Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

hym01art1On Tuesday, I wrote about the sudden mainstreaming of the so-called “lab leak theory” of the origins of Covid-19 in China. Today David Leonhardt has an “explainer” of this sudden attention to this long-dismissed notion.

Suddenly, talk of the Wuhan lab-leak theory seems to be everywhere.

President Biden yesterday called on U.S. intelligence officials to “redouble their efforts” to determine the origin of Covid-19 and figure out whether the virus that causes it accidentally leaked from a Chinese laboratory. Major publications and social media have recently been filled with discussion of the subject.

The origin of the virus remains unclear. Many scientists have long believed that the most likely explanation is that it jumped from an animal to a person, possibly at a food market in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. Animal-to human transmission — known as zoonotic spillover — is a common origin story for viruses, including Ebola and some bird flus.But some scientists have pointed to another possibility: that it escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. As in other laboratories, researchers there sometimes modify viruses, to understand and treat them.

“It is most likely that this is a virus that arose naturally, but we cannot exclude the possibility of some kind of a lab accident,” Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, told senators yesterday.

Leonhardt writes–as I did on Tuesday–that the reason this is suddenly getting so much attention is because a number of scientists have recently argued that the lab leak theory should be investigated.

Among the reasons: Chinese officials have refused to allow an independent investigation into the lab and have failed to explain some inconsistencies in the animal-to-human hypothesis. Most of the first confirmed cases had no evident link to the food market.

But has anything really changed?

In some ways, not much has not changed. From the beginning, the virus’s origin has been unclear. All along, some scientists, politicians and journalists have argued that the lab-leak theory deserves consideration.

Almost 15 months ago, two Chinese researchers wrote a paper concluding that the virus “probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan.” Alina Chan, a molecular biologist affiliated with Harvard and M.I.T., made similar arguments. David Ignatius and Josh Rogin, both Washington Post columnists, wrote about the possibility more than a year ago. Joe Biden, then a presidential candidate, didn’t mention the lab-leak theory in early 2020 but he did argue that the U.S. should “not be taking China’s word” for how the outbreak started.

But these voices were in the minority. The World Health Organization initially dismissed the lab-leak theory as implausible.

Read the rest at the link–I’ve probably quoted too much.

covid_19_-_the_right_way_ditikalayakashyapIf you read the comments on the Tuesday post, you know that Quixote, who is quite knowledgeable on this subject, vehemently argued against the lab leak theory. Quixote posted another comment yesterday that I didn’t see until this morning:

The virus isn’t engineered because you can tell by the RNA sequence. If it had been, the inserted bits will be obvious when you compare it to related viruses. Sort of like Frankenstein’s monster is visibly sewn together from parts that don’t go together.

The early cases don’t particularly center on the lab or on people associated with it. They’re outside Wuhan, inside Wuhan, at the abandoned mine / bat cave, at the captured animal food market, and so on. The pattern is what you’d see if a virus mutated to be able to infect people, but wasn’t very good at it yet, and had been moving through the population for a while. In the course of simmering through the population, the most successful virus would be the one that changed enough to infect people easily.

It had enough time to do that, and that was exactly the threat the Wuhan lab, and also CDC people there, were looking for. (Trump, by the way, cut funding for both of those because what the hell do we need to be paying people in China for.) The danger was noticed by Chinese doctors (one of whom soon died of the disease) who tried hard to alert the world. They were squelched by the government. If the CDC people had still been there, it would have been a lot harder to squelch.

So tl:dr; no evidence covid19 was an intentional bioweapon thing. Poor evidence that it could have unintentionally leaked. It’s a fact that the attempted coverup by the Chinese let the pandemic get going. If procedures at the lab need improving, they certainly should be.

The other things you mention about China are all true. (Tibet too. Never forget Tibet.) It’s been obvious for decades that China was going to abuse whatever power it could get. But that’s another whole train of thought.

As bad as they are, covid19 does not fit the lab leak story at all well. Both things can be true: they’re bad and covid was an incompetent accident made infinitely worse by self-serving dictators all over the world, including China.

I agree that there certainly is no evidence for the lab leak theory. The only reason I thought there could be something to it was that several people in the lab got sick with something that looked like Covid-19 and were hospitalized. I thought they could have gotten the virus from the cave samples–not that the virus was engineered in the lab–and that somehow the virus got into the population that way. But there is no way to ever know if this happened, as China would never cooperate with any investigation.

