COVID19 update, December 30, 2020: Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine approved in the UK; more updates from Israel; link between viral load and severity of disease; Rapid CRISPR-based tests coming

(1) The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is now approved for use in the UK. This is good news in a number of respects: it can be manufactured cheaply in the UK itself and only requires conventional refrigerators (not even freezers). [Addendum: this makes it especially attractive for countries like India, that not just couldn’t afford to acquire Pfizer or Moderna vaccines in the quantities required, but can’t realistically deploying the low-temperature supply chain required.]

The immunisation campaign will now shift to giving as many people as possible their first dose of vaccine with a second dose following within that period.

When the Pfizer-BioNTech jab rollout began, the aim was to give the second dose after three weeks.

But based on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, the aim now is to give as many vulnerable people some protection from Covid-19, irrespective of the jab they are given.

The Oxford vaccine is easier to store and distribute, as it can be kept at normal fridge temperature unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech jab that has to be kept at -70C.

There is also more confidence about supply as it is UK-made, whereas the Pfizer-BioNTech jab has to be shipped in from Belgium.

The article also explains that in effect, it seems the UK will be trying to maximize the number of people that will get at least one dose of the vaccine, the idea being that more will be available a few months down the line. A source in Belgium told me they are planning the same thing there.

Below is the UK priority schedule:

(2) A few more updates from Israel, which appears to be vaccinating about 150,000 people per day now (that’s several % per day of the eligible groups)

  • Times of Israel editor-in-chief David Horowitz movingly describes the experiences of himself and his parents getting vaccinated (in Jerusalem)
  • An insider told me that some time ago, the TEVA pharmaceutical company built a somewhat grandiose logistical center in Shoham, pretty much next door to the airport. This includes a large capacity in REVCO low-temperature storage, much of it sitting empty. Right now, this turns out to be serendipitous, as this facility is now the national distribution hub for the vaccines.
  • A man age 88, “with multiple complex health issues”, collapsed hours after receiving the vaccine. Doctors are confident the vaccine was not the culprit, however.
  • Veteran Arab affairs correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh reports that in many Arab locales, people are wary of the vaccine — and as a result, vaccination rate in the Arab sector is much lower than in the Jewish sector. Nevertheless, there are exceptions — such as the town of Umm al-Fahm, whose mayor Umm al-Fahem “Mayor Samir Mahamed said that rumors circulating on social media and WhatsApp have scared many Arabs. ‘Unfortunately, some people are posting incorrect information and fake news about the vaccination,’ he told the Post, noting that 55% of Umm el-Fahm residents over the age of 60 have received the vaccine. ‘They are scaring the people, and that’s why we are waging a campaign to raise awareness regarding the importance of receiving the vaccine.'” Galilee Medical Center director. Prof. Masad Barḥoum, points out that vaccination centers in many Arab communities are empty — and hence Jews travel to Arab villages to get vaccinated without a wait.
  • While in some locations, the commonsense decision was made to use leftover defrosted vaccine shots also for not-yet-eligible person rather than discard them (Pfizer mRNA vaccines have to be used within 6 hours, as the mRNA vaccine is so temperature-sensitive), in other places, several hundred of the precious doses were discarded unused

I would suggest that anybody sitting on the fence about the effectiveness of the vaccine watch very carefully the news coming out of Israel over the next weeks, as we are likely to become the first country where most of the vulnerable population groups will have been vaccinated. If the vaccine is as effective on the ‘battlefield’ as it was doing clinical trials, we should see a precipitous drop in COVID19 mortality 3-4 weeks from now.

(3) More evidence that viral load associated with severity of disease from these two papers: and

From a NYTimes write-up in popular language: ““A [RT-PCR] test is performed in “cycles,” each doubling the amount of viral genetic material originally drawn from the patient’s sample. The higher the initial viral load, the fewer cycles the test needs to find genetic material and produce a signal.[…] the Nevada Department of Public Health found an average Ct value of 23.4 in people who died from Covid-19, compared with 27.5 in those who survived their illnesses. People who were asymptomatic had an average value of 29.6, suggesting they carried much less virus than the other two groups. […] Most manufacturers conservatively set their machine’s thresholds for diagnosis from 35 to 40 […]”

(4) Miscellaneous updates:

COVID19 update, December 29, 2020: Belgium starts vaccination; over 500,000 vaccinated in Israel so far; China arrests author of Wuhan Diaries; asymptomatic transmission rare to nonexistent?

