the non-human biology of this planet bringing various forms of blowback on us.

    To cut to the chase, then: What will the future look like?

    The future will be even more unevenly distributed, to paraphrase W. Gibson. To be facile, in the U.S. to some greater or lesser extent it’ll look a bit like that old movie ZARDOZ.

    That is, there’ll be a population of Brutals in the former rustbelt/industrial heartlands supplying food and other produce and goods to enclaves of technocratic advance. These enclaves will probably be primarily on the East Coast around Boston and Cambridge and on the West Coast around Silicon Valley. But they could also include anywhere with the awareness and wherewithal to achieve a degree of insulation and self-sufficiency from the general chaos e.g. forex, perhaps the Lakota in S. Dakota who are now insisting on their sovereignty and good for them —

    ‘Oglala Lakota enforce coronavirus border checkpoints after South Dakota Governor’s threats’
    https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2020/05/10/18832965.php

    More generally, we may see some Blue U.S. states like those in the western states pact enforcing border controls against Red states —
    https://www.nwprogressive.org/weblog/2020/04/washington-oregon-and-california-unveil-new-alliance-western-states-pact.html

    And so on.

    What about revolution against the technocratic elites and their ‘ invasions of privacy and civil rights abuses?’ Because the people damned well aren’t going to take it.

    Go ahead. Knock yourself out.

    Join the Red Staters protesting lockdowns; the anti-vaxxers protesting that they won’t succumb to Bill Gates’s evil vaccine plot if the Gates Foundation develops a vaccine; the Left protesting the privacy and civil rights abuses inherent in biosurveillance programs like those in S. Korea and China as ‘Techno-fascism’ or ‘Humanity Under House Arrest’ or ‘Neo-illiberalism’ —
    https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/oureconomy/neoliberalism-is-over-welcome-to-the-era-of-neo-illiberalism/
    … despite the fact that those are the only measures that have thus far proved effective against COV19.

    In other words, don’t get your vaccine passport. Don’t have access to the products of the new biogenetic technologies. (And those technologies are already advancing very fast and the impact of current events is accelerating that.)

    Go be a Brutal.

    All this is just the way it’s going to be. If you think that’s false, explain how it could be different.

    (Unless it’s worse. Because, again, we’re getting off light with COV19.)

  63. popefucker,

    Thanks for posting that link – interesting article. Pretty telling that Schmidt changed the narrative for his technology play from concerns over Chinese economic dominance to concerns about safe-guarding our health as soon as the possibility opened up.

    I find it very difficult to trust the motives of almost anyone in power. Even years ago working in a public institution in Ontario, I was told that the senior managers would usually use the phone instead of email so they didn’t have to be held to the things they said, and all these years later most of what I’ve experienced confirms the truth of this assessment. Duplicity in the service of consolidating and maintaining power seems encoded in the DNA of those who aspire to powerful positions.

    Trudeau, our Prime Minister up here, has undermined my confidence that our democracy is in safe hands in at least three ways:

    1. He made a promise in 2015 that if elected he would change the electoral system to be more representative. Once in power with a majority government he discovered that the system he wanted to bring in, which would have basically seen his party win every election from then on, wasn’t going to fly with those who were advocating for a more representative system, so he dropped the idea.

    2. SNC Lavalin, a major company in a vote rich area, was in danger of being barred from bidding on contracts for a decade, following a bribery scandal. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada (a weirdly combined position) wanted to prosecute. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) instructed her not to. She resisted on grounds of judicial independence, and after a behind the scenes tussle publicly spoke about the problem. The PMO called her a liar. She made public a recording of a phone call that clearly demonstrated she was telling the truth. They then denigrated her character because she had shown she could “not be trusted”.

    3. His minority government (really, the PMO – the consolidation of power in that office over the last 3 decades has been breathtaking) attempted to give itself 18 months of unlimited spending power to address the Covid-19 situation. The opposition parties noticed this, and stopped it.