Now that Biden has ordered an investigation, we will likely hear more about this, but I can’t see how we’re ever going to know for sure how the virus originated. The crossover from animal to human explanation makes the most sense.

It’s also worth checking out this thread on Twitter by a China expert.

In other Covid-19 news, The New York Times reports that two studies have found that Immunity to the Coronavirus May Persist for Years.

Immunity to the coronavirus lasts at least a year, possibly a lifetime, improving over time especially after vaccination, according to two new studies. The findings may help put to rest lingering fears that protection against the virus will be short-lived.

WehavecompassionCovid19Suzon

19 Faces of Covid-19, by Suzon Lucore

Together, the studies suggest that most people who have recovered from Covid-19 and who were later immunized will not need boosters. Vaccinated people who were never infected most likely will need the shots, however, as will a minority who were infected but did not produce a robust immune response.

Both reports looked at people who had been exposed to the coronavirus about a year earlier. Cells that retain a memory of the virus persist in the bone marrow and may churn out antibodies whenever needed, according to one of the studies, published on Monday in the journal Nature.

The other study, posted online at BioRxiv, a site for biology research, found that these so-called memory B cells continue to mature and strengthen for at least 12 months after the initial infection.

“The papers are consistent with the growing body of literature that suggests that immunity elicited by infection and vaccination for SARS-CoV-2 appears to be long-lived,” said Scott Hensley, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved in the research.

Read more at the NYT.

There was another mass shooting yesterday–so what else is new? 

It’s also not new that the perpetrator had a history of violence against women. Fox News: San Jose shooting leaves 9 dead, deceased suspect identified; victims shot in separate buildings.

The eight people initially killed by a gunman at a Northern California rail yard Wednesday morning were shot in two separate buildings before the suspected shooter took his own life, authorities said Wednesday. 

A ninth victim died in a hospital late Wednesday evening, authorities said.

The mass shooting epidemic, credit Dana Gornall

The mass shooting epidemic, credit Dana Gornall

Santa Clara Sheriff Laurie Smith expressed her grief for the families of the victims before praising the quick response of law enforcement officers who went into a Valley Transportation Authority building as the active shooting was happening. She said deputies and San Jose police officers were the first on the scene. 

The suspect was identified Wednesday as Samuel Cassidy, 57, who was a VTA employee, officials said. No motive is known for the shooting at this time.

An ex-girlfriend told the San Francisco Chronicle he was prone to alcohol-fueled mood swings and had been accused in a March 2009 court filing of rape and abuse. The documents were filed in response to a domestic violence restraining order that Cassidy had filed earlier that month. 

The former girlfriend alleged his mood swings worsened when he drank alcohol and that he played “several mind games which he seems to enjoy.” She listed several incidents of alleged sexual assault in which he would hold her arms and force his weight onto her. 

He would apologize and promised to never do it again afterward, the report said. 

(Emphasis added)

Cassidy’s ex-wife said he had threated workplace violence years ago. KCRA3.com: What we know about Sam Cassidy, the suspect in the San Jose VTA shooting.

The man who opened fire Wednesday at a rail yard in San Jose, killing nine other people and ending his own life, has been identified as 57-year-old Sam Cassidy. He was an employee of the Valley Transportation Authority, which provides bus, light rail and other transit services throughout Santa Clara County, authorities said.

RS31736_Photo-Jul-06-11-30-19-AM-qut-520x293Cassidy was identified as a maintenance worker at the Valley Transportation Authority….

According to The Associated Press, Cassidy had talked to his ex-wife about killing people at work more than a decade ago.

“I never believed him, and it never happened. Until now,” a tearful Cecilia Nelms told The Associated Press.

She said he used to come home from work resentful and angry over what he perceived as unfair assignments.

“He could dwell on things,” she said. The two were married for about 10 years until a 2005 divorce filing and she hadn’t been in touch with Cassidy for about 13 years, Nelms said.

I’m still perplexed and fascinated by the Q-Anon phenomenon. There a couple of stories about it today.

NBC News: Study finds nearly one-in-five Americans believe QAnon conspiracy theories.