Very busy in day job and finishing a novella, so now that I finally have some time, here is a long update.

(1) De Standaard reports (in Dutch) that a 96-year old man named Jos Hermans yesterday morning was the first to get vaccinated there. I rang up one of my medical contacts there and was told that the supply of Pfizer vaccines is quite limited, and that they are having great hopes for the locally developed, single-shot, Janssen vaccine. Also that, should Janssen not be approved soon, that they are seriously considering giving just a single dose of Pfizer and Moderna, under the assumption that even that would be enough for 3 months protection, by which time there should not be further shortages.

(2) Meanwhile, Israel has now given first doses of Pfizer to over half a million people, the highest proportion of the population in the world (other than perhaps the city-state of Bahrain). From the JPost report:

Some 495,000 Israelis were vaccinated as of Tuesday morning, just nine days into the vaccination campaign, while 407,285 Israelis had been confirmed as infected with the virus since the beginning of the outbreak. More than 115,000 Israelis were vaccinated on Monday alone. A quarter of all 70- to 79-year-olds in Israel were vaccinated against the virus as of Tuesday morning, while 20% of Israelis in their 60’s, 18% of citizens in their 80’s and 11% of citizens 90-years-old and older were vaccinated as well. Some 1,765 Israelis under the age of 20 were vaccinated as well as of Tuesday morning, with 12 children under the age of 10 vaccinated despite regulations banning children under the age of 16 from receiving the vaccination.

And yes, this is completely voluntary — demand is overwhelming even without any mandate. The Times of Israel notes that teachers will be the next group to get access to the vaccine, following the 60+ age bracket and at-risk patients. It continues:

Provided Israel maintains this week’s pace of over 100,000 inoculations a day, it will see a dramatic easing of the pandemic crisis next month, said Eran Segal, a biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science who has been mapping and analyzing the impact of COVID-19. “In two to three weeks, we’ll start to see a very significant fall in serious cases among the elderly and at-risk groups, and after that, of course, a reduction in fatalities.

Healthy people under 60, at present not eligible for the vaccine, account for just 7.5% of our mortality: according to this status page from the Clalit HMO. I am reproducing the most relevant table here:

Left=percentage of dead; middle=number of dead; right=age bracket; bottom row=totals

Don’t forget that the infection fatality rate is exponentially dependent on age, so In this manner, Israel will become the first major country-wide test case.

A nontrivial number of our friends and acquaintances (remember, those under 60 are not eligible at present) have so far gotten the jab. Many reported some fatigue on the first day, with some tenderness at the injection site persisting on the 2nd day (that was the case with Mrs. Arbel); others reported just some tenderness; yet others (such as our former department chair) no symptoms at all.

Major adverse events so far, out of half a million shots? One (1) man age 49, with a known allergy (to penicillin), went into anaphylactic shock but recovered following treatment (presumably with epinephrin) — I do wonder why he even got the shot at all. How often does this happen for “garden-variety” vaccinations? According to this 2016 paper in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology,

“We identified 33 confirmed vaccine-triggered anaphylaxis cases that occurred after 25,173,965 vaccine doses. The rate of anaphylaxis was 1.31 (95% CI, 0.90-1.84) per million vaccine doses. The incidence did not vary significantly by age, and there was a nonsignificant female predominance. Vaccine-specific rates included 1.35 (95% CI, 0.65-2.47) per million doses for inactivated trivalent influenza vaccine (10 cases, 7,434,628 doses given alone) and 1.83 (95% CI, 0.22-6.63) per million doses for inactivated monovalent influenza vaccine (2 cases, 1,090,279 doses given alone).

McNeil et al., “Risk of anaphylaxis after vaccination in children and adults”, J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2016 Mar; 137(3): 868–878.

In other words, one anaphylaxis per half-million patients is par for the course for vaccines.

In a separate incident, a 75-year old cardiac patient in Beit-Shean got a fatal heart attack 2 hours after the shot. He had waited half an hour at the clinic to rule out anaphylactic shock, then gone home. Initial investigation concluded that the event was unrelated to the vaccination, but a further investigation is in progress. Such fragile patients actually raise a medical conundrum: do you vaccinate them despite nonzero risk because their survival chances in case they catch COVID are slim — or do you precisely avoid stressing their labile systems with a vaccine?

