Would this were a Purim joke: the tragicomedy at Smith College

Tim Pool highlights a story that goes to the heart of the fount of hypocrisy that modern US academia has become — as well as to the heart of a form of reverse racism and neo-segregationism that is being peddled under the Orwellian label “anti-racism”.

In brief: sometime in the summer of 2018, at uber-posh Smith College (annual cost of tuition, room and board: over $78K), a black female 1st-year student went to eat her lunch in the commons area of a building that had been closed up for the summer. A janitor found her there, followed instructions to have a campus cop check on her — and this was promptly turned into an “eating while black” bias incident. Several longtime employees whose annual salaries are about half the tuition had their lives wrecked, even though a law firm hired by the college found no evidence of wrongdoing. Even the NYTimes, in a rare moment of journalism, admits this. [archive copy here].

Less attention was paid three months later when a law firm hired by Smith College to investigate the episode found no persuasive evidence of bias. Ms. Kanoute was determined to have eaten in a deserted dorm that had been closed for the summer; the janitor had been encouraged to notify security if he saw unauthorized people there. The officer, like all campus police, was unarmed.

[…] Ms. Kanoute took her food and then walked through a set of French doors, crossed a foyer and reclined in the shadowed lounge of a dormitory closed for the summer, where she scrolled the web as she ate. A large stuffed bear obscured the view of her from the cafeteria.A janitor, who was in his 60s and poor of sight, was emptying garbage cans when he noticed someone in that closed lounge. All involved with the summer camp were required to have state background checks and campus police had advised staff it was wisest to call security rather than confront strangers on their own.The janitor, who had worked at Smith for 35 years, dialed security.“We have a person sitting there laying down in the living room,” the janitor told a dispatcher according to a transcript. “I didn’t approach her or anything but he seems out of place.”The janitor had noticed Ms. Kanoute’s Black skin but made no mention of that to the dispatcher. Ms. Kanoute was in the shadows; he was not sure if he was looking at a man or woman. She would later accuse the janitor of “misgendering” her.

The NYT article actually quotes one professor who says elite colleges are much more comfortable talking about race than about class. Gee, where would anyone get this idea?

Ms. Blair has lupus, a disease of the immune system, and stress triggers episodes. She felt faint. “Oh my God, I didn’t do this,” she told a friend. “I exchanged a hello with that student and now I’m a racist.”Ms. Blair was born and raised and lives in Northampton with her husband, a mechanic, and makes about $40,000 a year. Within days of being accused by Ms. Kanoute, she said, she found notes in her mailbox and taped to her car window. “RACIST” read one. People called her at home. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” a caller said. “You don’t deserve to live,” said another.Smith College put out a short statement noting that Ms. Blair had not placed the phone call to security but did not absolve her of broader responsibility. Ms. McCartney called her and briefly apologized. That apology was not made public.

[…] Smith officials pressured Ms. Blair to go into mediation with Ms. Kanoute. “A core tenet of restorative justice,” Ms. McCartney wrote, “is to provide people with the opportunity for willing apology, forgiveness and reconciliation.”Ms. Blair declined. “Why would I do this? This student called me a racist and I did nothing,” she said.

Heck, even the NYT author even “gets” part of the deeper story and then unintentionally gives the plot away.

This is a tale of how race, class and power collided at the elite 145-year-old liberal arts college, where tuition, room and board top $78,000 a year and where the employees who keep the school running often come from working-class enclaves beyond the school’s elegant wrought[-]iron gates. The story highlights the tensions between a student’s deeply felt sense of personal truth and facts that are at odds with it.

The race part is a smokescreen, like it is with all of ‘Big Woke’ — a thin veil for asserting Anointed/New Class/Elect/Brahmandarin class dominance and condescension over the rest of us. Tim Pool, himself of mixed race, gets it. So does Columbia linguist John McWhorter (himself black) in a different way.

[And by the way, this really kills me. “The student’s deeply felt sense of personal truth and facts that are at odds with it.” Substitute “The loon who thinks he’s Napoleon Bonaparte” for “The student” and what do we get? Yes, lunacy. I am ever more inclined to believe my own ‘personal truth’ that postmodernism and radical subjectivism were invented by space aliens as mind viruses to ensure Homo Sapiens remains poor, stupid, and unable to get off this planet ;)]

The NYT expose goes on to explain (without explicitly saying so) how this one unfortunate misunderstanding was used as a pretext for a barrage of ‘bias training’ and appeasement-of-the-most-radical initiatives, and created a hostile work environment for veteran employees in the process. A woman named Jodi Shaw, herself a liberal, decided she couldn’t take it anymore and posted a withering resignation letter, and is now suing the university. She started a GoFundMe for legal expenses and exceeded her fundraising goal in record time — then GoFundMe froze the account, only to later unfreeze it (as Tim Pool explains in the video). I frankly hope she takes them to the cleaners.