    In short, the people in charge of imposing Covid-19 restrictions on us have shown themselves willing to undermine the people they are purportedly serving along democratic, judicial, and economic lines.

    I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories, but these power grabs “for our own good” make me really uneasy. If it was the Spanish Flu, where people in their 20s and 30s were disproportionately killed, I’d be more easily able to trust the reasons behind the measures. If a second wave of Covid-19 begins to mimic the second wave of Spanish Flu, I’ll trust them. But in the current situation where, in Canada, we’ve locked down society so effectively that we have too few infected people to adequately test a vaccine, yet have a government indicating that things will not return to normal until we have a vaccine, I find that I’m more afraid of government overreach than the virus. There’s a website called https://1daysooner.org/ that’s collecting names of those “interested in being exposed to the coronavirus to speed up vaccine development”, which I’ve added my name to because I’d like to see the lack of a vaccine removed as an excuse for long-term curtailment of civil liberties.

  64. Update: After looking at various papers and noting two serious concerns about COVID19 not being addressed in the discussions I saw, I ran my questions by a top virologist who spent more than twenty years at USAMRIID, Lawrence Livermore, and NIAD. My concerns —

    [1] No human population has ever developed herd immunity to a coronavirus to date, and to some extent such viruses’ very nature mitigates against ii.

    [2] More interestingly, there’s some evidence that COVID19 — again like other coronaviruses, most notably SARS — exploits antibody-derived enhancement. See forex —

    ‘Impact of immune enhancement on Covid-19 polyclonal hyperimmune globulin therapy and vaccine development’
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7161485/

    ‘Is COVID-19 receiving ADE from other coronaviruses?’

    His answer –

    The key to understanding ADE is that it is not universally observed, even in cases in Dengue. It can happen but not always. DEN vaccines are looking promising but have taken 40 years. When we think about vaccine safety this is a key consideration and an easy to measure aspect of the immune response.

    Different vaccines will elicit different immune responses so it is really a matter of trying different antigens and methods to deliver in phase 1.

    It is possible that we see ADE from the other corona viruses. SARS1 and 2 are about 70% similar. So it is a reasonable hypothesis. If we do have a significant problem with ADE then it will be possible to prescreen people for the antibodies that are causing the ADE and exclude them from trials or treatment. Not great but herd immunity is much more powerful then we give credit to.

    Me: So while we haven’t seen human herd immunity emerge with any previous coronavirus, this virologist thinks I’d be wrong to assume that it cannot eventually with COVID19.

    He also believes, however, that the virus’s R0 might actually be as high 9.2 and in the end the human global population will show a fatality rate of about 1 percent from the virus.

  65. Mark Pontin,

    You make a false dichotomy between Chinese-style fascism and US-style “liberty”. We could have good contact tracing that preserves privacy, it is not technically infeasible. We could keep people isolated, as is necessary, without deepening wealth inequality or giving the police yet another excuse to harass/kill black people. Not in the sense that these goals will be realized, but in the sense that there is nothing preventing them except lack of political will. The resources are all there, the people in charge are simply incompetent or power-hungry or both. You try to paint fascism as necessary, but it simply is not. Do you really think that China has only acted to control the virus? Do you really think they haven’t also been disappearing political dissidents and censoring news? Did you forget that part of the reason this whole fiasco blew up in the first place is because the Chinese government tried to hide the outbreak? These are the reasons to reject fascism, and you will notice that they are all counterproductive to outbreak control. Any competent government could have put in place good outbreak control measures, fascism only diverts resources away from that and towards consolidating political power.

    Nothing about that twitter thread you posted sounds unreasonable to me(except the app, which could be made much more private and secure — Google’s API is actually quite nice for this https://www.blog.google/documents/62/Exposure_Notification_-_Bluetooth_Specification_v1.1.pdf ). They sound like the actions of a competent government, not necessarily a fascist one, although South Korea has been known to have its own human rights abuses in the past and I would not be surprised if there was much more scumminess behind the scenes.

