|Friday 15th of October 2021
The Insufferable Gaucho Roberto Bolaño
Once I saw him watching fire-eaters on a street in Mexico City. I saw him from behind, and I didn’t say hello, but it was obviously Jim.
The badly cut hair, the dirty white shirt and the stoop, as if he were still weighed down by his pack.
Somehow his neck, his red neck, summoned up the image of a lynching in the country—a landscape in black and white, without billboards or gas station lights—the country as it is or ought to be: one expanse of idle land blurring into the next, brick-walled rooms or bunkers from which we have escaped, standing there, awaiting our return.
Jim had his hands in his pockets. The fire-eater was waving his torch and laughing fiercely. His blackened face was ageless: he could have been thirty-five or fifteen.
He wasn’t wearing a shirt and there was a vertical scar from his navel to his breastbone. Every so often he’d fill his mouth with flammable liquid and spit out a long snake of fire.
The people in the street would watch him for a while, admire his skill, and continue on their way, except for Jim, who remained there on the edge of the sidewalk, stock-still, as if he expected something more from the fire-eater, a tenth signal (having deciphered the usual nine), or as if he’d seen in that discolored face the features of an old friend or of someone he’d killed.
I watched him for a good long while. I was eighteen or nineteen at the time and believed I was immortal. If I’d realized that I wasn’t, I would have turned around and walked away.
After a while I got tired of looking at Jim’s back and the fire-eater’s grimaces. So I went over and called his name. Jim didn’t seem to hear me.
When he turned around I noticed that his face was covered with sweat. He seemed to be feverish, and it took him a while to work out who I was; he greeted me with a nod and then turned back to the fire-eater.
Standing beside him, I noticed he was crying. He probably had a fever as well. I also discovered something that surprised me less at the time than it does now, writing this: the fire-eater was performing exclusively for Jim, as if all the other passersby on that corner in Mexico City simply didn’t exist.
Sometimes the flames came within a yard of where we were standing. What are you waiting for, I said, you want to get barbecued in the street? It was a stupid wisecrack, I said it without thinking, but then it hit me: that’s exactly what Jim’s waiting for.
That year, I seem to remember, there was a song they kept playing in some of the funkier places with a refrain that went, Chingado, hechizado (FXXked up, spellbound). That was Jim: fXXked up and spellbound.
Mexico’s spell had bound him and now he was looking his demons right in the face.
Let’s get out of here, I said. I also asked him if he was high, or feeling ill. He shook his head.
The fire-eater was staring at us. Then, with his cheeks puffed out like Aeolus, the god of the winds, he began to approach us. In a fraction of a second I realized that it wasn’t a gust of wind we’d be getting.
Let’s go, I said, and yanked Jim away from the fatal edge of that sidewalk. We took ourselves off down the street toward Reforma, and after a while we went our separate ways. Jim didn’t say a word in all that time. I never saw him again.
The New Economy of Anger
Law & Politics
Paul Virilio pronounced in his book Speed and Politics,
“The revolutionary contingent attains its ideal form not in the place of production, but in the street, where for a moment it stops being a cog in the technical machine and itself becomes a motor (machine of attack), in other words, a producer of speed.’’
The Triumph and Terror of Wang Huning @palladiummag
Law & Politics
One day in August 2021, Zhao Wei disappeared. For one of China’s best-known actresses to physically vanish from public view would have been enough to cause a stir on its own.
But Zhao’s disappearing act was far more thorough: overnight, she was erased from the internet. Her Weibo social media page, with its 86 million followers, went offline, as did fan sites dedicated to her.
Searches for her many films and television shows returned no results on streaming sites. Zhao’s name was scrubbed from the credits of projects she had appeared in or directed, replaced with a blank space.
Online discussions uttering her name were censored. Suddenly, little trace remained that the 45-year-old celebrity had ever existed.
She wasn’t alone. Other Chinese entertainers also began to vanish as Chinese government regulators announced a “heightened crackdown” intended to dispense with “vulgar internet celebrities” promoting lascivious lifestyles and to “resolve the problem of chaos” created by online fandom culture.
Those imitating the effeminate or androgynous aesthetics of Korean boyband stars—colorfully referred to as “xiao xian rou,” or “little fresh meat”—were next to go, with the government vowing to “resolutely put an end to sissy men” appearing on the screens of China’s impressionable youth.
Zhao and her unfortunate compatriots in the entertainment industry were caught up in something far larger than themselves: a sudden wave of new government policies that are currently upending Chinese life in what state media has characterized as a “profound transformation” of the country.
Officially referred to as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “Common Prosperity” campaign, this transformation is proceeding along two parallel lines: a vast regulatory crackdown roiling the private sector economy and a broader moralistic effort to reengineer Chinese culture from the top down.
But why is this “profound transformation” happening? And why now? Most analysis has focused on one man: Xi and his seemingly endless personal obsession with political control.
The overlooked answer, however, is that this is indeed the culmination of decades of thinking and planning by a very powerful man—but that man is not Xi Jinping.
The Grey Eminence
Wang Huning much prefers the shadows to the limelight. An insomniac and workaholic, former friends and colleagues describe the bespectacled, soft-spoken political theorist as introverted and obsessively discreet.
It took former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin’s repeated entreaties to convince the brilliant then-young academic—who spoke wistfully of following the traditional path of a Confucian scholar, aloof from politics—to give up academia in the early 1990s and join the Chinese Communist Party regime instead.
When he finally did so, Wang cut off nearly all contact with his former connections, stopped publishing and speaking publicly, and implemented a strict policy of never speaking to foreigners at all.
Behind this veil of carefully cultivated opacity, it’s unsurprising that so few people in the West know of Wang, let alone know him personally.
Yet Wang Huning is arguably the single most influential “public intellectual” alive today.
A member of the CCP’s seven-man Politburo Standing Committee, he is China’s top ideological theorist, quietly credited as being the “ideas man” behind each of Xi’s signature political concepts, including the “China Dream,” the anti-corruption campaign, the Belt and Road Initiative, a more assertive foreign policy, and even “Xi Jinping Thought.”
Scrutinize any photograph of Xi on an important trip or at a key meeting and one is likely to spot Wang there in the background, never far from the leader’s side.
Wang has thus earned comparisons to famous figures of Chinese history like Zhuge Liang and Han Fei (historians dub the latter “China’s Machiavelli”) who similarly served behind the throne as powerful strategic advisers and consiglieres—a position referred to in Chinese literature as dishi: “Emperor’s Teacher.”
Such a figure is just as readily recognizable in the West as an éminence grise (“grey eminence”), in the tradition of Tremblay, Talleyrand, Metternich, Kissinger, or Vladimir Putin adviser Vladislav Surkov.
But what is singularly remarkable about Wang is that he’s managed to serve in this role of court philosopher to not just one, but all three of China’s previous top leaders, including as the pen behind Jiang Zemin’s signature “Three Represents” policy and Hu Jintao’s “Harmonious Society.”
A Dark Vision
Also in 1988, Wang—having risen with unprecedented speed to become Fudan’s youngest full professor at age 30—won a coveted scholarship (facilitated by the American Political Science Association) to spend six months in the United States as a visiting scholar.
Profoundly curious about America, Wang took full advantage, wandering about the country like a sort of latter-day Chinese Alexis de Tocqueville, visiting more than 30 cities and nearly 20 universities.
What he found deeply disturbed him, permanently shifting his view of the West and the consequences of its ideas.
Wang recorded his observations in a memoir that would become his most famous work: the 1991 book America Against America.
In it, he marvels at homeless encampments in the streets of Washington DC, out-of-control drug crime in poor black neighborhoods in New York and San Francisco, and corporations that seemed to have fused themselves to and taken over responsibilities of government.
Eventually, he concludes that America faces an “unstoppable undercurrent of crisis” produced by its societal contradictions, including between rich and poor, white and black, democratic and oligarchic power, egalitarianism and class privilege, individual rights and collective responsibilities, cultural traditions and the solvent of liquid modernity.