On a related note: today, Scott Alexander (who ran SlateStarCodex until the NYT decided to doxx him) posted this “modest proposal” on his new blog that I am not 100% sure is satirical. It basically calls for the Republican party to embrace the Marxist conception of class warfare (in a ju-jitsu fashion) and reframe itself as the party of the lower classes vs. the Brahmandarinate (or what Angelo Codevilla would have called “the country class” vs. “the gentry class”). “Trumpism without Trump”, if you like. Joking or not, this is part and parcel of a phenomenon also taking place in Europe, and to an even more pronounced degree in the UK and Australia — I have been calling it “the great realignment” elsewhere, in 2017.

‘Circling back’ (ahem) to Smith: I’m going to apply to Smith college to go do the program in gender studies. I mean, if it is my deeply felt sense of personal truth that I am a black lesbian,[*] Let them gainsay me — I will accuse them of misgendering and denying my racial identity if they decline to give me a full scholarship 🙂

ADDENDUM: masgramondou points out this bizarre news item about Lady Gaga’s French bulldogs getting “dognapped”. The dognappers shot her dog walker, who is in critical condition. She has offered a $500,000 reward for tips leading to their return. No mention of ‘for tips leading to the arrest of those who put her employee at death’s door. A friend snarked that he would not care to work for a woman who cared more about her pet dogs than about their human minder. On reflection, I thought this was the perfect metaphor for how “our betters” relate to “mascots” [**] vs. their other “lessers”.

[*] trapped in the body of an Ashkenazi Jewish male

[**] I first saw this usage of the term in Thomas Sowell’s “Vision of the Anointed”

COVID19 update, February 21-22, 2021: Israel approaching herd immunity one year after the beginning?

The trouble with the hyper-politicized news out of the US MSM is that you don’t know what you can believe at times. In contrast, while Israel’s political landscape has always been contentious, it’s fragmented — which takes away the ‘football game’ character it has in a bipartisan system. Also, in a small country that cannot take its very existence for granted, the handling of major crises like these tends to be fairly nonpartisan.

One of the most precious goods in an epidemic is public trust. Silly, condescending, manipulative ‘fertilizer’ like “two weeks to slow the spread” (now entering its second year) would never fly here. Instead, things that were taboo to even mention in the US MSM— like the economic cost, and collateral healthcare damage, of a lockdown — were openly discussed here from the beginning.

Importantly, we are used to a semi-permanent state of low-level danger because of the ‘neighborhood’ we live in. So the message ‘this is serious business, but not the end of the world nor Spanish Flu 2.0’ sank in much more quickly than in countries where ‘ZOMG we’re all gonna die!’ or ‘it’s just a bad cold’ were the two dueling narratives on the street.

Yes, here too, mistakes were made, and policies had to be adjusted as the ‘fog of war’ about the epidemic gradually lifted. It was not immediately obvious, for example, that outdoor activities were as low-risk as they turned out to be. Thus, in the first lockdown we were basically told to stay indoors except to go buy groceries, while in later lockdowns, walking and physical outdoor exercise were (thank G-d) not restricted this way.

And public health does face some challenges here it would not in a more ‘Anglo’ country. Our population density even in nominal suburbs is staggeringly high by US standards — if you discount the Negev desert, we are the most densely populated country in the world aside from city states like Singapore or Monaco — and like all over the Mid-East, personal space is very rarely respected if at all. For that reason alone, lockdowns may have been more effective here than in other countries. (Greater London or New York City are probably closer to our reality.)

During the second wave, our then-virus czar Prof. Roni Gamzu — who is that rare bird, an economics professor and an OB-GYN by initial training — kept pushing back against pressure for a second lockdown, as he knew what economic ravages it would wreak and — being the CEO of one of our “big four” hospitals in his regular day job — understood very well that in summer our hospitals had plenty of slack capacity. Only when hospitals started crying ‘Uncle!’ that they were at capacity limits even with geographical load-balancing — itself only possible, really, because our country is so small — did he relent.

Our third lockdown is now being lifted since yesterday. During it, we effectively became a massive Phase IV trial for the Pfizer mRNA vaccine. Effectiveness results with a large uncertainty interval (94±4%) from a Phase III clinical trial on 30,000 people (half vaccine, half placebo) have now been replaced by HMO data on half a million or more at a time. (All of us, by law, have to enroll in one of the four licensed HMOs, and a shared electronic medical record keeping system exists that would be nearly unimaginable in the US.) The 94±4% figure turned out to be basically accurate – and of the tiny number of vaccinated people who still get sick, only a handful develop severe illness. Thanks in part to fairly rigorous screening of prospective vaccinees for a history of allergic reactions, adverse events have been minimal, in the same ballpark as ordinary seasonal flu vaccines. What’s more: as the British mutation is now by far the dominant variant here, we discovered that the Pfizer jab (and by extension this will hold for its nominal competitor Moderna) remains effective. [The jury is out about the South African and Brazilian mutations, which so far we have only seen isolated cases of here. Keeping them out was the prime motivation for shutting our airport down.]

