Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Red Flags Everywhere Because Humans are Not Rational


I am a student of history and philosophy. Grounded in these traditions I have concluded that although individual people and small groups are capable of reason, too often other impulses drive human behavior.

I believe that the capacity to be reasonable in the best Enlightenment understanding of that concept, depends upon enabling social/economic circumstances that temper other impulses that derive from desperation, fear, anxiety, anger, greed, thanatos, etc.

Unfortunately we are now in a time when enabling social/economic circumstances are fracturing and the institutional supports for reasonableness foundering. 

The red flags are everywhere. They are particularly scary when the flags are produced by large institutional actors.


China reportedly "evacuated" 20,000 people from 12 villages and is concentrating them into quarantine facilities described by internees as unclean and unacceptable:

Emptied villages. Locked campuses. How China battles a COVID-19 resurgence

Why is China CONCENTRATING people? My guess is that a nasty strain may have evolved that China wants to eradicate entirely. What is going to happen to those 20,000 concentrated people?

Bad things happen when people are concentrated. It is clear that the Covid-19 virus thrives in concentrated conditions such as prisons and mink farms and slaughter houses. China is scared. It is not rational to concentrate people to control a highly contagious disease.

E484K is a mutation first identified in South Africa that is believed to pose special risks because it increases potential for "antibody escape." There are other genetic changes that are noteworthy.

Viruses typically make evolutionary trade-offs in favor of transmission over lethality but what if SARS-CoV-2 isn't bound by that evolutionary trade-off?

The viral hazard is increasing but human behavior is deteriorating and not just in China.


It was painful to watch the rioters deface the US Capitol building in their collective delusion that their destructive mini-assault mattered. Their rag-tag symbolic assault won't change the extant power relations, but will encourage and legitimize yet more state surveillance and, ultimately, repression.

Rioting Americans are not rational but it seems that plagues and plague measures have historically produced this type of collective insanity.

Moreover, many of today's demonstrators across the political spectrum have been essentially dispossessed

The social and economic conditions for reasonableness have been destroyed and escalating crises have operated like structural adjustments transferring wealth and power from the many to the few as I have documented across my academic scholarship.


The world is awash with red flags. How increasingly irrational institutions and individuals are going to manage these fractures I do not know. I can only hope.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Faith in the People - Now We REQUIRE Sound Governance


I realize that Trump's brand of jingoistic and nationalistic right-wing populism appeals to many who have experienced the indignities and resentiment deriving from a neoliberal global order that has rejected them. To them I ask: where are you now? 

And I am not talking to all of you financially secure Republicans who reap structural advantages from a predatory state.


It is not that I am a fervent Democrat. I follow other lefts who critique this party for ignoring the plight of the growing ranks of dispossessed because of their elite alliances.

But this vote wasn't about Democrats or Republicans. 

This vote was about whether any semblance of law and justice would continue to exist in the US.

A Democratic victory doesn't necessarily advance these causes as desired, but it certainly curtails the ongoing debacle in governance.

Moreover, Biden will not subscribe to Trump's plan to allow coronavirus to circulate unimpeded until our health care system and other other critical infrastructures collapse from the pressures.

Thank goodness for this sense among "the people" that failed governance has prevailed for too long.

We are facing an escalating threat and need sound governance.

SARS-CoV-2 has mutated in mink farms and has now produced a mutation that evades the body's antibody defense system. This mutation has been found in 12 people who worked at the farms. Hopefully it has not spread far. This is not the first time antibody resistant mutations have been documented, just the worst.

The good news is that a nasal spray developed by researchers at Columbia university might work to block the virus replication in the nasal passage and thereby stop the disease. I hope clinical trials begin soon as these seems to be a logical and productive approach.

We need a competent federal government to help manage this ongoing disaster. but I also share the concerns expressed by so many that "help" could become a new form of medical tyranny so the plan for tackling this crisis must include many stakeholders and must be the least restrictive possible.

Most critically, people who are economically displaced by this ongoing crisis must be offered a safety net that protects them and their family from further shocks.