But while Americans can, he says, perceive that they are faced with “intricate social and cultural problems,” they “tend to think of them as scientific and technological problems” to be solved separately.
This gets them nowhere, he argues, because their problems are in fact all inextricably interlinked and have the same root cause: a radical, nihilistic individualism at the heart of modern American liberalism.
“The real cell of society in the United States is the individual,” he finds. This is so because the cell most foundational (per Aristotle) to society, “the family, has disintegrated.”
Meanwhile, in the American system, “everything has a dual nature, and the glamour of high commodification abounds. Human flesh, sex, knowledge, politics, power, and law can all become the target of commodification.”
This “commodification, in many ways, corrupts society and leads to a number of serious social problems.”
In the end, “the American economic system has created human loneliness” as its foremost product, along with spectacular inequality.
As a result, “nihilism has become the American way, which is a fatal shock to cultural development and the American spirit.”
Moreover, he says that the “American spirit is facing serious challenges” from new ideational competitors.
Reflecting on the universities he visited and quoting approvingly from Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, he notes a growing tension between Enlightenment liberal rationalism and a “younger generation [that] is ignorant of traditional Western values” and actively rejects its cultural inheritance.
“If the value system collapses,” he wonders, “how can the social system be sustained?”
Ultimately, he argues, when faced with critical social issues like drug addiction, America’s atomized, deracinated, and dispirited society has found itself with “an insurmountable problem” because it no longer has any coherent conceptual grounds from which to mount any resistance.
Once idealistic about America, at the start of 1989 the young Wang returned to China and, promoted to Dean of Fudan’s International Politics Department, became a leading opponent of liberalization.
He began to argue that China had to resist global liberal influence and become a culturally unified and self-confident nation governed by a strong, centralized party-state.
He would develop these ideas into what has become known as China’s “Neo-Authoritarian” movement—though Wang never used the term, identifying himself with China’s “Neo-Conservatives.”
This reflected his desire to blend Marxist socialism with traditional Chinese Confucian values and Legalist political thought, maximalist Western ideas of state sovereignty and power, and nationalism in order to synthesize a new basis for long-term stability and growth immune to Western liberalism.
“He was most concerned with the question of how to manage China,” one former Fudan student recalls. “He was suggesting that a strong, centralized state is necessary to hold this society together. He spent every night in his office and didn’t do anything else.”
Wang’s timing couldn’t have been more auspicious. Only months after his return, China’s own emerging contradictions exploded into view in the form of student protests in Tiananmen Square.
After PLA tanks crushed the dreams of liberal democracy sprouting in China, CCP leadership began searching desperately for a new political model on which to secure the regime. They soon turned to Wang Huning.
The Triumph and Terror of Wang Huning @palladiummag [continued]
Law & Politics
Wang Huning’s Nightmare
From the smug point of view of millions who now inhabit the Chinese internet, Wang’s dark vision of American dissolution was nothing less than prophetic.
When they look to the U.S., they no longer see a beacon of liberal democracy standing as an admired symbol of a better future.
That was the impression of those who created the famous “Goddess of Democracy,” with her paper-mâché torch held aloft before the Gate of Heavenly Peace.
Instead, they see Wang’s America: deindustrialization, rural decay, over-financialization, out of control asset prices, and the emergence of a self-perpetuating rentier elite; powerful tech monopolies able to crush any upstart competitors operating effectively beyond the scope of government;
immense economic inequality, chronic unemployment, addiction, homelessness, and crime; cultural chaos, historical nihilism, family breakdown, and plunging fertility rates; societal despair, spiritual malaise, social isolation, and skyrocketing rates of mental health issues;
a loss of national unity and purpose in the face of decadence and barely concealed self-loathing; vast internal divisions, racial tensions, riots, political violence, and a country that increasingly seems close to coming apart.
As a tumultuous 2020 roiled American politics, Chinese people began turning to Wang’s America Against America for answers.
And when a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, 2021, the book flew off the shelves. Out-of-print copies began selling for as much as $2,500 on Chinese e-commerce sites.
But Wang is unlikely to be savoring the acclaim, because his worst fear has become reality: the “unstoppable undercurrent of crisis” he identified in America seems to have successfully jumped the Pacific.
Despite all his and Xi’s success in draconian suppression of political liberalism, many of the same problems Wang observed in America have nonetheless emerged to ravage China over the last decade as the country progressively embraced a more neoliberal capitalist economic model.
“Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” has rapidly transformed China into one of the most economically unequal societies on earth. It now boasts a Gini Coefficient of, officially, around 0.47, worse than the U.S.’s 0.41.
The wealthiest 1% of the population now holds around 31% of the country’s wealth (not far behind the 35% in the U.S.).
But most people in China remain relatively poor: some 600 million still subsist on a monthly income of less than 1,000 yuan ($155) a month.
Meanwhile, Chinese tech giants have established monopoly positions even more robust than their U.S. counterparts, often with market shares nearing 90%.
Corporate employment frequently features an exhausting “996” (9am to 9pm, 6 days a week) schedule.
Others labor among struggling legions trapped by up-front debts in the vast system of modern-day indentured servitude that is the Chinese “gig economy.”
Up to 400 million Chinese are forecast to enjoy the liberation of such “self-employment” by 2036, according to Alibaba.
The job market for China’s ever-expanding pool of university graduates is so competitive that “graduation equals unemployment” is a societal meme (the two words share a common Chinese character).
And as young people have flocked to urban metropoles to search for employment, rural regions have been drained and left to decay, while centuries of communal extended family life have been upended in a generation, leaving the elderly to rely on the state for marginal care.
In the cities, young people have been priced out of the property market by a red-hot asset bubble.
Meanwhile, contrary to trite Western assumptions of an inherently communal Chinese culture, the sense of atomization and low social trust in China has become so acute that it’s led to periodic bouts of anguished societal soul-searching after oddly regular instances in which injured individuals have been left to die on the street by passers-by habitually distrustful of being scammed.
Feeling alone and unable to get ahead in a ruthlessly consumerist society, Chinese youth increasingly describe existing in a state of nihilistic despair encapsulated by the online slang term neijuan (“involution”), which describes a “turning inward” by individuals and society due to a prevalent sense of being stuck in a draining rat race where everyone inevitably loses.
This despair has manifested itself in a movement known as tangping, or “lying flat,” in which people attempt to escape that rat race by doing the absolute bare minimum amount of work required to live, becoming modern ascetics.
In this environment, China’s fertility rate has collapsed to 1.3 children per woman as of 2020—below Japan and above only South Korea as the lowest in the world—plunging its economic future into crisis.
Ending family size limits and government attempts to persuade families to have more children have been met with incredulity and ridicule by Chinese young people as being “totally out of touch” with economic and social reality.
“Do they not yet know that most young people are exhausted just supporting themselves?” asked one typically viral post on social media.
It’s true that, given China’s cut-throat education system, raising even one child costs a huge sum: estimates range between $30,000 (about seven times the annual salary of the average citizen) and $115,000, depending on location.
But even those Chinese youth who could afford to have kids have found they enjoy a new lifestyle: the coveted DINK (“Double Income, No Kids”) life, in which well-educated young couples (married or not) spend all that extra cash on themselves.
As one thoroughly liberated 27-year-old man with a vasectomy once explained to The New York Times: “For our generation, children aren’t a necessity…Now we can live without any burdens. So why not invest our spiritual and economic resources on our own lives?”
So while Americans have today given up the old dream of liberalizing China, they should maybe look a little closer. It’s true that China never remotely liberalized—if you consider liberalism to be all about democratic elections, a free press, and respect for human rights.
But many political thinkers would argue there is more to a comprehensive definition of modern liberalism than that.