    I also find it disingenuous to lump everyone who doesn’t like the technocracy into the same boat. There are huge differences between anarchists and anti-vaxxers, they align on pretty much no issues and reject such ideas as ‘immunity certificates’ for completely different reasons. Anti-vaxxers because they think vaccines are evil, anarchists because they think such a thing will immediately be abused.

    I do think that, unfortunately, you are correct that the post-united states will look a lot like that. It already looks a lot like that.

    Phil,

    I just don’t trust governments period. Everything they do should be regarded with suspicion, in my opinion. They do the right thing sometimes(stay at home order? Mandatory vaccination? Sounds reasonable to me) but invariably it comes with fine print that causes more power to accumulate at the top of the pyramid. A politician simply can’t watch a popular, necessary bill go by without adding on a little something-something for their financiers — er — “constituents”.

  66. Mark Pontin,

    Nothing in that twitter thread sounds unreasonable to me(except the way that app works — a decentralized version would be much better in my opinion https://www.blog.google/documents/62/Exposure_Notification_-_Bluetooth_Specification_v1.1.pdf ). It sounds like the actions of a competent government, not a fascist one, although South Korea has been known to let human rights abuses slip before and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were still happening today.

    Let us not forget that part of the reason this whole fiasco started is because China tried to hide the outbreak. Fascism is not at all necessary to control an outbreak, in fact it is counterproductive. The resources that go towards maintaining a fascist state can only divert from outbreak control.

    Nothing about controlling the spread of diseases *necessitates* that the government be able to censor the news, or track political dissidents, or imprison people indefinitely without trial. Nothing about the present situation *necessitates* that wealth gets more unevenly distributed and police get even more free passes to do what they like with black people. And yet these are what is happening, because these are the things that the US government prioritizes. You will notice that the US already monitors the location and online activity of most US citizens, various corporations already have the capability to make detailed profiles of large segments of the population, and yet this doesn’t seem to help at all with catching terrorists, let alone limiting the spread of coronavirus. This is because that infrastructure isn’t built for that, it’s built for controlling the populace and selling the maximum amount of crap to them. The pandemic is just another convenient excuse to push more of the same. Give up your privacy and freedom all you want, it won’t help. The technocracy is not your friend and never will be.

    I also find it disingenuous to lump everyone who doesn’t like the emerging(well, emerged) technocracy into one group. Anti-vaxxers and anarchists have basically nothing in common.

  67. Anonymous,

    popefucker,

    (apologies for the double-post)

  68. Anonymous,

    You mention above

    “my impression of the situation in the US is that the people are by and large taking the pandemic a lot more seriously than your federal and many state and local governments are.

    At any rate, I don’t find it remotely ‘surprising’ that people are doing the right thing; most of us just need to be convinced the threat is real”

    so I’m a little surprised, given that, and your skepticism of government’s motives, that you back stay at home orders and mandatory vaccines. I’m generally of the view that voluntary buy-in is preferable. Admittedly, I’m oriented to the long-view on that stance, despite its pitfalls. Our host noted above that, “we’ll run like hell from the charging grizzly but we couldn’t care less about the slow boil”, yet I find I’m more concerned about the latter because it seems like something we genuinely have to work together on to prevent us all boiling to death. With the bear, I only need to out-run one other person, and given what I see around me, that’s not going to be a problem unless I trip. Getting out of the pot and figuring out how to turn down the temperature is going to take teamwork. On the one hand, I don’t feel a visceral concern about the future in that I’m of that age group which will avoid the worst aspects of our coming future, and I have no blood in the game anyway. On the other, in the same way I feel sadness at the dying of our coral reefs, I feel badly for future generations.