I know a number of excitable people here have “discovered” that there were two dead among the 15,000 people who got Pfizer in the phase III clinical trial; what the said “discoverers” forget to mention are the four dead among the control group who were injected placebos. (Of course, nobody who understands statistics will claim that the placebo is twice as dangerous as the vaccine — those are the pitfalls of statistics of rare events. The most plausible explanation, of course, is that all six died natural deaths unrelated to either the vaccine or the placebo.)

Meanwhile, the homegrown Brilife vaccine (like Oxford/AstraZeneca a more conventional type) is in phase 2 trial; the developers from the Israel Institute for Biological Research are now worried that there won’t be enough healthy, unvaccinated people in Israel once they received approval for the phase 3 trial (which would require at least 15,000 people, preferably again that many as controls).

(3) There are times where I wonder if the US public health authorities would do a better job of alienating the public and engendering public distrust if they actively worked at it. After the forced retirement of Dr. Birx who exempted herself from her own social distancing recommendations, now we have Dr. Fauci basically justifying his own “telling lies in the service of a higher truth” (and yes, treating the American public like 5-year olds). Well, don’t be surprised then if you get outbursts like this in response to vaccination advice.

I am not going to pretend the Israeli public health authorities did everything perfectly. But by and large, they treated the public like adults and communicated on the level, without zig-zag course reversals for political expediency or in the name of political correctness.

(4) Miscellaneous:

  • In the PRC, CCP found nothing better than to slap a 4-year prison sentence on citizen journalist Zhang Zhan, who posted early reporting from Wuhan on YouTube. She has been force-fed while on a hunger strike during her pretrial arrest. The EU and the US have both called for her release. Wait for the CCP’s many turtle-boysuseful idiots in the Western media to whitewash this perversion of justice.
  • Jordan Schachtel is not impressed by the dubious evidence for “70% greater infectivity” of the new UK strain.
  • (Hat tip: multiple) A recently published meta-analysis of household transmission appears to indicate that asymptomatic transmission is quite rare if it exists at all: the “secondary attack rate” is 0.7%, but with the 95% confidence interval including zero. For comparison, the symptomatic rate is 18.0%, the 95% CI being 14.2%-22.1%
  • And (hat tip: Patrick R.) Pioneering computational biochemist (Nobel Laureate 2013) Mike Levitt resolves the conundrum of large(-sih) COVID19 mortality and much smaller “excess mortality” as follows: “now clear that COVID19 displaces Influenza due to viral competition for a limited pool [of] susceptible people. It has nothing to do with masks or hygiene as evidenced by winter flu in East Asia. Another piece of the puzzle falls into place.”

COVID19 update, Christmas Eve edition: vaccination sitrep from Israel

(1) Israel’s vaccination rollout started last Sunday. At this point, it focuses on age 60 and over (voluntary), plus medical personnel (somewhat less voluntary). As I explained in my previous post, the basic philosophy here is to quickly vaccinate the most vulnerable, in order to get maximum mortality mitigation for minimum vaccine doses.

As Mrs. Arbel is a few years older than me and hence qualified for the shot, she signed up, and today was her appointment. The first day the phone switchboard of our HMO crashed (all Israelis have to be enrolled in one of four licensed HMOs, as part of our socialized medicine system), but eventually she got through to a human and got an appointment for today. Meanwhile, the website and app of the HMO have been updated, and under “schedule appointment” is now a purple “Corona Vaccine” button if you are in the right age bracket.

The main purpose of the appointments is to determine in advance how many doses of the Pfizer vaccine to thaw out from -70°C storage prepare: the great temperature sensitivity of mRNA vaccines means that any vaccine not administered within 6h of thawing out and dilution needs to be discarded.

At any rate, we showed up at the vaccination site (an annex to the HMO clinic) about half an hour ahead of the scheduled time. Outside, one employee verified Mrs.’s details against the appointment list and the HMO’s database, while another administered a brief questionnaire: Are you currently ill? Do you have a cough or a temperature in excess of 38.5°C (about 101°F)? Have you ever had an allergic reaction against any vaccine? Were you administered any other vaccine in the past two weeks? (I had a flu shot, so I would have had to wait anyway.) I do not recall being asked about immune system conditions, but these would presumably have thrown up a red flag in the HMO’s database.

Check-in being done, the login clerk signed off on the questionnaire form and handed it to Mrs., and we were ushered inside into the waiting room. About 8 people were waiting, but turnover was very rapid. Within just a minute or two, Mrs. was called into the treatment room and got her shot.

and yes, the CDC is fine with gloveless administration (hat tip: Mrs. Arbel)
the lot expiration date, not in this picture, is March 2021 — of course, only in an ultracold storage and transport chain

Afterward, we were asked to wait for 15 minutes to rule out anaphylactic shock: we elected to wait outside. As we did so, a few walkups showed up without appointment: they were accommodated by the login clerk making impromptu appointments using the HMO’s phone app.