Washington, we have a problem — politically, informationally and societally — when 15 percent of Americans agree with the QAnon statement that the U.S. government, media and financial worlds “are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.”

Or when 20 percent agree with this statement: “There is a storm coming soon that will sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders.”

Or when another 15 percent agree that “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”

These are the results of a PRRI-IFYC study that was conducted online March 8-30, but that was just released Thursday.

And the study finds that Republicans, those who trust far-right news outlets like OANN and Newsmax, and white evangelicals and Hispanic Protestants are all more likely to believe these statements than other Americans.

It’s hard to call something fringe when approximately one-in-five Americans believe these statements, especially one that true patriots “may have to resort to violence” to save the country.

Here’s the PRRI story: Understanding QAnon’s Connection to American Politics, Religion, and Media Consumption.

Three Components of the QAnon Conspiracy Movement

The far-right conspiracy theory movement known as QAnon emerged on the internet in late 2017 and gained traction throughout former president Donald Trump’s time in office. QAnon’s core theory revolves around Satan-worshipping pedophiles plotting against Trump and a coming “storm” that would clear out those evil forces, but the movement has also been described as a “big tent conspiracy theory” that involves a constantly evolving web of schemes about politicians, celebrities, bankers, and the media, as well as echoes of older movements within Christianity, such as Gnosticism.

e7d48eefa41a0d5dd2b2ae4f7062823421-QANON-COVER-NO-TYPE.rvertical.w1200To understand how this loosely connected belief system is influencing American politics, religion, and media, we fielded three questions, each containing a tenet of the QAnon conspiracy movement….

QAnon Beliefs and Partisanship

A nontrivial 15% of Americans agree with the sweeping QAnon allegation that “the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation,” while the vast majority of Americans (82%) disagree with this statement. Republicans (23%) are significantly more likely than independents (14%) and Democrats (8%) to agree that the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.

Similarly, one in five Americans (20%) agree with the statement “There is a storm coming soon that will sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders,” while a majority (77%) disagree. Nearly three in ten Republicans (28%), compared to 18% of independents and 14% of Democrats, agree with this secondary QAnon conspiracy theory. Trends among demographic groups are similar to those of the core QAnon conspiracy theory.

Fifteen percent of Americans agree that “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country,” while the vast majority (85%) disagree. Republicans (28%) are twice as likely as independents (13%) and four times as likely as Democrats (7%) to agree that because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence.

Click the link to read the rest.

So…that’s a mixed bag of news for you. What else is happening? As always, this is an open thread.


Can’t Take Any More Tuesday Reads

Richard Prince, Nurse of Greenmeadow (2002)

Good Morning!!

I’m going through one of my “I can’t take it anymore” phases. Yesterday I almost succeeded in shutting out the news entirely until last night when I accidentally learned that Trump claims to be taking hydroxycholoquine. He has to be lying, right? But the White House doctor sorta kinda confirmed it.

CNN: Trump says he is taking hydroxychloroquine though health experts question its effectiveness.

President Donald Trump claimed Monday he is taking daily doses of hydroxychloroquine, a drug he’s long touted as a potential coronavirus cure even as medical experts and the US Food and Drug Administration question its efficacy and warn of potentially harmful side effects.

Speaking at a meeting of restaurant executives, Trump said he began taking the antimalarial drug after consulting the White House doctor, though stopped short of saying his physician had actually recommended the drug.

“A couple of weeks ago, I started taking it,” Trump said. He later said he’d been taking it every day for a week and a half.
The admission was a dramatic development in Trump’s attempts to promote hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for coronavirus, which began earlier in the outbreak and has been met with resistance from medical professionals.

Because the drug is prescribed to treat malaria and other conditions, Trump has cast it as safe and suggested coronavirus patients have little to lose by trying it.

The infirmary at Helgelandsmoen, Edvard Munch

But there are concerns about using the drug for coronavirus, which Trump claimed he doesn’t have:

…at least one study has shown the drug does not work against Covid-19 and could cause heart problems.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It follows a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that also showed the drug doesn’t fight the virus.

Even before these reports were published, the FDA and the National Institutes of Health issued warnings about using the drug for coronavirus patients.

Trump said he hadn’t been exposed, and that he started taking the drug because he had heard from frontline responders who sent him letters saying they were taking it preventatively.