A team of researchers at Weizmann around Eran Segal [best known for his microbiome research] has been given access to vaccination and illness data down to neighborhood level. As we discussed previously, not only did they show that hospitalizations in the age 60+ bracket (the first to get vaccinated) started dropping markedly [meanwhile down to a trickle, inside sources tell me] while those among younger people (only becoming eligible for jabs much later) kept going up — but they found that the drop started earlier in towns or city neighborhoods that reached high levels of vaccination early, and later where this happened later.

And finally, we are seeing the drop at the national level in hospitalized severe cases

in new admissions of severe patients (the red horizontal line is the average over the period displayed — note, by the way, the mild oscillation about)

as well as in daily deaths

So this is where we are at now (graphs updated last night at the Ministry of Health dashboard, in Hebrew). Out of our population of about 9 million (of which about 6.3 million in the eligible age brackets — yes, almost one-third of our entire population are children!), almost 4.4 million have gotten at least one jab, of which nearly 3 million got both jabs. (That includes over 90% in the most vulnerable age 70+ bracket, and about 80% in the age 50-70 bracket.) But in addition [data page from the Clalit HMO], nearly 700,000 people already recovered from verified COVID19 infections (asymptotic or symptomatic). Now there is overlap — anecdotally, I know several people who got the shots after they’d had COVID, despite technically not being eligible — but 5 million out of a total of 9 million is starting to approach even first-order herd immunity. If you account for the highly reduced spread among the children’s population, we may be even closer to de facto herd immunity than that. (Keep in mind: herd immunity isn’t a binary state like pregnancy.) [There is speculation the same will happen in the US by April (h/t: Erik Wingren)]

In this year, we have seen 5,577 dead of, not with, COVID so far (our reporting rules are much more stringent than in the US). This is the equivalent of about 205,000 when scaled up to the US population, or about 52,000 when scaled up to the German population. That we have less than half the relative (official) death toll of the US, and still compare favorably to the about 68,500 in Germany with its very stringent reporting rules, is of course cold comfort to the deceased’s families. But hopefully we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But once again, you see the value of public trust in such a pandemic. Without any form of compulsion,[*] just being level with the public, this is the vaccination rate by age brackets (light green=both jabs, dark green=1st jab, in 3-week wait for 2nd):

You don’t achieve that by vacillating and zigzagging for political expedience, Fauci (Faux-Xi?) style. Would we have gotten vaccinated if we had lived in the US? Of course, but I’m not representative of the target audience — while my training is in physics, I have enough knowledge of the relevant biology, and enough day-job experience evaluating research papers in disciplines other than my own, that I am able to reach an informed decision fully independent of whatever came out of Faux-Xi’s orifice. I can even tap into the country’s top virologists and epidemiologists with a single “dear colleague” phone call. So we’d get vaccinated despite rather than because of the tainted messaging of the US public health establishment. And aye, there’s the rub — despite.

ADDENDUM: Mortality drops 98.9% compared to unvaccinated. Beware of the “Nirvana fallacy” where every solution that’s not 100% effective is rejected.
And no, despite the unfunny jokes of some literal clown on SNL, Israel does not reserve the vaccine for Jews only. Everybody, even foreign residents, is eligible, and vaccination clinics have been set up in Arab villages since the beginning of the vaccination drive. We live in an insane age where Disney slaps an “offensive content” label on The Muppet Show, while modern-day blood libels pass for “humor”.

ADDENDUM 2: Pfizer 1st dose alone 85% effective after 2-4 weeks. [Hat tip: Jeff Duntemann]

[*] some ‘trial balloons’ were floated about various types of incentives and ‘name and shame’. None of these got very far. The ancient military maxim “never give an order that you know won’t be obeyed” has a civilian cousin, “never force people to do something if they are reasonably willing to do it on their own” [because you will get refusal out of suspicion, or simply orneriness].

Inaugural “Turtleboy of the Month” Award

This new award “honors” the most nauseating and/or ridiculous kowtow to Emperor Xi. There is such fierce competition in this category that I despaired of the plan — MSM pundits, tech oligarchs, and politicians are bending over backwards (and forwards). But the latest stunt by President-Asterisk Joe Biden (Joe Xiden?) takes the cake.

The mass internment of Chinese Uighurs, which at best is a throwback to the Gulag, was dismissed by the FICUS as just reflecting “different norms”.

During an appearance on CNN on Tuesday, Biden dismissed the genocide against the Uighur population in China, branding the mass internment a “different norm”.
This is despite the American government this month condemning the “atrocities” in the camps, following reports of systemic rape and torture.

He also appeared to justify Chinese President Xi Jinping’s strict control of the masses – and attempted control of Hong Kong – as method for unifying the country.

“If you know anything about Chinese history, it has always been, the time when China has been victimised by the outer world is when they haven’t been unified at home,” Biden began.

Biden argued that no American president could be “sustained as a president if he doesn’t reflect the values of the United States.

He continued: “And so I’m not going to speak out against what he’s doing in Hong Kong, what he’s doing with the Uighur’s in the western mountains of China.