Instead, they would identify liberalism’s essential telos as being the liberation of the individual from all limiting ties of place, tradition, religion, associations, and relationships, along with all the material limits of nature, in pursuit of the radical autonomy of the modern “consumer.”
From this perspective, China has been thoroughly liberalized, and the picture of what’s happening to Chinese society begins to look far more like Wang’s nightmare of a liberal culture consumed by nihilistic individualism and commodification.
The Grand Experiment
It is in this context that Wang Huning appears to have won a long-running debate within the Chinese system about what’s now required for the People’s Republic of China to endure.
The era of tolerance for unfettered economic and cultural liberalism in China is over.
According to a leaked account by one of his old friends, Xi has found himself, like Wang, “repulsed by the all-encompassing commercialization of Chinese society, with its attendant nouveaux riches, official corruption, loss of values, dignity, and self-respect, and such ‘moral evils’ as drugs and prostitution.”
Wang has now seemingly convinced Xi that they have no choice but to take drastic action to head off existential threats to social order being generated by Western-style economic and cultural liberal-capitalism—threats nearly identical to those that scourge the U.S.
This intervention has taken the form of the Common Prosperity campaign, with Xi declaring in January that “We absolutely must not allow the gap between rich and poor to get wider,” and warning that “achieving common prosperity is not only an economic issue, but also a major political issue related to the party’s governing foundations.”
This is why anti-monopoly investigations have hit China’s top technology firms with billions of dollars in fines and forced restructurings and strict new data rules have curtailed China’s internet and social media companies.
It’s why record-breaking IPOs have been put on hold and corporations ordered to improve labor conditions, with “996” overtime requirements made illegal and pay raised for gig workers.
It’s why the government killed off the private tutoring sector overnight and capped property rental price increases. It’s why the government has announced “excessively high incomes” are to be “adjusted.”
And it’s why celebrities like Zhao Wei have been disappearing, why Chinese minors have been banned from playing the “spiritual opium” of video games for more than three hours per week, why LGBT groups have been scrubbed from the internet, and why abortion restrictions have been significantly tightened.
As one nationalist article promoted across state media explained, if the liberal West’s “tittytainment strategy” is allowed to succeed in causing China’s “young generation lose their toughness and virility then we will fall…just like the Soviet Union did.”
The purpose of Xi’s “profound transformation” is to ensure that “the cultural market will no longer be a paradise for sissy stars, and news and public opinion will no longer be in a position of worshipping Western culture.”
In the end, the campaign represents Wang Huning’s triumph and his terror. It’s thirty years of his thought on culture made manifest in policy.
On one hand, it is worth viewing honestly the level of economic, technological, cultural, and political upheaval the West is currently experiencing and considering whether he may have accurately diagnosed a common undercurrent spreading through our globalized world.
On the other, the odds that his gambit to engineer new societal values can succeed seems doubtful, considering the many failures of history’s other would-be “engineers of the soul.”
The best simple proxy to measure this effort in coming years is likely to be demographics.
For reasons not entirely clear, many countries around the world now face the same challenge: fertility rates that have fallen below the replacement rate as they’ve developed into advanced economies.
This has occurred across a diverse array of political systems, and shows little sign of moderating.
Besides immigration, a wide range of policies have now been tried in attempts to raise birth rates, from increased public funding of childcare services to “pro-natal” tax credits for families with children.
None have been consistently successful, sparking anguished debate in some quarters on whether losing the will to survive and reproduce is simply a fundamental factor of modernity.
But if any country can succeed in reversing this trend, no matter the brute-force effort required, it is likely to be China.
Either way, our world is witnessing a grand experiment that’s now underway: China and the West, facing very similar societal problems, have now, thanks to Wang Huning, embarked on radically different approaches to addressing them.
And with China increasingly challenging the United States for a position of global geopolitical and ideological leadership, the conclusion of this experiment could very well shape the global future of governance for the century ahead.
The Mysterious Case of the COVID-19 Lab-Leak Theory @NewYorker
Law & Politics
Did the virus spring from nature or from human error?
Since the coronavirus first appeared, at the end of 2019, four and a half million people have died, countless more have suffered, whole economies have been upended, schools have been shuttered. Why?
Did the virus jump from an animal to its first human host, its patient zero? Or, as some suspect, was the catastrophe the result of a laboratory accident in Wuhan, a city of eleven million people in central China?
Kristian Andersen, an infectious-disease expert at Scripps Research, in San Diego, began tracking the virus in January, 2020. He found the degree of contagion not just scary but unusual.
Chinese scientists had already established that it belonged to a genus of coronaviruses commonly found in bats in southern China. It shared eighty per cent of its genome with the first sars, and was more distantly related to mers, another bat coronavirus.
This new virus, however, was spreading far more quickly, reaching at least twenty-six countries by the end of the month.
“It seemed to be locked and loaded for causing the pandemic,” Andersen told me.
Most viruses circulating in the wild, though some can be deadly, are not very good at transmission. They are still animal viruses.
“This, almost from Day One,” Andersen said, “appeared like a human virus.”
Andersen, who is originally from Denmark, is wiry and clean cut, with a cleft chin and clipped enunciation.
He was working at the post office in Aarhus when he decided he might study molecular biology, and went on to become the first person in his family to attend university.
His career took off with investigations into the emergence of West Nile virus, Ebola, and Zika.
After the pandemic began, he was among the scientists whom Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, consulted regarding the origins of the virus.
On January 31, 2020, according to an e-mail obtained by BuzzFeed News, Andersen wrote to Fauci and others that the sars-CoV-2 genome seemed “inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory.”
Andersen noted that “a really small part” of sars-CoV-2’s genome had “unusual features.” Its spike—the crucial bit of surface protein that a coronavirus uses to invade a cell—appeared able to bind tightly to a human-cell receptor known as ace2.
This, Andersen told me, “means that it’s more effective at infecting human cells.”
The other significant trait, a rare insertion in the genome of twelve nucleotides, called a furin cleavage site, might also increase the virus’s transmissibility, and lower the species barrier, allowing the virus to jump more easily to humans.
“One has to look really closely at all the sequences to see that some of the features (potentially) look engineered,” he wrote. There was much more data to analyze, he continued, “so those opinions could still change.”
A day later, Andersen joined a conference call with a group of prominent virologists and government officials, including Fauci and Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health.
Andersen presented a summary of the notable features of the sars-CoV-2 genome, and asked the group, “Do we think this is unusual?”
Fauci recalled that, among the participants, opinions were divided.
“Knowledgeable people were saying, It does look like it could be something that might be engineered, because it’s not something you usually see,” he told me.
“Then you have somebody else equally as knowledgeable say, Oh, nonsense, you can see that in other situations.”
Some comments about the meeting, e-mailed among the group after the call, were redacted. But three days later, on February 4th, Andersen’s perspective shifted.
In an e-mail to a different group of scientists, which was recovered by U.S. Right to Know, an investigative group, Andersen wrote, “The main crackpot theories going around at the moment relate to this virus being somehow engineered with intent and that is demonstrably not the case.”
By March, Andersen and a few of his colleagues had finalized a letter, to be published by Nature Medicine, arguing that sars-CoV-2 had naturally spilled over from a bat, evolving into a pandemic virus either in an animal host or, unnoticed, in humans.
“Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus,” they wrote.
The paper was extremely influential. In the ensuing months, the scientific consensus, echoed by a number of mainstream media outlets, took the same view, that the virus most likely resulted from a natural zoonotic spillover.
On a recent Zoom call, Andersen sat at his desk, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. He told me that his initial suspicions reflected the fact that he hadn’t known enough about coronaviruses.
His use of the term “crackpot theories,” he said, was a reference, in part, to an article that was circulating at the time, which claimed that sars-CoV-2 was engineered with genetic inserts from H.I.V.
He also had referred to himself as a crackpot in earlier discussions, he said, since his suspicions about viral engineering were not widely shared.
“I think there were people that thought I was an idiot for even suggesting it came from a lab.”