    Popefucker writes that he has some hope for us in a few centuries, after a bit of a shitshow, and that “maybe people will learn not to repeat our mistakes.” I agree with the first part, but learning not to repeat our errors I think will depend on how we approach the shitshow. The Green Party of Canada made the decision a number of years back to do politics the way the major parties do, and funneled all its money to one or two ridings in order to get one or two members elected. In my view, this did nothing but increase partisan divides, and I ceased to have anything to do with what I saw as an increasingly nasty dogfuck. To me, it makes more sense to take a sort of bicameral (to borrow a concept from our host) approach, and as the bicamerals did with science, do socially: Hike down to the valley to access a different and higher peak. In other words, act in a genuinely grassroots manner. It’s not about getting elected, and it’s not about power except in the sense, mentioned by Marion Dewar years ago, that power arises from sharing information. Make the arguments. Don’t force people. Let the force of the arguments and the weight of events do the talking. Show the way, with revisions to accommodate the changing (and worsening) circumstances.

    As you pointed out, “most of us just need to be convinced the threat is real”. Most of us will get vaccinated because it makes sense to do so. Herd immunity may be slightly impaired by those who choose, for whatever reason, not to get themselves or their kids vaccinated, but not enough to justify taking away individual autonomy. “We” can certainly make things happen quickly and efficiently at gunpoint, but I don’t think making the boats run on time is as important as ensuring that those of us on the boats genuinely want to be there and agree with where we’re sailing them. If we all understand and agree with the rationales behind the bearings we take through the coming storms, we’ll more likely be able to do something sustainable together when we get to the other side. To carry the analogy one step further, I think we’ll be better off on a flotilla of small ships, than on Carnival’s Mardi Gras.

  69. Anonymous: Any competent government could have put in place good outbreak control measures, fascism only diverts resources away from that and towards consolidating political power.

    And yet the number of governments that “put in place good outbreak control measures”, beyond China, can be counted on the fingers of one maimed hand.

    popefucker: Let us not forget that part of the reason this whole fiasco started is because China tried to hide the outbreak.

    Sorry, that’s absolute nonsense.

    The Chinese did fudge the numbers at the start, but things didn’t escalate to fiasco level until long after it was both clear a) what was going on, and b) what the necessary steps were to prevent the outbreak from spinning into a disaster.

    The Chinese government can be blamed for a lot, but not for the 300,000 who died due to incompetence and deliberate inaction in the rest of the world.

    Anonymous: Everything they do should be regarded with suspicion, in my opinion.

    True, and we should be generally wary of the ongoing erosion of privacy, technological intrusion into everyday lives, etc. And maybe with better education and teaching people critical thinking from an early age, the technocracy may one day lead us to not needing governments at all. But deciding whether to embrace this intrusion or not is still largely a matter of choice, which I believe was the gist of Mark’s post.

    I try to do as much as I can to keep my online profile low. I could opt to drive an unregistered van, burn my cell phone, try to survive by doing work for cash only, and barter with small organic farmers for meat and vegetables. Maybe try to live off the land. But I have grown hopelessly accustomed to the easy life in the emerged technocracy, so I use credit cards, shop and pay for stuff online. Prefer toilet paper to dry leaves. I realize that someone tracks all this data, stores and collates it and (maybe) uses it to keep tabs on me.

    But that’s my own choice. I want to order stuff from my computer and have it delivered to my door. I’m grateful that my parents had me vaccinated as a kid, and that I haven’t died, or been crippled for life by a completely preventable disease.

    I’m not ready to be a Brutal.

    More importantly, I don’t see it ultimately leading to some sort of authoritarian police state. We can make incoherent noises about “controlling the population” and brainwashing folks to buy stuff (how do people imagine this actually works, outside of edgelord dystopian stories?), but none of this is likely to happen. “Totalitarianism” has become a sort of umbrella concept that clueless people who have never experienced a day of life under totalitarianism like to fling about without much thinking.