There’s no evidence for using it as a preventative, but Trump claims it works because “I get a lot of positive calls about it.” Shouldn’t this be the last straw for the V.P. and the Trump Cabinet? Shouldn’t they be invoking the 25th Amendment today? But of course it won’t happen, and the media will try to normalize his latest insanity.

At The Los Angeles Times, Chris Megerian, Noah Bierman, and Eli Stokols remind us that the hyroxychloroquine controversy is just part of Trump’s attempts to distract us from all the deaths he’s responsible for: Trump lashes out with distractions and disinformation.

President Trump has accelerated his attacks on government watchdogs, judges, reporters and other independent voices as he runs for reelection, escalating his spread of disinformation about perceived enemies and his administration’s record during the COVID-19 crisis.

Trump fired yet another inspector general, raged against a government whistleblower and repeatedly retweeted video of a local TV reporter being harassed in New York — all since Friday. He also amplified a sinister conspiracy theory he dubbed “Obamagate” in which he alleges, but never specifies, crimes by his predecessor.

Angry Nurse, Astrid Haereid

On Monday, Trump abruptly said he has been taking hydroxychloroquine pills daily for “about a week and a half” as a preventative against the novel coronavirus, dramatically intensifying his efforts to promote an unproved anti-malaria drug that he has touted as a potential “game changer” for dealing with the pandemic.

His comments caused alarm because the Food and Drug Administration warned last month that the prescription drug has “not been shown to be safe and effective” at treating or preventing COVID-19, saying it could cause “serious heart rhythm problems.”

It’s crazy making.

Experts struggled to think of a historical parallel where the president has turned the world’s most powerful and influential office into a megaphone for wholesale fabrications and bizarre claims in an effort to confuse voters and salvage his own political future.

“Trump is certainly not the first politician to lie or invent stories,” said Eileen Culloty, who researches disinformation at Dublin City University in Ireland. “But his history of making baseless, conspiratorial claims — whether it’s Obama’s birth certificate, linking Ted Cruz’s family to the Kennedy assassination or now Obamagate — is striking for its scale and frequency.”

Critics said Trump’s messaging was particularly destructive as Americans struggle with the pandemic, which has crippled the economy and killed more than 90,000 in the U.S. as of Monday.

“A pandemic is the perfect laboratory for disinformation because people are scared, they’re anxious — and all of the social science around conspiracy theories shows when people feel anxious and scared, they’re more likely to believe conspiracy theories,” said Richard Stengel, a former editor of Time magazine and former senior State Department official.

“Trump has figured that out. This campaign is headed to a low point that we’ve never experienced before in American history, because he is not at all compelled to align his message with reality,” he added.

Read more at the LA Times.

The Nurse, Jose Perez

Richard Stengel, quoted in the LA Times piece, writes at Vanity Fair about what Trump’s incompetence has done to our country’s reputation: The Bungling Superpower: COVID-19 Has Recast America as a Global Chump.

When I was under secretary of state for public diplomacy during the Barack Obama administration—the job that is essentially the chief marketing officer for the American brand around the world—I found that the most common request I got from international diplomats and leaders was, could I help them get in touch with the Silicon Valley tech companies? Would I introduce them to someone at Google, Apple, and Facebook? Our brand differentiator was no longer drones, Tomahawks, and foreign assistance—though all of them still mattered—it was search, likes, and Twitter. No, we weren’t as generous and deep-pocketed as we once had been, nor could we build bridges and highways like China was doing, but we were seen as the land of the future, and people wanted to know how we did it. It was a welcome change.

But the election of Donald Trump and our inept response to the coronavirus has reversed much of that. Even when we were the arrogant and galumphing superpower—a continuation of the Ugly American stereotype from the 1950s—we were always seen as competent. Yes, we were headstrong and naive, but we got things done. Now, thanks to the combination of Trump’s much-mocked America First doctrine and his administration’s chaotic and chuckleheaded response to the coronavirus, the Trump administration has recast our brand in a new way: the bungling superpower. The country that created the iPhone could not figure out how to manufacture enough cotton swabs. While Germany is led by a woman with a doctorate in quantum chemistry, the U.S. president was suggesting that people inject disinfectant to cure the virus.