As the pandemic progressed, not everyone was convinced by the natural-origin explanation.
A zoonotic spillover would likely require an intermediate animal between bats and humans, but no such species has yet been identified.
Initially, the Huanan market, in Wuhan, which sold fish, produce, and meat, seemed like the source of sars-CoV-2.
Nearly a third of the hundred and seventy-four earliest known cases were linked to Huanan.
And yet, patient zero likely was not. Chinese officials have said he was a middle-aged accountant, surnamed Chen, who developed symptoms on December 8th, and typically shopped at a supermarket across the river.
In May of 2020, George Fu Gao, the director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said, “At first, we assumed the seafood market might have the virus, but now the market is more like a victim. The novel coronavirus had existed long before.”
Among skeptics, many of them credentialled scientists, others amateur online sleuths—including some full-blown QAnon conspiracy theorists—another theory took shape.
Wuhan is home to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (W.I.V.), which, since the first sars epidemic, has amassed one of the largest libraries of bat coronaviruses in the world; some nineteen thousand samples are stored in its labs.
Its scientists have collaborated closely with international teams of virus hunters, published in leading academic journals, and received hundreds of thousands of dollars in research grants from the U.S. government.
The W.I.V. also frequently partners with the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which, in the fall of 2019, moved its lab to a new location near the Huanan market.
01-MAR-2020 :: The Origin of the #CoronaVirus #COVID19
What is clear is that the #COVID19 was bio-engineered The Science [and I am not a Scientist is irrefutable and in the public domain for those with a modicum of intellectual interest.
This information is being deliberately suppressed.
This took me to Thomas Pynchon
“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.”
“There's always more to it. This is what history consists of. It is the sum total of the things they aren't telling us.”
Now Why are we being led away from this irrefutable Truth
The Mysterious Case of the COVID-19 Lab-Leak Theory @NewYorker [continued]
Circumstantial evidence supporting a new narrative—that the pandemic might have started from a lab accident in Wuhan—began to accumulate in late 2020.
Online data sets from the W.I.V. had disappeared, information on a previous outbreak had been elided, and W.I.V. researchers were conducting experiments with engineered viruses.
Even Andersen acknowledged that the emergence of the virus in Wuhan is “a crazy coincidence.”
In May, 2021, a group of prominent scientists published a letter in Science, calling for an origins investigation that took the lab-leak hypothesis seriously.
Reports then emerged, from U.S. intelligence sources, that three W.I.V. researchers had fallen ill with covid-19-like symptoms, and sought hospital care, in November of 2019.
In response, President Biden called for an investigation into the pandemic’s origins.
“I have now asked the intelligence community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion,” he said.
The National Counterproliferation Center, whose mission is to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, was tapped to facilitate the effort.
According to an unclassified summary of the investigation’s findings, released in August, the virus was not developed as a biological weapon, its sudden emergence caught Chinese officials off guard, and it infected humans no later than November, 2019,
“with the first known cluster of COVID-19 cases arising in Wuhan, China, in December.”
Otherwise, all agencies agreed that two origin hypotheses remained “plausible”: a “natural exposure to an infected animal and a laboratory-associated incident.”
In the spring of 2012, six men who worked clearing bat guano from an abandoned copper mine near the town of Tongguan, in Yunnan Province, fell ill with a severe respiratory disease.
They were admitted to a university hospital in Kunming, which sent blood samples from four of the men to the lab of Shi Zhengli, the head of the W.I.V.’s Center for Emerging Infectious Disease.
Shi is China’s most famous researcher of bat coronaviruses. Years earlier, she had joined the international team that discovered that horseshoe bats served as a reservoir for a large number of sars-related viruses.
Her lab tested the workers’ serum for possible zoonotic pathogens that Shi and others had previously discovered. Everything came back negative. Three of the workers died.
Between 2012 and 2015, Shi and her team regularly travelled to the Tongguan mine, about a thousand miles from Wuhan.
In the evenings, the researchers strung up a mist net at an entrance to the mineshaft, and waited for dusk, when the bats flew out to eat.
Throat and fecal swabs were collected from six different species of horseshoe and vesper bats. Ultimately, Shi’s team brought back more than thirteen hundred samples to their lab.
In 2016, Shi and her colleagues published a paper from this work, finding that many of the bats were co-infected by two or more different coronaviruses at the same time.
Because the bats live huddled in ever-shifting colonies, they circulate viruses endlessly, even across species, which allows different viruses to recombine, creating novel coronavirus strains: an evolutionary bacchanal.
Eventually, Shi’s lab would sequence some portion of all nine sars-related coronaviruses that were found in samples taken from the Tongguan mine.
Three years later, in the final days of 2019, Shi received samples from seven patients sick with a novel virus that was quietly ravaging Wuhan.
Once Shi sequenced the virus, sars-CoV-2, she scoured the W.I.V. databases for any evidence of a genetic match.
The closest relative that she found, according to a paper that she and her colleagues published, in Nature, in February, 2020, was a bat coronavirus that was ninety-six-per-cent the same as sars-CoV-2. She called it RaTG13.
“Ra” stood for the bat species, Rhinolophus affinis, or the intermediate horseshoe bat; “TG” stood for the place, Tongguan; and “13” was the year it was discovered, 2013.
Within a few months, a scientist couple in India, Monali Rahalkar and Rahul Bahulikar, discovered a surprising link—one that Shi had failed to note in her paper.
In a preprint journal article posted online, they stated that, according to their genetic analysis, RaTG13 appeared “100% similar” to a novel sars-like coronavirus sample that Shi had described in her 2016 paper about the abandoned mineshaft, under a different name: RaBtCoV/4991.
Oddly, neither of Shi’s papers mentioned the sick workers who had led the scientists to the abandoned mineshaft in the first place.
A Twitter user named @TheSeeker268 e-mailed Rahalkar and Bahulikar a link to a 2013 master’s thesis about the six workers’ illnesses.
The author, a medical student at Kunming Medical University, wrote that the six patients were treated with antivirals, antibiotics, and antifungals—similar to treatments for covid-19.
A prominent pulmonologist consulted with two of the patients remotely, and diagnosed them with pneumonia, primarily of viral origin, with a possible secondary fungal infection.
The medical student concluded that the pneumonia cases were likely caused by sars-like coronaviruses that had spilled over from horseshoe bats in the mine.
A subsequent chapter in a Ph.D. thesis from 2016 (also unearthed by @TheSeeker268) by a student who was supervised by Gao, China’s C.D.C. director, stated that blood samples from four of the patients, which were tested by the W.I.V., had antibodies to sars-related coronaviruses, suggesting a previous infection.
After these findings were released, Nature published an addendum to Shi’s RaTG13 paper that acknowledged the link to the mine.
Shi clarified that her lab had fully sequenced RaTG13 in 2018, as the “technology and capability in our laboratory had improved.”
She also provided details about the tests that her lab had conducted on the workers’ serum samples, and stated that the lab had recently retested the samples, this time for sars-CoV-2.
They were negative. She also said that no antibodies to a sars-like coronavirus had been found.
The workers were not infected with sars-CoV-2, or we would have covid-12, not covid-19. But among some scientists, the lack of transparency raised questions.
Labs like the W.I.V. are expected to warn the world about viruses that might constitute a threat.
In Tongguan, there was a mini outbreak of a life-threatening illness, which looked like sars but wasn’t sars, in a mine thick with sars-like bat coronaviruses.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology said nothing about the infected workers, even when their cases had direct relevance to the pandemic, until after independent researchers had established the link.
@TheSeeker268 is a member of drastic, or Decentralized Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating covid-19, which formed on Twitter and has been among the most aggressive advocates of the lab-leak theory. (Rahalkar and Bahulikar are loosely connected with the group as well.)
In a tweet about the W.I.V. researchers and the Tongguan mine, @TheSeeker268 wrote, “In a nutshell: They haven’t been forthcoming about their trips to the mine, the motive behind their trips, & all the CoVs they sampled.”