“Culturally there are different norms in each country, and their leaders are expected to follow.”

recent BBC News exposé showed systemic torture and rape occurring in Uighur concentration camps in Xinjiang.

As a direct result, China banned the British outlet in their territory.

The US Government declared what was going on in the camps to be ‘genocide’, which makes Mr Biden’s comments all the more bizarre.

This is of a part with the USSR’s “useful idiots” in the West justifying, or making excuses for, the Gulags and the Great Purges. But Xi’s gotta have it, as Instapundit keeps riffing.

“Chairman Xi Jinping and President-Select Biden, by the power vested in me by the state of California, I hereby declare you man and turtle.”

“Paramount Leader” Xi Jinping riding his favorite turtle [statue in Worcester, MA]

Seriously, I mock and laugh to keep my blood from boiling.

And while on the subject of Uighurs: where are all the Arab and Muslim nations expressing their outrage? Heck, where is Turkey — considering that the Uighurs are a Turkic people? Does Xi have all their leaders by the beitzim? Or does he simply tell them “so whaddaya gonna do about it?”

… and then they came for Baen

You may not be interested in the Gleichschaltung, but the Gleichschaltung is interested in you — as Instapundit keeps repeating.

Larry Correia blogs on the coordinated campaign to have Baen Publishers “canceled” for publishing unpersons who think doubleplusungood crimethink thoughts — hold that thought, for allowing some people who unbellyfeel ingsoc to post doubleplusungood crimethink thoughts on their fan forum Baen’s Bar. Larry and his readers deep-dive, and see that the ‘offending’ posts were made by what increasingly looks like recently joined trolls. I smell a whiff of Reichstag Fire here.

Note I’m not naive: as Larry Niven memorably put it, no cause is so noble that it won’t attract ‘fuggheads’. But if we are going to start shutting down every darling-of-the-left website where objectionable comments have been posted by some hothead or sh*t-stirrer, well… are they really willing to apply their own standards to themselves? (But of course. If standards are plusgood, double standards are doubleplusgood.)

We need an updated version of Martin Niemöller’s famous poem:

When Twitter blocked Donald Trump,
I kept silent,
— you know, I wasn’t a Trumper.

When Amazon locked out Parler,
I kept silent,
— you know, I wasn’t a Parler user.

When they came to cancel Baen,
I kept silent,
— you know, I wasn’t a Baen author.

When they canceled me,
there were none left
who could protest.

with apologies to Martin Niemöller

[German version following the original/Deutsche Fassung in Anlehnung an das Original:]

Als Twitter Donald Trump sperrte,
habe ich geschwiegen,
ich war ja kein Trumper.

Als Amazon Parler verbannte,
habe ich geschwiegen,
ich war ja kein Parler-Benützer.

Als sie Baen auslöschen möchten,
habe ich geschwiegen,
ich war ja kein Baen-Autor.

Als sie mich auslöschten,
gab es niemanden mehr,
der protestieren konnte.

Make no mistake. It may start with people you may not care for — but it will not end there. Do not give these wannabe tyrants an inch.

Advance snippet from “Operation Flash, Episode 4: Hungarian Rhapsody”

I’ve been preoccupied with COVID-blogging after work, as well as with an unrelated writing project, but Episode 4 (or Book Two, if you like) is coming. Here is a taste.

Bush House
London, England
June 1943 [timeline Valkyrie 1943]
— Diana Slater —

After Broadcasting House had been damaged during the Blitz in late 1940, most of the BBC had moved into Bush House. On account of the great weather, I make a nice brisk walk out of my visit — up Whitehall, then at Trafalgar Square right on the Strand. The imposing neoclassical complex, originally meant to be a trade center, had been billed as the most expensive building in the world when it was completed in 1935. It took up a commanding position at the intersection of the Strand, Kingsway, and Fleet Street — where most of our press had their offices then.
I passed the building’s ornate portico with its inscription “To the friendship of English speaking peoples” and the two statues symbolizing the British and American peoples holding a torch together. It was good I’d come early, as I spent several minutes getting lost in the sprawling complex before I located the wing that held the Eastern Service.
There I walked up to the receptionist.
“Good afternoon, I am looking for Mr. Blair.”
“Who’s asking?”
As I showed her my ID card, she did a double-take.
“Personal Secretary to the Prime Minister? Golly.”
She picked up a phone. “Mr. Blair? Somebody from Number Ten to see you.”
Speech from the other side.
“Sure. Bye.” She turned to me. “You can go in now. Down the hall, second door to the left.”
I knocked.
“Come in, please.”
I had no trouble recognizing the tall, wiry man in front of me.
“Diana Slater, personal secretary to the Prime Minister. A great honor, Mr. Orwell.”
He frowned at me. “Why do you think I’m this Orwell chap?”
“Because I saw your picture hanging on the wall at my stepdad’s bookstore. Slater’s, on Charing Cross Road.”
“Blimey! You’re Augie Slater’s stepdaughter? Hail lady well met!”
He shook my hand with obvious enthusiasm. And yes, he clearly liked my looks.
Please sit down. Can I offer you a cup of tea?”
“Thank you, and yes, thank you.”
“There is nothing more important than how to brew a proper cup of tea. I wrote an essay about it.”
He went about and insisted on preparing it himself.
“Are you bringing notes from Winston?”
“Yes, I am.”
“A bloody Tory he is, and a sodden imperialist. But a great man.”
He puttered about making tea. “Did you read the books your father sold?”
I was somewhat taken aback. “Of course. Including yours. I particularly liked A Homage To Catalonia.”
(Slater’s had sold maybe half a dozen copies, all told. Augie used to shake his head at that. “The Tories won’t buy Orwell because he’s a Socialist. The Reds won’t buy them because he writes the truth as he sees it — ‘not harming the cause’ be damned.” )