    Totalitarianism requires commitment and sacrifice and a ton of forward thinking. Most of our Western-style bureaucrats look no further than staying in power so they can cash in the next paycheck. If they get voted out of office, they get to spend a few years in opposition, receiving the same benefits but not having to do any work. Eventually the faction currently in power becomes unpopular, and they get their bite of the apple again. Third-party costs, such as income inequality, environmental degradation and poverty, are blamed on their predecessors. Why push for totalitarianism, and have to deal with all this crap yourself?

    EDIT: double-posted again, please delete previous post.

  70. [1] Anon wrote: ‘We could have good contact tracing that preserves privacy, it is not technically infeasible’

    Popefucker wrote: ‘Nothing in that twitter thread sounds unreasonable to me (except the way that app works — a decentralized version would be much better in my opinion).

    Yes, of course. I told you that both the original biodefense surveillance programs that became TIA and W. Binney’s data surveillance programs for NSA anonymized all individual persons’ private data. Any specific human intervention by officials having access to the programs into specific persons’ data would have been monitored, audited, and regulated.

    In the real world, the anonymized TIA data surveillance programs and Binney’s at NSA were both subverted by federal-level elites in the U.S. precisely to obviate such anonymization. (At NSA, Director Michael Haydon was also motivated by the payoff available from big private MIC contractors if he farmed out development of these technologies to those contractors.)
    In the real world, as long as the U.S. federal structure exists, that’s probably how it’ll continue to play out in the U.S.

    We can hope for the U.S.’s collapse, along similar lines as that of the U.S.S.R., since the U.S. already is looted-out by its elites in terms of its effective capabilities. It seems not unlikely that over the next decade-and-a-half the dollar will cease to be the global reserve currency as it becomes increasingly clear the U.S. is a failed state. That’ll be a game-changer.

    But realistically, even then, the U.S. won’t collapse uniformly. Probably, Boston-Cambridge on the East Coast and Silicon Valley on the West Coast will maintain some preeminence in, respectively, biotech and IT, even as other parts of America become increasingly third-world — as large areas of the country in fact have always been.

    Overall, Gibson’s dictum about the future being unevenly distributed will become ever more obviously true of the U.S.

  71. [2] Popefucker wrote: “You will notice that the US already monitors the location and online activity of most US citizens, various corporations already have the capability to make detailed profiles of large segments of the population, and yet this doesn’t seem to help at all with catching terrorists, let alone limiting the spread of coronavirus”

    You’re confusing a number of things. Yes, the U.S. corporate and federal powers-that-be already have most of these capabilities – and they had them fifteen years ago. But: –

    (a) in the real world, there are no magic data surveillance algorithms that work for purposes of crime prevention and forecasting, and divining an individual’s unmanifested intent — for precrime purposes, in the Phil Dick/MINORITY REPORT coinage.

    This may change; technologies like automated facial expression recognition and others are emerging that can scope out interiority to some extent. Till then, data surveillance technologies aren’t going to be successful in catching smart terrorists and criminals with no previous history. How could they be?

    Conversely, data surveillance technologies can be very effective *forensically*, post-crime. For elites’ definition of ‘crime,’ which is almost never their own activities. Right?

    (b) Popefucker wrote: “(the existing U.S. data-surveillance) doesn’t seem to help at all … limiting the spread of coronavirus.”

    Well, you answer you own objection. You write, “Nothing about the present situation *necessitates* that wealth gets more unevenly distributed and police get even more free passes to do what they like with black people. And yet these are what is happening, because these are the things that the US government prioritizes.”

    Exactly. Those things are what U.S. elites choose to do with data surveillance, rather than disease control. If they cared about disease control, after all, they’d have a real healthcare system in the U.S., rather than the institutionalized racketering and immiseration of the general U.S. population they currently have. Yes?

    (b) Setting aside the pathologies of the U.S, the inarguable evidence from both S. Korea and China that for purposes of detection and control of pathogen spread in a population data surveillance, contract tracing, and _enforcement_of isolation (Popefucker, you’re okay with that $10,000 fine that South Korea uses on violators?) are effective — are the the only things that are, in fact.