The Mysterious Case of the COVID-19 Lab-Leak Theory @NewYorker [further]
In January, the World Health Organization sent a team of international scientists to Wuhan to conduct the first phase of a search for sars-CoV-2’s origins.
The group’s report, published in March, ranked a zoonotic spillover—from a bat, through an intermediate animal, to a human—as the most likely origin pathway.
They ruled a lab incident as “extremely unlikely,” dedicating just three of more than a hundred pages in the primary report to the theory.
As Andersen frequently says when surveying the evidence, “Anything is possible, but I’m interested in what’s plausible.”
First, a natural origin has historic precedence. sars spilled over from bats to civets at an urban market in November, 2002.
mers, which emerged in Saudi Arabia, in 2012, went from bats to camels to people. The civet was identified as the most probable source of sars within four months of the outbreak; camels were identified within nine months of mers.
And yet, sars-CoV-2’s intermediate animal—among the only things, at this point, that could definitively prove that it did not originate in the Wuhan labs—has not been found.
Such a discovery is becoming less likely, too. As members of the W.H.O. mission wrote in an August letter to Nature,
“The window is rapidly closing on the biological feasibility of conducting the critical trace-back of people and animals inside and outside China.”
One member of the W.H.O. team was Peter Daszak, the president of the EcoHealth Alliance, which is dedicated to mitigating the emergence of infectious diseases.
Since the first sars outbreak, he has been one of the W.I.V.’s closest partners, facilitating the N.I.H. subcontracts and working extensively with Shi and her team in the field.
He has unwaveringly vouched for Shi, and led the charge to call any suggestion of a lab accident a conspiracy theory.
“The problem with this lab-release hypothesis,” he told me, “is that it depends on a critical thing: that the virus was in the lab before it got out. But I know that that virus was not in the lab.”
Daszak, a widely published disease ecologist, also knows that the diversity of viruses in nature is nearly limitless.
Most recently, he and other EcoHealth scientists built a model analyzing how frequently coronaviruses might spill over from bats to people across southern China and southeast Asia.
They overlaid the habitats of all twenty-three bat species known to harbor sars-related coronaviruses with maps of human populations.
Based on bat-human contact and antibody data, they estimated that roughly four hundred thousand people could be infected with sars-related coronaviruses annually.
“People are getting exposed to them every year,” Daszak told me. “They may not know it. They may even get sick and die.”
In other words, spillovers happen far more often than anyone realizes. People are exposed to bats when they shelter in caves, harvest bat guano—the world’s best fertilizer—and hunt, butcher, and eat bats, which is a well-documented practice in various pockets across the region.
“These small villages are at the edge of disappearing forests,” Kendra Phelps, a bat biologist with the EcoHealth Alliance and a co-author on the recent study, told me.
“Inside that forest is densely packed wildlife, which is super stressed by things like encroaching palm oil and rice monocultures.” Stressed animals (just like us) are more likely to get sick and shed virus.
Before the pandemic, President Xi Jinping promoted wildlife farms as a means of poverty alleviation, and the industry, which was largely unregulated, employed more than fourteen million people.
“There’s this incredible network of people involved in farming and raising animals and trying out new ideas,” Daszak told me last year.
“It’s entrepreneurial, it’s chaotic, it’s the sort of farms that are half falling apart, with mixed species in them.”
The W.H.O. report stated that some wild-meat suppliers to Wuhan were located in south China, where horseshoe bats that host sars-like coronaviruses primarily reside.
Perhaps that is where the virus crossed from bats to animals, and those sickened animals were brought to Wuhan, where they were sold in Huanan and the city’s three other known live-animal markets.
“The big missed opportunity, clearly,” Andersen said, “was testing potential reservoirs—intermediate hosts at these markets, not just at Huanan market but across Wuhan, as well as the farther-flung farms where these animals came from, which, to my knowledge, was officially not done.”
The Chinese government shuttered and sanitized the Huanan market on January 1, 2020, essentially destroying a crime scene.
China’s officials told W.H.O. investigators that no live mammals were sold there—a position they still maintain.
But a virologist at Hubei University of Traditional Chinese Medicine had been, he wrote, “serendipitously” conducting monthly surveys to identify the source of a severe tick-borne disease.
In June, he published a study containing documentary evidence that, in the two years prior to the emergence of sars-CoV-2, nearly fifty thousand live animals representing thirty-eight wild species—many of which are now known to be susceptible to sars-CoV-2—were sold and butchered in Wuhan markets, including Huanan.
In February, 2020, China banned the trade and consumption of live wild animals. Tens of thousands of farms were shut down throughout the country.
A farmer in Yunnan said that the government had bought and killed his mischief of bamboo rats.
Chinese officials have not shared the extent to which they tested the farm animals and workers before the mass slaughter.
This makes “any evidence of early coronavirus spillover increasingly difficult to find,” the W.H.O. mission noted in its report.
Chinese officials told the W.H.O. that their scientists did test more than eighty thousand livestock, poultry, and wild-animal samples, across thirty-one provinces, collected both before and after the outbreak, but found no evidence of sars-CoV-2.
The world’s most trafficked animal, the pangolin, was initially thought to be a likely contender in the intermediate-animal search, not because they were sold at Huanan market but because, in early 2020, tissue samples from a group of pangolins—confiscated from smugglers at China’s southern border—tested positive for a coronavirus.
There are coronaviruses particular to all sorts of animals, but this one was weird.
Part of its spike protein, the receptor binding domain, could bind more tightly to human ace2 than sars-CoV-2’s.
Back in February, 2020, Andersen had been suspicious of sars-CoV-2’s ace2 binding strength.
The pangolin-coronavirus discovery helped change his mind. If the pangolin had naturally evolved a coronavirus primed for binding to ace2, then sars-CoV-2 could have naturally evolved such a feature as well.
(The rest of the pangolin coronavirus was too distinct from sars-CoV-2 to be its source.)
Since then, close relatives of sars-CoV-2 have been identified in China, Thailand, Cambodia, and Japan.
But the most significant finding supporting a natural origin was announced in September.
Scientists in Laos—just south of the border from Yunnan—found a horseshoe-bat coronavirus that is genetically closer to sars-CoV-2 than the virus from the Tongguan mine.
It might have split from a common ancestor with sars-CoV-2 sometime in the last decade or so.
Alarmingly, their spikes are identical and bind with equal efficiency to human ace2 receptors.
The discovery “completely blows away many of the main lab-leak arguments about Yunnan being special,” Andersen said.
“These types of viruses are much more widespread than we initially realized.”
Bloom questioned the significance of the discoveries in Laos. “I don’t think it really, again, tells us exactly how these viruses got to Wuhan,” he said.
But China’s wildlife trade could have been both an incubator and a transit system for a virus like sars-CoV-2, which has proved not so necessarily adapted to humans but to mammals more generally.
Coughing tigers tested positive for covid-19 at the Bronx Zoo, then eight congested gorillas at the San Diego Zoo.
White-tailed deer have sars-CoV-2 antibodies. In the Netherlands, the virus devastated mink farms, infecting sixty-eight per cent of farm workers and hastening a permanent end to the country’s fur trade.
China is the world’s largest fur producer. Could mink farms have been the problem? Raccoon dogs, another source of fur and exotic meat in China, are susceptible.
“We’ve seen this virus jump into all kinds of animals with no adaptation, no evolution,” Andersen told me. “It’s a generalist. It had to be, otherwise it probably couldn’t cause a pandemic. It’s a unique beast.”
The Mysterious Case of the COVID-19 Lab-Leak Theory @NewYorker [conclusion]
On September 21st, drastic published a startling new revelation. In 2018, Daszak, at EcoHealth Alliance, in partnership with Shi, Baric, and Wang, had submitted a $14.2-million grant proposal to the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (darpa).