“Hmm. What else have you read about the Spanish Civil War,” asked Blair/Orwell.
For Whom The Bell Tolls, of course.”
“Hemingway’s a great writer. He strips the language to its bare essence. Your boss— he can write flowery High Victorian prose, and when it suits him he can write like Hemingway.”
“He reminds me of a church organist, pulling out and pushing in stops as he needs them.”
“Hm… very perceptive of you. Do you go to church much?”
“Not really. My mother is Catholic, my stepfather Methodist. So we generally attend neither.”
“Good choice. One cannot be a Catholic and truly grown up,” he said firmly.
I hid my shock at this statement as best as I could.
“How long have you been working for Winston?”
“Since mid-1940. I was working for Air Raid Defense, then got offered the job. I was planning to read History at Somerville, but figured I could always do that later—I’d only get one chance to watch history.”
“Very wise of you. About A Homage To Catalonia—“ we embarked on a discussion of the book. Perhaps because I was upset at his bigoted quip about Catholics, I spoke frankly as a reader rather than an adoring fan—which he seemed to appreciate very much.
The phone rang. He picked it up. “Yes. Right, quite. Thank you for the reminder.” As he hung up, he turned to me.
“You will have to excuse me, Di—Mrs. Slater, but I have to go on the air in half an hour and want to revise my notes from what you brought.”
“That’s alright, Mr. Orw—Blair.”
“Winston needs those papers back?”
“If at all possible, yes.”
“Then I will give you something to read while you wait. This is something I’ve been working on lately. I would like to hear your frank opinion —“
“I’m not a writer or a literary critic.”
“Just so. You are like the people who would be shopping for a book. It may be too hard to read, especially if you like pleasant falsehoods.”
“I’d be honored, Mr. Orwell.”
“Well, here goes, then.” He handed me a bundle of typescript, with some revision markings. “It’s just a draft, mind you.”
“Thank you very much.” I curtsied and made for the door.
“You can sit outside in the hall, then come inside here when I have to go on the air.”

The title page said:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him….

I started reading, and soon found myself swept away to a dreary version of an England in the near future. Airstrip One, as it was now called, was ruled by a dictator named Big Brother. His “Thought Police” spied on every house by some sort of televisor technology — I’d heard the BBC was actually experimenting with such broadcasts, but this version allowed them to see inside everywhere as well.
The protagonist, one Winston Smith, worked at a so-called “Ministry of Truth”, that actually was rewriting history to fit the current needs and doctrine of “Ingsoc”, the illegitimate child of Bolshevism and National Socialism that seemed to be the party ideology. One phrase really gave me an uppercut, so to speak. “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”
The manuscript broke off around the point where a young woman indicates to Winston she loves him. The Party frowned on romantic love — believing only in reproduction for the sake of the Party.
I continued, then found a second fragment.
By Emmanuel Goldstein

This was clearly a book within a book, that explained how Ingsoc came about, and how the world — aside from a contested zone — ended up being divided between three competing yet very similar systems: Ingsoc in “Oceania”, which included Western Europe, England, and North America; “Neo-Bolshevism” in “Eurasia”; and “Death Worship” in “Eastasia”. How every society ever known to mankind knew three broad social strata, “high”, “middle”, and “low” — in Oceania, the “low” were called proles, the “middle” the Outer Party, and the “high” the Inner Party. How the system was set up by the Inner Party for no apparent reason, other than securing its own position at the top.

A third fragment. Here Winston Smith had been taken prisoner, and was being interrogated by an Inner Party member named O’Brien, his quondam supervisor and friend.