Mrs. noticed no side effects so far other than some mild swelling at the injection site, “much less than from a flu shot” (which she has been getting every year for the past three decades). Several older friends and acquaintances, who went in for their shots yesterday and today, reported similar experiences. One distant relative, a nurse, said she felt tired after her shot, but wasn’t sure whether it was from the vaccine or from a 12-hour shift at the hospital.

One friend, who went in on the first day, did notice that when seniors were brought in by their ‘Filipinit’ [live-in caregiver, often from the Philippines] at a polyclinic that didn’t look too busy, the caregiver was also offered the shot despite clearly not being over 60 (and accepted it): the extremely short shelf-life of the diluted vaccine may (sensibly) induce personnel to vaccinate people that otherwise wouldn’t be entitled yet, rather than let the precious shots go to waste.

(2) Quick updates:

  • sadly, my country has decided on a third (!) lockdown for two weeks, starting Sunday night, following an escalation in severe cases in hospital. By the time it ends, the most vulnerable population group should be up to their 2nd vaccine shots.
    With typical Jewish/Israeli black humor, the following parody on the Passover song Echad mi yode`a is making the rounds (hat tip: JCS):
    Arba, mi yodea? Arba, ani yodea. Arba bechirot, shlosha segarim, shtei rashei memshala [variant: shnei manot chisun], echad El-heinu, she-yishmor aleinu mi-ha-shamayim. [Who knows four? I know four: four elections, three lockdowns, two co-prime ministers [variant: two vaccine doses], one G-d, may He guard over us from the Heavens.]
  • (Hat tip: Mrs. Arbel.) Hungarian-born biochemist Katalin Kariko was unable to sustain an academic career in the US because all of her grant applications for mRNA therapy were shot down. Eventually she moved to the biotech industry, and is now a VP of BioNTech (the partner company of Pfizer for the mRNA-based COVID19 vaccine).

(3) To my Christian readers of the Western Communion, have a merry and healthy Christmas.

Secular humanists and others, have a merry Newtonmas 🙂

COVID19 update, Winter Solstice edition: new strain in the UK, border closures; deep-dive into vaccines. [UPDATE: a little vaccine for the most vulnerable goes a long way]

There have been breathless media reports about a new strain of COVID in the UK. John Campbell gives some context.

For background: the UK, perhaps more than any other country, has been doing genomic analysis of actual viral samples. There are meanwhile over 1,100 “mutants” of the virus around, but most of these mutations amount to nothing — single amino acid substitutions or deletions in noncritical places. Beginning in September, however, a new strain was picked up that has about 17 changes to the spike protein, and meanwhile accounts for about 60% of infectivity in Greater London and in Kent.

Prof. Jacob Moran-Gilad from Ben-Gurion U.:

“The British are currently the world leaders in their rate of genetic sequencing for COVID-19 patient samples. That’s why they’re the ones that find these things. It’s very likely that what we are seeing in Britain is just the tip of the iceberg. There are most likely a lot of mutations we don’t yet know about because most of the world doesn’t consistently survey and track the mutation,” he said.

Mind you, evolutionary selection of viruses is for greater virulence (infectivity) and milder morbidity and mortality. So I would not be surprised if this strain will drive out other strains of the virus through competitive infection, but I would be extremely surprised if this strain turned out to have a higher infection fatality rate than the original — you could normally expect it to go down.

Dr. Campbell assumes that the change will not affect the efficacy of the vaccine — virologists I’ve talked to here tell me basically the same.

But other countries are not taking chances, and Belgium, Netherlands, Bulgaria,… Israel have all closed their borders to UK citizens for now, until there is a better idea what is going on. London and Kent have also been put under an internal travel advisory.

Speaking of vaccines, Israel kicked off its vaccination effort last Saturday night, with the PM and senior ministers getting jabs on live TV. There will not be a vaccine mandate here, but as of Sunday morning, you can make appointments with the major HMOs for the Pfizer vaccine if you are either medical personnel or over the age of 60. (You are also given a followup appointment for the 2nd shot.) The phone switchboard of the Maccabi HMO was down most of Sunday, but eventually we got an appointment. [UPDATE: more here on HMOs being flooded with requests for appointments.]