The proposal—which was obtained from an anonymous whistle-blower—detailed an ambitious plan to identify, model, and test the spillover risk of novel sars-related bat coronaviruses, then develop vaccines for the horseshoe bats themselves, to preëmpt viruses from jumping into other animals or people.
What stood out was their plan to insert “human-specific” furin cleavage sites into sars-like bat coronaviruses.
The furin cleavage site is the single most distinguishing feature of sars-CoV-2. It’s “the magic sauce of this virus,” Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona, said recently.
“Whether it’s natural or genetically modified, this is why this virus is circulating in humans.”
Before sars-CoV-2 emerged, research suggested that a furin cleavage site broadens the range of host species that a virus can successfully infect, and increases its contagiousness (a hypothesis that the pandemic has confirmed).
In order for a coronavirus to enter a cell, its spike must undergo a fragile metamorphosis, in which it is cut into two pieces.
Only then can the virus fuse to the host cell’s membrane, and unload its genetic material, or RNA.
A virus with a furin cleavage site can use a host’s furin—an enzyme that the human body readily produces—to quickly cut apart its spike.
Worobey said that this “kind of puts the virus on a hair trigger so that once it binds to the cell, it can get in and be very effective.”
The darpa proposal stated that scientists would introduce furin cleavage sites into lab-created versions of sars-related coronaviruses, recovered from bats in Yunnan.
They planned to fully sequence and generate clones of three to five novel bat viruses each year.
Then they would test the altered viruses in human respiratory cells, and, potentially, in humanized mice.
“This describes work that is, like, ‘Let’s go out and discover new viruses,’ ” Andersen said, “and do things like furin cleavage sites. So, yes, that’s why this is relevant to the wider conversation.”
sars-CoV-2 is the only virus known to possess a furin cleavage site in its section of the coronavirus family tree.
“We now know that there are full-length bat CoVs similar to sars-CoV-2 that bind well to human ace2,” Bloom said, referring to the Laos viruses, “but only lack the furin cleavage site.”
The W.I.V. was collecting many viruses each year. What if researchers had found one even more similar to sars-CoV-2, with the same binding affinity for human ace2, then swapped a furin cleavage site into a clone of that virus in the lab?
Such work could have led directly to the creation of sars-CoV-2. “A novel furin cleavage site might have been the extra ingredient for a natural virus to spill over from animals to humans and cause a pandemic,” Alina Chan, a postdoc in molecular biology and gene therapy at the Broad Institute of M.I.T. and Harvard, tweeted recently.
“It could also have been the extra ingredient for a lab virus to jump into a researcher and be carried out of the lab unnoticed.”
Chan is the co-author of the forthcoming book “Viral: The Search for the Origin of covid-19,” and has been, since the spring of 2020, one of the most tenacious researchers of a possible lab accident.
“The question has to be asked,” she tweeted, “why people in the know didn’t think it was urgent & important, in Jan 2020, to let the world know there was research that could have plausibly led to the emergence of SARS2 in Wuhan.”
The proposal was rejected. A darpa project manager explained that its “key strengths are the experienced team and the selected coronavirus hotspot caves that show high prevalence for novel bat coronaviruses.”
But, they wrote, the team “does not mention or assess potential risks of Gain of Function (GoF) research.”
That is, the group didn’t have a plan for the event that their experiments created a novel, pandemic-ready virus.
Reviewers within darpa “were really shocked” by the “irresponsible” nature of the proposal, and its lack of consideration for the risks that gain-of-function research would entail, an official, who was not authorized to speak to reporters, told me.
In the spring of 2020, when President Donald Trump started promoting the lab-leak theory, hijacking it from any reasonable discussion, someone told him that EcoHealth’s N.I.H. grant funded the W.I.V.
The N.I.H. abruptly cancelled the grant. I spoke to Daszak at that time about the politicization of science and how the decision would affect his organization’s ability to function.
He said that it halted collaboration with the W.I.V. on important work that was directly related to developing drugs for covid-19, tracing the origin of the virus, and preventing the next pandemic.
It also meant, he said, that EcoHealth scientists would no longer have access to the W.I.V.’s data.
“It’s a very complex thing,” he said, describing EcoHealth’s work in China, “Chinese scientists will try and do my work, but it won’t be the same work, and it won’t be the work that we need to really understand the next one.”
Despite the fact that furin cleavage sites have been the subject of much debate for the past year and a half, Shi, Baric, and Wang never publicly mentioned that they had proposed these experiments.
Daszak, despite being a member of the W.H.O. investigation, said nothing. (“All of that sort of furin-cleavage-site work was supposed to be done in North Carolina, not at the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” an EcoHealth spokesman said.)
Andersen emphasized that there is no evidence to suggest that any of the work described in the proposal was actually done.
But he added, “I was quite appalled, actually, to see it released now. I think the U.S.-based researchers that were on this particular grant have done a huge disservice by not releasing this information earlier.”
(The EcoHealth spokesman told me that “the darpa proposal was not funded” and that “the work described was not ever done.”)
Wang, at Duke-N.U.S. Medical School, was the first member of the darpa proposal to publicly discuss it.
He recently joined Bloom, Worobey, and Chan for a debate hosted by Science and live-streamed online.
Both Bloom and Chan asked why the proposal’s existence was not shared earlier. Wang, who was born and raised in China, holds Australian citizenship, and now lives in Singapore, said that he didn’t know “the proper procedure of releasing the information” from a failed darpa grant.
When Jon Cohen, a writer for Science and the moderator of the debate, pressed him on transparency, Wang said the furin cleavage sites were not his part of the proposal.
“From Day One, I said, to engineer a coronavirus in a lab, technically that is possible. But to engineer sars-CoV-2 from existing knowledge? That’s not possible.”
It used to strike me as strange that, with current technology, virologists couldn’t look at the sars-CoV-2 genome and determine whether it had been engineered.
When I mentioned this to a French virologist who studies coronaviruses, he said, deadpan,
“The secret is if you just look closely enough, you can see a tiny Wuhan Institute of Virology signature.”
Proponents of a lab leak rest most of their arguments on the assumption that Chinese officials, the W.I.V., and Shi Zhengli are lying about the viruses they had, and the work they did, in a massive coverup.
The natural-origin proponents assume that the W.I.V. has shared everything. “It’s not that the scientists would not have wanted to share,” Relman, who has refrained from taking a position on the question of sars-CoV-2’s origin, said. “It’s that they wouldn’t have been allowed.”
The stakes are high on all sides. From one perspective, proving the virus has a natural origin is even worse for China.
If wildlife farms were responsible for the pandemic, that would implicate the policies of President Xi Jinping.
If there was a lab leak, just one, or a few, scientists are culpable of an accident.
Either way, it is likely that the Chinese government prefers a storm of swirling theories, within which they can continue to push their own: that U.S. soldiers brought the virus to Wuhan in October, 2019, during the World Military Games, or that the American government manufactured the virus in Fort Detrick, Maryland.
Or they can blame imported frozen food. The conspiracy theories branch out from there, in their own kind of evolutionary tree.
Without greater transparency from China, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to find the truth.
Beijing “continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information and blame other countries, including the United States,” the intelligence community states,
in the declassified summary. “These actions reflect, in part, China’s government’s own uncertainty about where an investigation could lead as well as its frustration the international community is using the issue to exert political pressure.”
President Biden, in a statement, said that the U.S. and its allies would continue to “press the P.R.C. to fully share information,” and to coöperate in the second phase of the W.H.O.’s investigation, both of which, so far, Beijing has refused to do.
For now, the battle between two theories rolls onward. As a friend said to me recently, “Why does it seem like we have to pick a side?”
Both camps share a desire to understand the origins in order to prevent the emergence of the next pandemic. But, between them, there are some differences of emphasis.