And this was the truly despair-inducing part of the book. I imagined I was Winston Smith, clinging for dear life onto my sanity, onto the notion that there is an objective truth outside the “world as will and representation” of the party, and being subjected to vile tortures until I’d agree that two plus two could make five if the party required it.
Eventually O’Brien reveals to him the true purpose of Ingsoc. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. […] We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?’[…] Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? […]
If you want a picture of the future, imaging a boot stamping on a human face — forever.
I was shaking all over by the time I reached that sentence.
The door opened. Blair/Orwell stepped in. “Right, I am done for the day. Are you OK, Miss Slater?”
“I see you are shivering.”
“Your book.” “Tell me, honestly.”
I brought myself back to the past. “I have never read anything like it, and I’ve read a lot. So dark, so frightening—and so utterly vivid.”
He nodded. “Thank you. I hit a snag and wondered whether it was worth continuing.”
“You must finish this! It was so real I could taste it—a metallic taste, if you pardon the metaphor.”
“I see what is being done in the name of propaganda every day. And we are still on the side of light. I’ve seen it done on the other side. The Communists in Spain more interested in torturing and killing their own ‘deviationists’ than in fighting the Fascists. And of course what the Fascists and Nazis are doing now.”
“They killed my father, you know.”
“Was he an opponent of the regime?”
“Worse. Mistaken identity. He had nearly the same name as the man they really wanted dead. It was in 1934.”
“And their Ministry of Truth probably painted it as if he was a regrettable broken egg in making the omelette of Hitlerism.” “Something like that, yes.”
He nodded in “Miss Slater, is there anything I can do for you?”
“Finish this book, Mr. Orwell, and publish it. The world must hear this story. Of a world that could be ours unless we stop it.”
He nodded. “Then I shall finish it. You have my word.”
He took a deep breath, then looked me in the eye and spoke. “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane.”
What does one say in response to such words?
“What I just read was a windowpane. I saw a near future, clearer than I see the day today.”
“Thank you for the compliment.”
“The only part I don’t care for is the title.”
“The Last Man In Europe.”
“Right. It doesn’t evoke what the book is about. It is set in a near future, but the reader isn’t expecting that. How about a title that signals this?”
He mused for a moment, sunk in deep thought, then snapped out of it. “Right. How about Nineteen Eighty-Four?”
“Perfect! Marvelous!”
“Then that’s what I’ll go with when I finally am finish—.” He burst out in a fit of coughing.
“Are you alright?” “
Yes, don’t mind me. Happens all the time.” His breath steadied now.
I rose. “Perhaps I should take my leave now.”
“Please tell Winston something.”
“That as much as I dislike capitalists and Prussian Junkers, even they would be an improvement over the alternatives. I just hope that’s all they are, and not a different gang of Nazis.”
“I can tell you I have met Chancellor Goerdeler. He seems like the very opposite of your — O’Brien in the book.”
He nodded. “Very well. Let us hope you are right.”

Could American culture and society undergo “verzuiling” (pillarization, ‘silo-fication’)?

The Star Wars franchise, after progressively more dreary wokedreck, finally had hit gold again with The Mandalorian (a.k.a. “The Baby Yoda Show”).

Now its star Gina Carano has been ‘canceled’ for stating that dehumanizing one’s political opponent, and getting people to inform on their ‘wrong-thinking’ neighbors, is the beginning of the same process that led to the Shoah. Supposedly this is trivializing the Shoah or something.

I would personally have used the Great Purges and the Gulags in the USSR, or the Cultural Revolution, as more direct parallels, but speaking as a committed Jew and a student of history, I am in broad agreement with her on the dehumanization aspect. In fact, my fictional protagonist, Major Felix Winter, makes the following observation in Episode II of “Operation Flash”:

… they were telling themselves that Jews, and whoever else they killed here, were not really human. [Just] beasts in human form. That they were just putting down cattle, so to speak. Or eradicating vermin.

I then understood. The moment you decide fellow humans are not truly human — whether by birth, by class, or anything else — something like Treblinka is the endgame.

Arbel, Nitay. Operation Flash, Episode 2: Hinges Of Fate . One Music As Before Press. Kindle Edition.

Of course, the ‘Canceling’ of Gina Carano is a classic example of the Dutch proverb “when they want to beat a dog, they’ll readily find a stick” (als men een hond wil slaan vindt men licht een stok).

Now I was delighted to find out that Gina has already been offered her own  movie project with the fledgling entertainmen arm of Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire. Shapiro points to his own mentor Andrew Breitbart, always fond of saying ‘politics is downstream from culture’.

There are of course already niche cultural genres for conservatives. Country music and Christian praise music would have a mostly conservative audience, and so do certain metal subgenres. But Shapiro is trying to make inroads into mainstream culture.

If this trend expands, will it change the mainstream discourse, or will it ultimately contribution to the formation of two parallel social ‘silos’ or ‘pillars’ (Dutch: zuilen)? Allow me to explain.

That people as outspoken and argumentative as the Dutch would have had their share of religious, political, and philosophical internal conflicts should not surprise anyone. So did the less argumentative Belgians — but there with an overlay of bitter language disputes (“Flemish” Dutch vs. “Walloon” French).

In both countries, the same peculiar response developed, known in Dutch as “verzuiling” (zuil=pillar, i.e.) — you could translate it as “pillarization”, or less literally, ‘silo-fication’, though I’ve seen the term “vertical pluralism” in some English-language sources.

What form did this take? This is probably easiest to illustrate by description. In Belgium, there were (and are) three major trade unions affiliated with the three major political parties: the “Christian” (read, in the Belgian context:[*] Roman Catholic) ACV/CSC, the socialist ABVV/FGTB, and the liberal [read: pro-free market] ACLVB (which consisted almost entirely of its civil service local, VSOA=free syndicate for public office).