People cannot be subject to lockdowns without economic and social support regardless of the emergency.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

What is Vaccine Enhancement?


Note: This post discussing the risks of vaccine enhancement is not aimed at challenging the utility of vaccines. Vaccine enhancement is a known risk that must be tested for before a vaccine goes to market. Safe vaccines have been tested against vaccine enhancement. I strongly support safe vaccines and hope that we can develop safe covid vaccines.

The question I raise here after more than two dozen people have died in South Korea after getting the flu vaccine is what happens if Covid-19 is hanging out in your liver or central nervous system and you get either a flu vaccine or a covid vaccine. What are the risks for vaccine enhancement?

Julie Steenhuysen (March 11, 2020) As pressure for coronavirus vaccine mounts, scientists debate risks of accelerated testing. Reuters.

“I understand the importance of accelerating timelines for vaccines in general, but from everything I know, this is not the vaccine to be doing it with,” Dr Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told Reuters.

Hotez worked on development of a vaccine for SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), the coronavirus behind a major 2003 outbreak, and found that some vaccinated animals developed more severe disease compared with unvaccinated animals when they were exposed to the virus.

“There is a risk of immune enhancement,” said Hotez. “The way you reduce that risk is first you show it does not occur in laboratory animals.”

Studies have suggested that coronavirus vaccines carry the risk of what is known as vaccine enhancement, where instead of protecting against infection, the vaccine can actually make the disease worse when a vaccinated person is infected with the virus. The mechanism that causes that risk is not fully understood and is one of the stumbling blocks that has prevented the successful development of a coronavirus vaccine.

Covid-19 can become a chronic or perhaps dormant virus. That much has been determined. What happens if you have covid somewhere in your system and you get vaccinated? How can we prevent anti-body enhancement of coronavirus?

Wan, Y., Shang, J., Sun, S., Jai, W., Chen, J., Geng, Q, He, L., Chen, Y., Wu, J., Shi, Z., Zhou, Y., Du, L., Li, F. (2020). Molecular mechanism for anti-body dependent enhancement of coronavirus. Journal of Virology, 94 (5) e02015-19; DOI: 10.1128/JVI.02015-19.

Antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE) of viral entry has been a major concern for epidemiology, vaccine development, and antibody-based drug therapy. However, the molecular mechanism behind ADE is still elusive. Coronavirus spike protein mediates viral entry into cells by first binding to a receptor on the host cell surface and then fusing viral and host membranes. In this study, we investigated how a neutralizing monoclonal antibody (MAb), which targets the receptor-binding domain (RBD) of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus spike, mediates viral entry using pseudovirus entry and biochemical assays. Our results showed that MAb binds to the virus surface spike, allowing it to undergo conformational changes and become prone to proteolytic activation. Meanwhile, MAb binds to cell surface IgG Fc receptor, guiding viral entry through canonical viral-receptor-dependent pathways. Our data suggest that the antibody/Fc-receptor complex functionally mimics viral receptor in mediating viral entry. Moreover, we characterized MAb dosages in viral-receptor-dependent, Fc-receptor-dependent, and both-receptors-dependent viral entry pathways, delineating guidelines on MAb usages in treating viral infections. Our study reveals a novel molecular mechanism for antibody-enhanced viral entry and can guide future vaccination and antiviral strategies.

IMPORTANCE Antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE) of viral entry has been observed for many viruses. It was shown that antibodies target one serotype of viruses but only subneutralize another, leading to ADE of the latter viruses. Here we identify a novel mechanism for ADE: a neutralizing antibody binds to the surface spike protein of coronaviruses like a viral receptor, triggers a conformational change of the spike, and mediates viral entry into IgG Fc receptor-expressing cells through canonical viral-receptor-dependent pathways. We further evaluated how antibody dosages impacted viral entry into cells expressing viral receptor, Fc receptor, or both receptors. This study reveals complex roles of antibodies in viral entry and can guide future vaccine design and antibody-based drug therapy.