Nursing, by Jeff Conway

Last week, in a rare move in its nearly 200-year history, the distinguished British medical journal The Lancet published an editorial saying that the U.S. had fallen from what it once was, the gold standard in disease detection and control, and must not reelect a president who prized partisanship above science. A poll in France earlier this month found that Angela Merkel, and not the American president, was overwhelmingly regarded as the leader of the free world. Only 2% of those polled said Trump was heading in the right direction. A Bosnian TV journalist proclaimed that the White House was dysfunctional and America was beginning to resemble the Balkans. The Balkans.

Many people have cited the line from the Irish Times that “the world has loved, hated, and envied the U.S. Now, for the first time, we pity it.” That’s not quite right. The emotion is not pity, but schadenfreude: people around the world are taking a secret pleasure in the U.S.’s ineptitude. They feel the U.S is getting payback for its self-righteousness, boasting, and incessant lecturing. It’s karmic retribution, not pity.

But there’s a greater and more existential threat to American influence than the scorn people around the world have for Trumpism: it is the increasing non-essentialness of America among nations and the discrediting of the American model of governance and capitalism.

Bloomberg reports on a study that shows that Covid Patients Testing Positive After Recovery Aren’t Infectious.

Researchers are finding evidence that patients who test positive for the coronavirus after recovering aren’t capable of transmitting the infection, and could have the antibodies that prevent them from falling sick again.

Gregg Chadwick, Nurses and therapy dog

Scientists from the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied 285 Covid-19 survivors who had tested positive for the coronavirus after their illness had apparently resolved, as indicated by a previous negative test result. The so-called re-positive patients weren’t found to have spread any lingering infection, and virus samples collected from them couldn’t be grown in culture, indicating the patients were shedding non-infectious or dead virus particles.

The findings, reported late Monday, are a positive sign for regions looking to open up as more patients recover from the pandemic that has sickened at least 4.8 million people. The emerging evidence from South Korea suggests those who have recovered from Covid-19 present no risk of spreading the coronavirus when physical distancing measures are relaxed.

The results mean health authorities in South Korea will no longer consider people infectious after recovering from the illness. Research last month showed that so-called PCR tests for the coronavirus’s nucleic acid can’t distinguish between dead and viable virus particles, potentially giving the wrong impression that someone who tests positive for the virus remains infectious.

The research may also aid in the debate over antibody tests, which look for markers in the blood that indicate exposure to the novel coronavirus. Experts believe antibodies probably convey some level of protection against the virus, but they don’t have any solid proof yet. Nor do they know how long any immunity may last.

Read more at the link.

I’ll end with a non-Trump story from The Guardian: Exclusive: Police tried to tase Ahmaud Arbery in 2017 incident, video shows.

Police attempted to use a Taser on Ahmaud Arbery, the slain Georgia jogger, after questioning why he was sitting alone in his car in a park one morning in November 2017, according to records and a police video obtained by the Guardian.

Edwin Harleston, The Nurse

The video, obtained through a public records request, comes to light as law enforcement in the area faces scrutiny after Arbery was shot dead by two white men while jogging in February. Police did not arrest Gregory and Travis McMichael, who chased down and killed the unarmed Arbery, and a prosecutor assigned to the case wrote a lengthy memo explaining why the killing was legally justified….

In the video an officer patrolling the area suspected Arbery of using marijuana, saying he was in a park known for drug activity.

Arbery, dressed in a green hat, winter coat and athletic pants, said he didn’t have drugs and refused to let the officer search his car. He told the officer he was relaxing by rapping in his car over instrumental beats and had the day off from work at Blue Beacon Truck Wash.

The incident, previously described by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, escalated when Arbery began to question why the officer, Michael Kanago, was hassling him. Kanago claimed he began to feel threatened by Arbery, later writing in his report that “veins were popping from [Arbery’s] chest, which made me feel that he was becoming enraged and may turn physically violent towards me”. Kanago requested help from a second officer.

“You’re bothering me for nothing,” Arbery said to Kanago, according to body camera footage. After Kanago told him he was looking for criminal activity, Arbery said “criminal activity? I’m in a fucking park. I work.”

How dare a young black man sass a George police officer. Well, they finally got him killed, didn’t they? Racist monsters.

That’s all I have for you today. What’s on your mind? What stories are you following?