    This understanding was what instigated the data surveillance programs in the U.S. in 1998. After the 2001 anthrax attacks (in the wake of the 9-11 attacks) I talked to a scientist at Lawrence Livermore. He made the not-unreasonable point that the only way they had of detecting a pathogen’s spread was if people got sick and the health authorities could detect that and whatever patterns existed.

    Currently, the medical journal THE LANCET has an editorial that states: “…only a steadfast reliance on basic public health principles, like test, trace, and isolate, will see the emergency brought to an end, and this requires an effective national public health agency.”
    https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)31140-5/fulltext

    That’s the reality. Data surveillance, contact tracing, and enforcement of isolation are only the application of modern information and network technologies to enhance the performance of those testing, tracing, and isolation policies. Again, in the real world, those policies are the only measures that work, though in the future we’ll also probably see technologies like vaccine passports implemented –
    http://news.mit.edu/2019/storing-vaccine-history-skin-1218

    Yes, it’s unfortunate that the U.S. is run by psychopaths and malign narcissists. But that’s not in itself an argument against the application of those technologies for healthcare purposes.

    Yes, we should be very scared of how they’ll exploit those technologies for their purposes. But based on past performance they’ll do that anyway – and they’ll exploit the squalling about violations of privacy and civil rights from ‘useful idiots’ like yourselves to do it, as they did with the biodefense measures that became TIA, then were moved over into the black at NSA, DIA, and such.

  72. [3.] Popefucker wrote: ‘Let us not forget that part of the reason this whole fiasco started is because China tried to hide the outbreak. Fascism is not at all necessary to control an outbreak, in fact it is counterproductive. The resources that go towards maintaining a fascist state can only divert from outbreak control.”

    In the real world, the Wuhan COVID19 outbreak was effectively stopped cold by the Chinese government once they acknowledged they had a problem and were realistic about its scope, and what it would take to halt it – which was, to effectively shut down an area containing 100 million people.

    So you’re telling yourself a comfortable lie. The resources that maintained China’s fascist state were *precisely* what enabled China to achieve outbreak control. Uncomfortable as that reality may be to contemplate.

    In the real world, indeed, the Chinese ‘fascist’ state has — alongside the organ harvesting, the mass internment of the Uighurs, and the totalitarian use of AI – lifted more people out of poverty than have ever been lifted out of poverty before in human history. In 2020 China now has a middle-class larger than the entire, increasingly immiserated U.S. population.

    The real world is not as simple as these stories you tell yourself.

  73. [4] The COVID19 pandemic marks a historical turning-point. The issues around mass data surveillance raised after the discovery of the U.S.S.R.’s bioweaponeering program and then the 2001 anthrax attacks in the U.S. have been swept under the carpet for twenty years. After COVID19 they can no longer be.

    That’s because the fat-tail risks, in Taleb’s phrase, are too large – are frankly of extinction-level scale. Two categories of biological threats are coming our way.

    Firstly: The natural ones as the global climate crisis accelerates. As I write, the temperature in Siberia is 30 degrees hotter than is normal at this time of year. The threat of massive methane release is primary, of course. But also, as Siberia has heated over the last few years, pathogens and fungal spores from 30,000 years ago are being unearthed in intact form.

    Some of these viruses are very alien things that, if they can inhabit humans, we have no natural defense against.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pithovirus

    Besides viruses, bacteria are everywhere; you have ten of them in or on your body for every one cell of your own. Imagine what percentage of dirt is, or lake/ocean water, is composed of bacteria. Though they are small, they make up the majority of the bio-mass on the planet.

    Perhaps most significantly, fungi and spore-formers wake up when it gets warm, and then rev their metabolisms into high-gear, eating dead plant material from long ago (which much of the necrotic soil under the top level of permafrost consists of), and kicking CO2 and CH4 freely into the air
    .
    Of course, this sort of thing is proceeding not merely across Siberia. Globally, we’ve turned up the heat for microbiota, and many of them will ‘like’ that very much. Now they’re going to turn it up higher. COVID19 is only the beginning
    .
    Secondly: the second biological threat category is bioweaponeering.