There have been sporadic reports of allergic reactions, but with 3.5 million doses having been distributed so far (and presumably some non-negligible fraction of these having been administered), this is expected by the law of large numbers alone. There is speculation that they may derive from the polyethylene glycol that is used to encapsulate the mRNA (otherwise it would degrade very quickly): possibly the Moderna vaccine, which got FDA EUA last Friday, may have an advantage there as it uses a different encapsulant.

Dr. Campbell is a big fan of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine which was developed along more traditional lines. It can be produced at much lower per-unit cost and does not require storage and transport infrastructure at -50°C or so. Thus far, it has yet to obtain approval. Our own Brilife is still stuck in Phase II/III trials.

Finally, here is Dr. Seheult with a deep dive into RNA vaccines for COVID19, interviewing a leading researcher in the area.

Stay tuned for further updates.

UPDATE: a little vaccine, for the most vulnerable, goes a long way (via Instapundit)

As I’ve covered here previously, infection fatality rate is exponentially dependent on age. That preprint has meanwhile been published in the European Journal of Epidemiology: Moneygraf of the paper (IFR=infection fatality rate, in percent):

Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday

Two and a half centuries ago, one of the transcendent geniuses of classical music was born at in this house at Bonngasse 20 in Bonn, then the seat of the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne.

Beethoven’s birth house

We do not know exactly which day it was, but we do know he was baptized on December 17, 1770: the baptism register with his Taufeintrag (baptism entry) is kept at the Bonn city archives. The custom in the city was to baptize within 24 hours after birth: Beethoven himself regarded December 16 as his birthday.

Beethoven’s paternal family is actually Flemish (hence the Dutch prefix “van”): bearers of the family name can still be found in the phone books of Mechelen/Malines and Leuven/Louvain. They were musicians and instrument makers: one Lodewijk/Louis/Ludwig van Beethoven, the great composer’s namesake grandfather, went to Bonn to find employment (as a bass singer) at the palace. His son Johann also found employment there, but found his career thwarted, possibly also through his excessive love of the bottle. He however quickly realized little Ludwig’s off-the-scale musical gifts, and through a grueling regimen of tutoring on keyboard and violin tried to turn him into the new Mozart (who had initially become famous as a traveling child prodigy virtuoso, with his father as his manager). He was successful as a performer (that was a sine qua non for composers of the day), but his greatest fame was to be elsewhere.

That path began at age ten, when Christian G. Neefe started teaching him composition. Already at age 13, his first published composition was printed: a set of keyboard variations, WoO 63, and shortly later a set of three piano sonatas WoO 47 [WoO=Werk ohne Opuszahl, work without an opus number] — clearly youth works, but at least one of them the harbinger of great things to come. Initial response was lukewarm, and the budding composer supplemented the family income as a chapel organist at the court, and a violist in the court orchestra—apparently continuing to hone his craft as a composer in the meantime. His general education, such as it was, appears to have been spotty at best: judging from private notes, he would carry out multiplication (when required for calculating bills) by repeated addition. Nevertheless, he appears to have been an avid reader, and many of his readings would inspire later compositions.

After his mother had died, and while his father was busily drinking himself into an early grave, Beethoven traveled to Vienna on a study trip sponsored by his wealthy friend and admirer, Count von Waldstein [cf. the Waldstein Sonata]. There he studied with Haydn (who found his music “too violent”) but also with Salieri (on vocal composition), with Albrechtsberger (on counterpoint), and one Schuppanzigh (violin). When Haydn left for London, Beethoven elected to stay in Vienna [Bonn would soon fall to French troops] where he was starting to gather a circle of admirers. The rest is (fascinating) musical history: a good place to start reading is Jan Swofford’s biography.

I still vividly remember the first time, as a young child, I heard an entire long-form Beethoven composition — the famous Fifth Symphony, Op. 67. I had heard classical music before — Tchaikovsky wonderfully inventive First Piano Concerto is the first classical piece I consciously remember, and there had been Mozart, Verdi — but I had never heard something like this. I lacked the words to describe it, but aside from its emotional sweep, what struck me most was its incredible unity of purpose, and the inexhaustible inventiveness with which he kept transforming the basic thematic material in ever-changing, always engaging ways. From then on I had a youthful obsession with Beethoven, who to this day remains my second favorite composer after J. S. Bach [whom I had yet to truly discover]. I was delighted, actually, to discover that even such short, amateur-friendly piano works as the Bagatelles have some hallmarks of vintage Beethoven: not just the plasticity with which he handles thematic material, but also the rhythmic playfulness and textural variation.