The lab leakers tend to be more interested in biosecurity, transparency, and human hubris. They exhibit an admirable drive to follow the money, to upend centralized power, to overturn academic hierarchy, and to expose the injustices of oppressive governments.
Some are China hawks. By and large, they have not done virus-hunting field or lab work.
On the natural-origin side, most people have done the kind of field and lab work that the W.I.V. pursued—and are regularly bowled over by nature’s endless diversity.
They believe in scientific precedent, as opposed to uncertainties that have yet to be resolved.
Many people in this camp have devoted their careers to conservation, biodiversity, and public health, and have been warning about a future pandemic for years.
Spillovers most often happen because of land-use change, or human encroachment into previously wild places, which is happening on pretty much the entire planet, but particularly in areas that are developing rapidly, like south China and southeast Asia.
More than one virologist reminded me that nature is the best bioterrorist. It’s far more creative than humans are. With enough time, evolution is capable of anything we can imagine, and everything we can’t.
“If you look at a platypus, you can very clearly realize that that’s not something somebody would have designed, right?” Andersen said.
“Because it’s too absurd. It’s a bit of a disaster. But it works pretty well.” It occupies its own ecological niche. Some of the notable features of sars-CoV-2, Andersen said, make it “the platypus of coronaviruses.”
Still, humans have changed the equation. Calling viruses zoonotic obscures the role we play in their evolution, whether in the wilderness, a wet market, or a lab.
What is an ecological niche when humans have their hands in everything? Nature’s staggering diversity includes human nature. Somehow, sars-CoV-2 found its ecological niche in us.
Weekly epidemiological update on COVID-19 - 13 October 2021 @WHO
Globally, the numbers of weekly COVID-19 cases and deaths has continued to decline since late August.
Over 2.8 million new cases and over 46 000 new deaths were reported during the week of 4 to 10 October 2021, representing a 7% and 10% decrease respectively, as compared to the previous week.
Global overview Data as of 10 October 2021
Globally, the numbers of weekly COVID-19 cases and deaths have continued to decline since late August (Figure 1).
Over 2.8 million new cases and over 46 000 new deaths were reported during the week of 4 to 10 October 2021, representing decreases of 7% and 10% respectively, as compared to the previous week (Table 1).
Apart from the European Region, which reported a 7% increase in the number of new weekly cases as compared to the previous week, all the other regions reported declines in new weekly cases.
The largest decrease in new weekly cases was reported from the African Region (32%), followed by the Western Pacific Region (26%).
The cumulative number of confirmed cases reported globally is now over 237 million and the cumulative number of deaths is over 4.8 million.
The number of new weekly deaths reported showed a large (>10%) decline for all regions except for the European Region, which reported an 11% increase as compared to the previous week.
The largest decline in weekly deaths was reported from the Western Pacific and the African Regions, with both showing declines of 34% as compared to the previous week.
The highest numbers of new cases were reported from
United States of America (653 837 new cases; 12% decrease)
United Kingdom (249 699 new cases; similar to the number reported in the previous week)
Turkey (205 266 new cases; similar to the number reported in the previous week)
Russian Federation (188 829 new cases; 14% increase),
India (139 572 new cases; 13% decrease).
Last week clocked the Lowest weekly count for 12 weeks.
Climate Change Is Already Shocking Our Food Chain @economics
Food, Climate & Agriculture
Stuart Woolf, a large almond and tomato producer, recently bulldozed 400 acres of almond orchards in central California — about 50,000 trees that under normal conditions would have produced $2.5 million of nuts every year for another decade.
It’s a fraction of the 25,000 acres his family farms, but razing the land was a necessary triage — “Like cutting off your horribly infected hand to keep the rest of the body going,” he told me.
Woolf plans to replace the trees with cover crops he’ll neither sell nor harvest, but will use to sequester greenhouse gasses in his soil.
He’s setting aside other land for another kind of farming: industrial solar.
Woolf is among thousands of U.S. farmers whose businesses have been both damaged and transformed by historic drought and heat in recent months. And it’s just the beginning.
Climate change is having an impact on agriculture more grave than that of the Coronavirus pandemic, and far more chronic and complex — driving a paradigm shift in the business of food.
“We’re at a crossroads — there’s no turning back from here. No return to normal,” said Don Cameron, president of California’s Food and Agriculture Board and general manager of Terranova Ranch.
“Right now there are more farms for sale in Central California than I've seen in my lifetime.”
Producers must devise new strategies for their land: what to grow and where to grow it.
Consumers will have to adjust to price increases even steeper than during the pandemic — and perhaps a less consistent supply of their favorite foods.
Lawmakers will need to provide subsidies to support the transition, especially for small and midsize farms.
Farmers across North America should take heed of Woolf’s journey, as they’re likely to follow a similar path in the years to come.
More frequent and violent storms are flooding fields and crippling distribution infrastructure in the South and Midwest; droughts and wildfires have battered farms and ranches; shifting seasons, temperature swings and invasive insects are taking a heavy toll nationwide.
It was heat and drought that first sickened Woolf’s almond trees. The dry conditions pushed the cost of clean surface water to as much as $2,500 an acre-foot — 10 times more than usual.
Woolf knew much of his well water had turned salty, and would kill his almond trees.
His best option was letting the orchards go and using the water from his good wells for his more profitable tomatoes.
When Woolf’s father ran the farm, a single question guided him: What crops do I plant to optimize some of the most productive and versatile farmland in the world?
Now Woolf is guided by a different calculus: Which crops will be most profitable per acre-foot of water invested? And how can he make the most of land that no longer supports crops?
In addition to razing his almond trees, Woolf had to fallow a third of his family’s 25,000 acres. He began scouting land in less drought-strapped regions of California, and also in Portugal, where he can grow the same crops in less fertile soil but with more abundant water.
His team is also changing the cropping patterns on his fields, adopting new drought-tolerant and heat-resistant varietals and adding a test plot of agave cactus — which thrives in the desert — for making liquor.
Based on his new reckoning, Woolf dedicated 1,300 acres of his land to a solar installation scheduled to come online in February.
It’s hard to imagine covering up soil in a region once considered the American Fertile Crescent to harvest nothing but sunshine, yet that’s the plan.
Woolf will reap about $1,000 an acre annually from leasing his land, and he’ll be able to irrigate his other fields — a value of about $500 an acre.
Woolf plans to expand his solar projects to 3,000 acres by 2025, and hopes eventually to be paid for sequestering carbon.
He reasons that as water supplies dwindle and he grows less food, the prices for his specialty crops will rise, stemming his revenue losses.
By the end of the decade, he estimates, a quarter of his revenue could come from non-food-related use of his land, like solar.
Woolf is one of thousands of California farmers trying to adapt and survive.
This summer, Joe Del Bosque, who farms 2,000 acres of fruits and vegetables near Woolf, ripped out his asparagus crop to save his cantaloupes — protecting his melon market share.
Alan Boyce of Materra Farming Inc. chose not to plant his tomato crops so he could share the water for that crop with his citrus-farming neighbors.
At Terranova, where Cameron farms 9,000 acres, he drilled deeper wells and expanded infrastructure to capture floodwater for future use when the rains return.
Yet Woolf, Boyce, Cameron and Del Bosque run large operations that can absorb losses and adapt.
Smaller farmers will need more government help to survive.
California Governor Gavin Newsom provides a promising model for climate-smart agriculture funding, backing new programs that link emissions reductions to water-efficiency projects, and helping small and mid-size farms adapt to climate pressures.
It’s hard to comprehend the immense stakes as climate change upends decades of custom.
Central California grows nearly half of all the fruits, nuts and vegetables in the U.S., and a third of the world’s tomatoes.
Yet predictions for this region are grim: California’s 2021 tomato yields are expected to fall 20% below normal; almond production is down about 15%; many vineyards have lost a third or more of their wine grapes.
Prices will rise up to 25% for some of California’s fall crops, according to Cameron, and the drought could hurt production well into 2023.