    Biopreparat, the former U.S.S.R.’s Manhattan Project-sized bioweaponeering program ran from 1971 to 1989-90 and employed as many as 100,000 personnel. They did some interesting things. One former Biopreparat scientist told me: “I know that those who ran the Soviet bioweapons program studied the possibility of a plague-Ebola binary inoculary. I can talk with certainty about a synthesis of plague and Venezuelan equine encephalitis, because the guy who did that presented the data to me.”

    What’s a binary inoculary and how does it work?

    Well, for instance, if the synthesis was influenza virus plus Ebola, for instance, the first symptom would be the symptoms of the flu and the infectee would walk around spreading that till they went to the doctor and were treated with something as simple as tetracycline. The tetracycline would itself be the factor inducing expression of a second set of genes, in this case that of Ebola.

    With the binary inoculary approach, in other words, the bioweaponeer obviates the difficulty that Ebola in nature is far too virulent and burns through its victims far too rapidly to be a good bioeapon, and creates an agent with the lethality of Ebola virus and the infectiousness of influenza virus. Or of Ebola and COVID19. In principle, the possibilities are endless.

    These sorts of bioweaponeering possibilities – which the Soviets addressed between thirty and forty years ago with the primitive technology existing then – are the obvious ones. However, if you just want to kill lots of people, then bombs, especially nuclear ones, are faster and more effective. The real possibilities of bioweapons are elsewhere, more interesting, and, arguably, more frightening. Peter Watts, our host, has some idea of them. And that’s all I’ll say here.

    Those are the two categories of threat. But biotechnological advance also has an upside. I would argue that living till 120 or so in reasonably good health till the very end is possibly within reach. So is feeding a planetary human population of 10 billion (which we’re going to have before population starts declining) more healthily and without the current environmental carnage.

    FINIS: In the real world, all this biogenetic threat and advance can only be dealt with via technology, including biosurveillance. In the real world, you only get that technology with a technocracy.

  74. Mark Pontin: These sorts of bioweaponeering possibilities – which the Soviets addressed between thirty and forty years ago with the primitive technology existing then – are the obvious ones. However, if you just want to kill lots of people, then bombs, especially nuclear ones, are faster and more effective. The real possibilities of bioweapons are elsewhere, more interesting, and, arguably, more frightening. Peter Watts, our host, has some idea of them. And that’s all I’ll say here.

    Rest assured – if any of the US-supported laboratories spread around the world will so much as undeniably fart “bioweapon” in general direction of China or Russia, this will provoke a military response of unprecedented scale, included the most severe options like direct sterilization of the production using nuclear weapons application. Given that pathogens are probably not produced in bulky containers, this may actually prove to be effective.

    Of course, there will be no warning at this point, no time for negotiations, and no questions wether the media sources are aware about the nature of situation. Everything is already said and done, the question is only what level of insanity or idiocy is required for that. Probably not very far from what is already achieved.

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/12/venezuela-arrests-botched-maduro-kidnap-attempt

  75. listedproxyname: Everything is already said and done, the question is only what level of insanity or idiocy is required for that. Probably not very far from what is already achieved.

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/12/venezuela-arrests-botched-maduro-kidnap-attempt

    Eh, I’m inclined to put down that particular bit of comic relief to some lunatic Pentagon-contractor billionaire waking up one day with the notion of “liberating Venezuela” and convincing a handful of mercenary wannabes that it would be a good idea. Maduro is in fact very useful to the US Government. Moving against him at this point in time would mark a new level of stupid even for this administration.

    Even if I’m wrong, it’s probably pointless to extrapolate this level of idiocy to the geopolitical stage. China is one of the two global economic and military superpowers, and I can’t see why anyone would have any reason to attack Russia.