Beethoven at his perkiest and funniest

And Beethoven at his most nocturnal and spiritual

Beethoven at his most obsessive:

And from the same symphony, at his most sublime

When this latter symphony was performed for the first time, Beethoven was so profoundly deaf that he could hear neither the performance (except in his mind) nor the thundering applause afterward —and had to be turned around to see the standing ovation. That must rank among the most poignant moments in music history. And yet, nearly two hundred year after its composition, it still has the power to move audiences deeply.

Musik [ist] höhere Offenbarung als alle Weisheit und Philosophie. [Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.] — Ludwig van Beethoven

UPDATE: veteran producer and multi-instrumentalist Rick Beato on Beethoven’s struggles with deafness

UPDATE2: “masgramondou” sent this meme:

Election update: SCOTUS passes on Texas suit; the moth flies toward the flame

So the Texas lawsuit, with 18 or 19 states joining in with amicus curia briefs, was declined by SCOTUS in a 7-2 decision. Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy analyzes the decision — or rather the decision to say “pass” on the hot potato.

This is a black day for democracy, no two ways about it. I personally am virtually certain that #GrandTheftElection2020 happened — although some of us may differ about by which method. There is no doubt that widespread mail-in balloting, combined with the decisions of certain states to remove all safeguards for ballot validity verification, opened the barn doors wide.

Glenn Reynolds comments:

The statement that Texas lacks standing would seem to implicitly overrule Massachusetts v. EPA, a case that found expanded standing for states, though in the “Climate Change” context. But then, I’ve told my students that I doubt that case stood for more than climate change hysteria’s ability to influence John Roberts Anthony Kennedy.

The appeal of dismissing on standing grounds, of course, is that the Court won’t have to deal with any of the factual allegations.

To be fair, SCOTUS of course found itself in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position. If it heard the case — which likely would last until past January 20 — it would be accused of fanning the flames no matter how it ruled. So instead it chose to declare itself incompetent. (For non-American readers: it is important to realize, as Bryan Preston explained, that US Presidential elections are effectively not a single federal election at all but 50 concurrent elections in every state.)

From my distant perch, I do not see this ever ending well at all. The US — the country of my beloved spouse — is on the brink of the second greatest crisis in its existence, possibly even the greatest. I hope and pray to be wrong. I fear to be right.

Alexander Scriabin’s foreboding piano piece “Toward The Flame”

Chanuka present: Israel and Morocco agree to normalize relations

To my Jewish readers, happy Chanuka/Chanukah/Ḥanukah , or in Hebrew chag urim sameach [happy Festival of Lights].

I was not expecting to find out, just after lighting the first candle, that Israel and Morocco had agreed to establish full diplomatic relations, in a US-brokered deal. The Times of Israel has some background here.

There are of course the professional “Yevsektziya” apparatchiks (case in point) who have to downplay this foreign policy achievement since nothing good can ever be done by Orange Man Bad.

To be fair, this isn’t all Trump’s doing — like in the case of the UAE, he was just playing midwife. Morocco and Israel have had sub-rosa contacts going back to the 1970s — when King Hassan II would host back-channel talks between Israel and Egypt that ultimately led to Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem — and a surprising number of Israeli tourists fly (indirectly) to Morocco every year — many of them on ‘family roots trips’, as Israel has a fairly large number of Moroccan Jews. (Their ancestors resettled there from Spain, across the Straits of Gibraltar, following the 1492 Gerush Sepharad or Spanish Expulsion.) As Morocco’s moderate Muslim leadership got ever more nervous about Iranian-backed fundamentalists, the countries grew closer, but a 2017 plan to establish diplomatic relations was shelved when present king Mohammed VI got cold feet. Now, finally, Morocco signed on the dotted line — in exchange for US recognition of its claim to the Spanish Sahara. Direct Tel Aviv-Rabat airline flight by Royal Air Maroc and by El Al.

Yes, the “ignorant” “bull in a china shop” Trump keeps achieving what has eluded Brahmandarin “peace processors” like Dennis Ross, Madeline Albright, Warren Christopher et al. (not to mention pompous windbags like Jean-Fraud Kerry) for many decades. Why? Something is at work that I’ve observed numerous times in my day job: clinging to failed preconceptions out of a combination of argument from tradition (“that’s how it’s always been”) and sunken cost fallacy (“how can we throw away all we have invested in it!”). Then a newcomer comes in, who’s supposedly “ignorant” and has no vested interest in the ruling paradigm — and get results because he doesn’t have to unlearn it.