But it didn’t stop there. Each party maintained its own mutualités/ziekenfondsen/nonprofit HMOs: the Christian Mutuality, the Socialist Mutuality, and the Liberal Mutuality, plus three niche players: the Flemish Nationalist Mutuality, the Neutral Mutuality and, for self-employed professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and architects, … the Liberal Professions Mutuality. Even Chambers of Commerce were divided along sectarian lines.

Cultural life and media were likewise balkanized. If you were a Catholic, you would read either highbrow De Standaard or the more folksy Gazet Van Antwerpen or Het Nieuwsblad; if you were a Socialist, De Morgen or its predecessors; if a liberal, Het Laatste Nieuws, etc.  Friends who wanted to know what really went on used to read 2-3 papers and compare their coverage: each routinely suppressed or played down news that was embarrassing to their ‘camp’, and play up what suited its agenda. (Childish as this could get, it had the benefit of full disclosure, since newspapers openly advertised their bias on their masthead. Once irritating, this now seems positively benign compared to a ridiculously biased US media making laughable claims of objectivity.)

There were separate state and [state-subsidized ]” free school” networks: the latter, except for 2-3 Jewish schools, basically referred to Catholic schools, and people who belonged to that ‘pillar’ would send their children there, to the Catholic youth movements, would buy their house with a mortgage from the Kredietbank (which was historically Catholic), …

If anything, things in the Netherlands used to be even more comprehensively ‘silo-ed’: airtime on the national radio and TV broadcasters was divvied up between the Socialist VARA (Union of Workingman Radio Amateurs), the Liberal AVRO (General liberal radio broadcasters), the Catholic KRO (Catholic radio broadcasters), the moderate Dutch-Reformed[**] NCRV (Dutch Christian radio association), the fundamentalist EO (evangelical broadcasters), and the maverick VPRO (freethinking protestant radio organization). There were Catholic and Protestant banks,… the whole works. I remember talking to somebody who used to live in a Dutch fishing village “so evangelical they kept the rooster away from the chickens on Sundays” [presumably colorful hyperbole on the part of my interlocutor]. Supposedly, a woman who opened a new general store was frozen out “because she was Catholic”.

In the 1960s, a process of “ontzuiling” (de-pillarization) started taking place in the Netherlands; Belgium followed suit rather later. More than just vestiges of this situation still exist, however.

There are  obvious downsides to this phenomenon: the balkanization of society, the ideological echo chambers. But I must admit it did have one important plus: the more or less peaceful coexistence between the groups.

Are we going to see something similar in the US now? If the alternative is either a shooting war in the streets or a one-party totalitarian soft-dictatorship crushing all dissent, “verzuiling”, with all its downsides, seems a positively benign outcome in comparison….

[*] There is so little awareness of Protestantism or Eastern Orthodoxy in Belgium that ‘Christian’ is commonly used as a kind-of reverse synecdoche for Roman Catholicism

[**] Dutch protestants are historically divided between a mainline Nederlands Hervormde (Dutch reformed) church, which is comparable to Presbyterianism in the US, and the more stringently calvinist Gereformeerde Kerken. (What Americans call Dutch Reformed comes close.) There is also a smallish ‘vrijzinnig protestantse’ (freethinking protestant) movement that includes a variety of congregations, some approaching US Unitarian-Universalism.

RIP Chick Corea (1941-2021)

Jazz piano and fusion jazz keyboard legend Armando Anthony “Chick” Corea is no longer with us, having succumbed to cancer. Rick Beato is devastated.

Here is the great master at a live jazz trio concert from just a few years ago.

And here is a different side of the master: a reunion concert of his electric fusion jazz band “Return To Forever”, featuring Stanley Clarke on bass, Al Di Meola on guitar, and Larry White on drums.

May his memory be for a blessing. This is a solo piano livestream of him playing one of the several jazz standards he composed:

COVID19 update, Feb. 11, 2021: Israel now has fewer over-60 than under-60 COVID hospital patients, due to age-selective vaccination drive

A few days ago, an inside source from [redacted] told me hospital admissions of older severe COVID19 patients had dropped precipitously, compensated in part by younger patients who got the British mutation, which apparently wreaks more havoc in younger people than classic COVID did.

Just now, Times of Israel reports that Israel for the first time has fewer over-60 and under-60 patients. [From the Clalit HMO data page, 60+ers account for 92.6% of all COVID19 dead.]

Graph from the Sourasky Medical Center [a.k.a., Ichilov Hospital] twitter feed

Sourasky/Ichilov is Tel-Aviv’s largest hospital, and one of the “big four” teaching hospitals [the others being Sheiba/Tel HaShomer in the suburb of Ramat Gan, Rambam in Haifa, and last but not least, Hadassah Ein Kerem in Jerusalem].