  76. Sorry, that’s absolute nonsense.

    The Chinese did fudge the numbers at the start, but things didn’t escalate to fiasco level until long after it was both clear a) what was going on, and b) what the necessary steps were to prevent the outbreak from spinning into a disaster.

    The Chinese government can be blamed for a lot, but not for the 300,000 who died due to incompetence and deliberate inaction in the rest of the world.

    I think it’s safe to say that the Chinese government has fudged the numbers the whole time. There is pretty much no other source of information, although I suppose there are now WHO observers.

    It is undoubtedly true that locking down fast and hard was effective at controlling the spread of the virus, when they finally did it. But as we have seen in other countries like Korea and Taiwan, you don’t need to hold your citizens at gunpoint to do that.

    Fatman: Totalitarianism requires commitment and sacrifice and a ton of forward thinking. Most of our Western-style bureaucrats look no further than staying in power so they can cash in the next paycheck. If they get voted out of office, they get to spend a few years in opposition, receiving the same benefits but not having to do any work. Eventually the faction currently in power becomes unpopular, and they get their bite of the apple again. Third-party costs, such as income inequality, environmental degradation and poverty, are blamed on their predecessors. Why push for totalitarianism, and have to deal with all this crap yourself?

    I’m not so sure this is true. If you look at the prototypical example of a very rapid descent into totalitarianism, the Nazi party: one, they never could have risen to power had they not been preceded by an ineffective and unpopular republic. two, they weren’t all that great at long-range planning. Sure, they were good at killing people, but their long-term strategy was nonsensical. Totalitarianism doesn’t seem to take much forward thinking, just very good political maneuvering and suppression of dissenters. You can also look at China, until the 80s they were still doing stupid crap like killing all the birds. Xi Jinping is a relatively rare specimen, a dictator who is also a very smart administrator and long-term planner. I get the feeling his reign will be remembered as the golden age of communist China.

    I don’t think we’re near totalitarianism in the US right now. If anything, the state has lost a lot of control over citizens’ lives. It’s really more like a feudal system. But the winds could change quick. I’m not so much worried that the current regime will start imprisoning loudmouthed dissidents, but I am worried that they have built the infrastructure for somebody else down the line to do so.

  77. Anonymous: Totalitarianism doesn’t seem to take much forward thinking, just very good political maneuvering and suppression of dissenters.

    This was, however, not the case with China. Their totalitarian government took over a vast, overpopulated and utterly undeveloped shithole, late Iron-Age industry and technology, and through sacrifice and forward thinking turned it into an industrial behemoth by the 1980s, the world’s second greatest power by 2010, and probably the number one superpower by 2040 or so. Other totalitarian states tried the “maneuver, suppress and oppress” tactic and became catastrophic failures.

    The Nazis are hardly a prototypical example. They seized a unique historical opportunity, came into possession of a well-established industrial sector and skilled workforce, lacked the ability to do anything with it, crashed and burned spectacularly.

    Anonymous: You can also look at China, until the 80s they were still doing stupid crap like killing all the birds. Xi Jinping is a relatively rare specimen, a dictator who is also a very smart administrator and long-term planner. I get the feeling his reign will be remembered as the golden age of communist China.

    Not that rare – it’s the continuation of a long upward trend. Paramount Leaders from Deng Xiaoping onward have been great administrators and long-term planners. The golden age of communist China has now lasted for at least forty years, which is pretty good in my book.

    Anonymous: but I am worried that they have built the infrastructure for somebody else down the line to do so.

    No doubt, but I doubt there is much appetite for such a development. I mean, we have morons protesting having to wear a mask when going outside – I kind of have a hard time imagining the same folks lining up to work on collective farms.

  78. No doubt, but I doubt there is much appetite for such a development. I mean, we have morons protesting having to wear a mask when going outside – I kind of have a hard time imagining the same folks lining up to work on collective farms.

    these are the same people who would have thrown rocks or acid at civil rights marchers. They’re no fans of freedom.