In my day job, I see interdisciplinary research projects in action. People who are established researcher in their own disciplines, but complete or comparative neophytes in that of their collaborators, may bring “stupid” and “ignorant” ideas to the table, 90% of which are plain silly or [unbeknownst to them] have been tried and found wanting in the past — but the remaining 10% may be game changers.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the “peace processors” were all dedicated, able professionals. But they were all, pretty much without exception, wedded to the konzeptziya (preconception, idée reçue) that the entire Middle East revolves around the “Palestinian” issue, and that “solving” it is the key to all problems.

Now if you’re an engineer, trying to build something that works (an airplane, a bridge,…), or you’re trying to keep a business afloat, if you cling to an approach that clearly isn’t working anymore, but persist that it will work if you just keep doubling down, Nature, or the market, will punish you mercilessly — “for Nature cannot be fooled” (in Richard P. Feynman’s words).

Successful engineers tend to be cautious about messing with tried-and-true approaches that work well enough — out of respect for “the law of unintended consequences”. But when the “received wisdom” approach clearly is broken, they tend to be quite unsentimental about discarding it and trying something new. They can’t afford to do otherwise. (During the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen a similar dynamic, where frontline doctors who saw patients dying on their wards were much more willing to apply unconventional approaches that the institutionalized medical bureaucracy was up in arms about. Some of these — treatment with hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin — are still controversial, but others, such as applying corticosteroid, prone positioning, or de-emphasizing intubation in favor of early noninvasive ventilation, have meanwhile become adopted mainstream practices.)

At any rate, this is a great day for peace, and a most fitting Chanukah present.

Peace will yet come upon us/And upon all…
`od yavo’ shalom aleinu ve`al kulam

COVID19 brief update, December 9, 2020: first vaccinations begin

A few bullet points in between work and fiction writing:

cartoon sent by Mrs. Arbel
cartoon sent by Mrs. Arbel
  • Last Monday, at 06:30 AM, the UK started vaccinating its first patients. Margaret “Maggie” Keenan, 90, from Coventry, became the first recipient, closely followed by (I kid you not) William Shakespeare, age 81.
  • as of yesterday night, rising infection figures prompted Israel to introduce a night “curfew”. Not sure I see the point of this, but there may be a desire to not let things spiral out of control with vaccine deliveries imminent
  • and sure enough: this morning, 100,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport and will be placed in a deep-refrigeration facility at Teva Pharmaceuticals in Petach-Tikva. Vaccination is expected to start on or before Dec. 20. Former COVID19 czar (now back at his day job as CEO of Ichilov Hospital) Prof. Roni Gamzu wants to vaccinate even if FDA approval is not forthcoming, and volunteered to get the first dose. Apparently, Israel will not made the vaccination compulsory.
  • If you impose onerous, arbitrary restrictions on your population and then, to add insult to injury, exempt yourself from them (because of Brahmandarin sense of entitlement according to which you totes deserve $500/person birthday dinners), don’t be surprised if people engage in Irish democracy. For example, if you tell churches to stay shut but allow strip clubs to open, don’t be surprised at stunts like churches rebranding themselves as strip clubs so they can stay open.

RIP Chuck Yeager (1923-2020), first to break through the sound barrier

An aviation legend is no more. Yesterday, on Pearl Harbor Day, Brigadier General Charles Elwood “Chuck” Yeager passed away at the ripe old age of 97.

This is the scene in the movie “The Right Stuff”, Tom Wolfe’s paean to American aerospace pioneers, in which Sam Shepard portrays Yeager’s historic feat of October 14, 1947 — where he became the first man to fly supersonic and live to tell the tale. (He did so in an experimental rocket plane, the Bell X-1.)