Farming has always been a perilous industry, but now it’s facing levels of risk never seen before. Let’s not mince words: Covid rattled our food system, but climate change could be a seismic shock.
This is literally a kitchen-table issue, and industry leaders, voters, investors and policy makers need to begin treating it as such.
In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.
"At one point I decided to repeat some of the computations in order to examine what was happening in greater detail. I stopped the computer, typed in a line of numbers that it had printed out a while earlier, and set it running again. I went down the hall for a cup of coffee and returned after about an hour, during which time the computer had simulated about two months of weather. The numbers being printed were nothing like the old ones. I immediately suspected a weak vacuum tube or some other computer trouble, which was not uncommon, but before calling for service I decided to see just where the mistake had occurred, knowing that this could speed up the servicing process. Instead of a sudden break, I found that the new values at first repeated the old ones, but soon afterward differed by one and then several units in the last decimal place, and then began to differ in the next to the last place and then in the place before that. In fact, the differences more or less steadily doubled in size every four days or so, until all resemblance with the original output disappeared somewhere in the second month. This was enough to tell me what had happened: the numbers that I had typed in were not the exact original numbers, but were the rounded-off values that had appeared in the original printout. The initial round-off errors were the culprits; they were steadily amplifying until they dominated the solution." (E. N. Lorenz, The Essence of Chaos, U. Washington Press, Seattle (1993), page 134)
Elsewhere he stated:
One meteorologist remarked that if the theory were correct, one flap of a sea gull's wings would be enough to alter the course of the weather forever. The controversy has not yet been settled, but the most recent evidence seems to favor the sea gulls.
African Region .@WHO regional overviews Epidemiological week 4-10 October 2021
Since mid-July, the African Region has shown a constant decline in the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, with over 33 000 new cases and over 1200 new deaths reported last week, a 32% and a 34% decrease respectively as compared to the previous week.
While the majority of countries (35/49; 71%) reported a decrease in new weekly cases, seven countries reported an increase, with Chad (by 54%) reporting the greatest increase.
The highest numbers of new cases were reported from
Ethiopia (6061 new cases; 5.3 new cases per 100 000; a 15% decrease)
South Africa (5884 new cases; 9.9 new cases per 100 000; a 39% decrease)
Cameroon (3096 new cases; 11.7 new cases per 100 000; a 55% decrease).
Concerning new weekly deaths, 75% of countries in the Region reported a decline whereas there was a marked increase observed in Senegal (by 125%) and Mali (by 100%).
The highest numbers of new deaths were reported from
South Africa (539 new deaths; <1 new death per 100 000; a 28% decrease)
Ethiopia (275 new deaths; <1 new death per 100 000; a 10% decrease)
Cameroon (58 new deaths; <1 new death per 100 000; a 36% decrease).
“With limited testing, we’re still flying blind in far too many communities in Africa,” @WHOAFRO director @MoetiTshidi says @globeandmail @geoffreyyork
Health officials are making a dramatic revision of their pandemic assessment in Africa after a new analysis found that 85 per cent of the continent’s COVID-19 infections are going undetected, largely because of a severe lack of testing.
Officially, 8.4 million cases of the virus have been recorded in Africa. But in reality, there have been 59 million infections across the continent, according to the revised data released Thursday by the World Health Organization.
Deaths, too, are believed to be far higher than the official count – probably three times more than the official toll of 214,000 dead, the WHO says.
The new data challenge the common myth that Africa has been relatively unscathed in the pandemic.
While Africa’s young population has helped it to avoid a high death rate during the pandemic, the total number of infections has been much worse than most people realized.
The drastic undercounting is primarily because of a lack of testing. Only 70 million tests have been conducted among Africa’s 1.3 billion people so far – a small fraction of the 550 million tests administered in the United States, which has only a third of Africa’s population.
“With limited testing, we’re still flying blind in far too many communities in Africa,” WHO Africa director Matshidiso Moeti told a briefing on Thursday.
The revised African estimates are the latest evidence that the impact of the pandemic has been vastly undercounted in many parts of the world.
In India, for example, recent studies have concluded that only 10 per cent of COVID-19 deaths have been officially reported.
In South Africa, estimates of excess deaths have suggested that the true number of deaths is three times more than the official count. In Peru, a revised analysis led to a tripling of the official death count.
With many African countries suffering a “pandemic fatigue” that has dampened the level of mask-wearing and physical distancing, and with a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases now expected to hit many African countries around the holiday season in December
The problem is worsened by the huge number of asymptomatic cases in Africa.
In an estimated 65 per cent to 85 per cent of African COVID-19 cases, there are few or no symptoms – far higher than the percentage in North America or Europe.
The high rate of asymptomatic cases and the low death rate in Africa are believed to be largely a result of Africa’s relatively youthful and active population, although experts have debated other possible factors.
Turkey expands armed drone sales to Ethiopia and Morocco - sources @Reuters
Turkey has expanded its exports of armed drones by negotiating sales deals with Morocco and Ethiopia after their successful use in international conflicts, according to four sources familiar with the agreements.
Any drone shipments to Ethiopia risk stoking friction in already strained relations between Ankara and Cairo, which is at odds with Addis Ababa over a hydropower dam on the Blue Nile.
Two Egyptian security sources said Cairo had asked the United States and some European nations to help it freeze any deal.
A third Egyptian source said any agreement would have to be raised and clarified in talks between Cairo and Ankara as they try to repair ties
Turkey, Ethiopia and Morocco have not formally announced any armed drone deals but several sources familiar with the arrangements provided details to Reuters.
One Turkish official said Ethiopia and Morocco had both requested purchases of Bayraktar TB2 drones in agreements that could also include spare-part guarantees and training.
A diplomat who requested anonymity said separately that Morocco had received the first batch of armed drones it ordered in May.
Ethiopia plans to acquire them but the status of that order is less clear, the envoy said.
‘The genie out of the bottle’ @AfricanBizMag
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.
Fuel tax cuts punch Sh37bn budget hole @BD_Africa
The Treasury will be forced to seek additional Sh37.6 billion to plug a budget deficit triggered by reduction in fuel and cooking gas levies and taxes.
MPs last evening backed a report by the National Assembly Finance committee that will reduce pump prices by at least Sh12 per litre after they rose to a historic high in the month to October 14.
The committee put the Treasury on notice to prepare alternatives for raising Sh22 billion following a cut on the eight percent value-added tax (VAT) on petroleum products to four percent.
The budget hole could also force the Treasury to cut spending in an effort to rein in the fiscal deficit as the country head into a highly charged general election that is expected to slow down economic activity.
The reduction petroleum development levy (PDL) from Sh5.40 to Sh2.50 per litre will leave a Sh11 billion funding gap.
Ms Gladys Wanga, who chairs the Finance committee said Treasury will also lose Sh4.6 billion following reduction on Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) VAT from 16 per cent to eight percent.
“If we adopt this report and approve the proposals contained in the Petroleum Products’ (Taxes and Levies) (Amendment) Bill, 2021, we will reduce the pump prices by Sh12 per litre.
“On the other hand, these recommendations will result in loss of revenue in terms of VAT of Sh22 billion, VAT on LPG of Sh4.6 billion and other losses including PDL of Sh11 billion,” Ms Wanga said.
The Treasury will also face the challenge of raising revenues after MPs proposed to exempt fuel from the annual review of inflation tax.
The Bill seeks to reduces the price of diesel, petrol and kerosene following public uproar.
Following House intervention on abnormal increase in pump prices, the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (Epra) cut pump prices by Sh5 for petrol and diesel and Sh7.28 for kerosine.
Motorists in Nairobi will for the next month pay Sh128.74 per litre of petrol, Sh110.60 for diesel and Sh103.54 for kerosine.
In last month review, petrol prices jumped by Sh7.58 a litre of petrol to Sh134.72 in Nairobi while diesel jumped Sh7.94 to Sh115.6 a litre.