A few anecdotes about this remarkable man:

  • of distant German ancestry (Yeager is an anglicization of Jäger = hunter), he grew up in rural West Virginia. His unusual 20:10 vision, which made him a crack huntsman in his youth, later allowed him to spot enemy fighters way before anybody else.
  • he was one of the first pilots to shoot down a jet fighter — a Luftwaffe Messerschmidt Me-262 that was on final landing approach. (An Me-262 was most vulnerable during take-off and landing.)
  • downed over France after 8 aerial victories, he managed to reach neutral Spain with the help of the Résistance and hence made it back to England
  • while technically on leave and forbidden from flying combat missions after that[*], during a training flight he spotted a Junkers Ju-88 attacking a damaged B-17 Flying Fortress. Yeager shot down the Ju-88 and thus rescued the crew of the B-17, but upon landing pulled out his gun camera film and handed it to the trainee so he could claim the aerial victory, and Yeager would not “violate parole”.
  • He named his plane “Glamorous Glennis” after his wife as he was convinced this would bring him good luck
  • He re-enacted his historical “sound barrier busting” flight solo on its 50th anniversary, and as co-pilot on its 65th anniversary (at age 89)
  • in the movie “The Right Stuff”, he has a brief cameo as a bartender at Pancho’s Bottom Riding Club, the bar where test pilots used to hang out
  • on May 18, 1953, when his good friend Jacqueline Cochran became the first woman to break the sound barrier (in an F-86 Sabre) Yeager flew as her wingman.
  • late in life, he became an avid social media user.

“I haven’t yet done everything, but by the time I’m finished, I won’t have missed much,” he wrote. “If I auger in (crash) tomorrow, it won’t be with a frown on my face. I’ve had a ball.”

Yeager, an autobiography” (with Leo Janos, 1986)

Here’s to a great ‘hunter’.

[*] this arrangement existed in an attempt to protect Résistance members engaged in pilot rescue. (“The pilots they helped escape won’t fight you again.”)

The Brahmandarins’ new clothes: they will never forgive Trump for pointing out they’re not wearing any

This piece by Ben Weingarten is a must-read. Just a teaser:

No matter how the presidential election ends, one of President Donald Trump’s myriad achievements stands above all others: he has exposed the unprecedented degree of rot and corruption that pervades the American system.

More specifically, Trump has exposed the ruling class: the bipartisan political establishment and its adjuncts in Big Tech, the corporate media, Big Business and Woke Capital, the academy, and across the commanding heights of American society.

Trump’s manners engender hatred in the ruling class. Even more significantly, his tenacity in confronting the ruling class’s members with their failures—and the fact he has threatened to rectify those failures—discredits and disempowers those responsible for them. Their response—a perpetual effort to destroy him—has shown the ruling class to be lawless and tyrannical.

Consequently, the ruling class has obliterated the institutions it claimed to be defending, revealing to those Americans not addled by Trump Derangement Syndrome that the emperor has no clothes. Americans willing to look can now see that those institutions which ostensibly exist to serve us have no reservations about launching a full-scale assault on us if it serves their interests.

Consider what we have learned about the leaders of the country in the last four years.

Read the whole thing — I can’t do it justice by selective quoting. Like Trump or not, agree with his policies or not — the one thing the Brahmandarins will never forgive him is the way he punctured their delusions of superiority, or even adequacy.

It is well-nigh impossible to keep up with developments in Grand Theft Election 2020. But this 45-minutes video is an eerie document of its time, by any standards. A full transcript is here.

UPDATE: GA governor expresses concern, calls for action after viral video seems to show suitcases of ballots being counted after observers sent home.

Also, federal court is fast-tracking Sidney Powell request for forensic exam of Dominion voting machines.

UPDATE 2: PA Republicans want Gov. Tom Wolf to call a special legislative session on the 2020 election.

See also Project Veritas strips CNN naked.

And longtime electoral integrity crusader J. Christian Adams points to the real “Kraken” in this election. His insistence that no “hack the vote” needs to be posited because old-school ballot stuffing adequately explains #GrandTheftElection2020 has led to some “circular firing squad”, alas.

The Election Showed 75+ Million Americans Have Rejected The Establishment’s Narrative. We’re Not Going to Start Believing It Now.


We Hold On

Richard Bledsoe “The Determined Sailor” oil on canvas 48″ x 36″

For the last four Saturdays at noon, we’ve been going down to the Arizona Capitol for the weekly Stop the Steal rallies. These events are happening at statehouses around the country. Here in Phoenix, the turnout is high, and the mood is boisterous. It’s a real cross section of society. Everyone’s clad in their red, white and blue finery. Various flags are worn like capes; hand drawn signs display mottos and slogans. We chant, cheer, and boo, as appropriate.

Despite upbeat vibes, each week it seems like more and more are taking advantage of Arizona’s open carry laws. Under the sense of fun, there is profound seriousness. We remain positive. We are also showing we are preparing for whatever comes next.

Listening to the speakers, and talking to other rally goers, we all share information about…

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