At this point, 40% of the entire Israeli population has gotten at least one dose — but at present only age 16 and over are eligible among the general population, as the severe morbidity in children is so low. According to data from PopulationPyramid.net, 27.8% of Israel’s population are children under 15. [They tabulate in 5-year age brackets.] That means that we have vaccinated at least 55% of the eligible population. In the 70+ bracket we have actually reached 90%, and in the 60-69 bracket we are at almost 80%. Tel-Aviv in fact offers shots to its foreign population now (live-in caregivers already were being informally vaccinated nationwide together with their clients).

Consequently, the total number of severe patients is now finally dropping.

as is daily mortality (the red broken line indicates the average over the displayed period)

Even the percentage of positive tests is coming down now

The above graphs are screenshots from the COVID19 dashboard of the Ministry of Health. As an aside, from the COVID19 data page of the Clalit HMO (both sites are in Hebrew), one can extract the mortality per 10-year age bracket as well as the number of positive cases per age bracket. 30 seconds in Excel, and you have a graph showing the apparent IFR (infection fatality rate) as a function of age. (I placed each marker in the middle of the bracket.)

Note that the Y axis is logarithmic

The two first data points are “statistics of small numbers” (two deaths in each), but beyond that point dependence is roughly linear, except for some bending down near the top. Given that 80+ers alone represent 54% of all dead, and 70+ers 79%, it may be tempting to see the ‘bending down’ at the top as a result of the vaccine campaign — but this is likely over-interpretation. Still, I’d like to make this graph again in a month.

Finally, from an article about Teva Pharmaceuticals offering to act as a contract manufacturer for vaccines, here is an image of the nerve center of our vaccine drive, the ultracold storage room in the TEVA Pharmaceuticals logistics center in Shoham (next door to the airport).

UPDATE: the Maccabi HMO has released updated figures for real-life efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine

An Israeli healthcare provider that has vaccinated half a million people with both doses of the Pfizer vaccine says that only 544 people — or 0.104% — have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

That means the effectiveness rate stands at 93 percent, Maccabi Healthcare Services announced on Thursday, after comparing its immunized members to a “diverse” control group of unvaccinated members.

“Diverse” here meaning: of similar composition in terms of age, (sub-)ethnicity, and underlying conditions in terms

Out of the 523,000 fully vaccinated people, 544 were infected with COVID, of whom 15 needed hospitalization: Eight are in mild condition, three in moderate condition, and four in severe condition.

UPDATE 2: John Campbell, after a review of where things stand in the UK and elsewhere, at 18’18” into the video treats the WHO sham ‘investigation’ at Wuhan with the respect it deserves.

UPDATE 3: preprint about this, by Eran Segal from the Weizmann Institute, at medrXiv

https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.02.08.21251325 The most interesting conclusion from that paper (as also summarized by De Standaard, in Dutch): localities that vaccinated fastest saw the earliest and strongest drop in morbidity. That puts to bed the counterargument that maybe 60+ morbidity is dropping because “the virus ran out of vulnerable old people”.

And no, it can’t be our partatch [freely: half-*rsed] third lockdown either — while tight lockdowns like our first [back in March-April 2020] may actually make some sense in densely populated countries like Israel, the third lockdown was widely ignored — and not just in the chareidi [“ultra-Orthodox”] sector but among the general population as well. Shutting down the airport is a different story — the purpose of that was to keep out potential “escape mutations”.

COVID19 update, February 9, 2021: Oxford/AstraZeneca, UK, and EU spat; the “data scientist” who wasn’t; WaPo no longer dismisses biocontainment breach as origin theory

(1) [Hat tip: masgramondou] The English edition of the Italian paper La Repubblica has two great interviews on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine’s production in the UK and on the fustercluck in continental europe, one with Boris Johnson’s vaccine czarina Kate Bingham (a veteran industry insider), the other with Pascal Soriot, the CEO of AstraZeneca.

(2) Following initial ‘almost too good to be true’ results with the Israeli drug EXO-CD24, Greece now wants to get in on the clinical trials, the Jerusalem Post reports. Prof. Nadir Arber’s decades-long research on exosomes may now have a huge payoff.

(3) And in the “NPR stands for New-class Propaganda Radio” department, remember the story of the “data scientist” who was fired because “she refused to falsify data”? Well, the story is a bit more complex, ahem.

NPR describes [Rebekah] Jones as a “top scientist” leading Florida’s pandemic response. In fact, Jones has held three jobs in her field; all three have ended in her being terminated and criminally charged. She has a Master’s in geography from Louisiana State University, where she worked until she was fired. She was arrested in 2016 while, reportedly, trespassing on campus and attempting to steal computer equipment from her former workplace. She then lectured at Florida State University (FSU) and began researching tropical storms for a dissertation, but never earned a Ph.D. as she was suspended and fired in 2018 after her former student accused her of sexual cyberharassment. Before her termination from the DoH, she was a geographic information systems manager, overseeing the COVID-19 web portal. It’s therefore misleading to imply Jones has specialized knowledge of infectious disease. Florida’s top Democratic official calls her “Dr. Rebekah Jones,” but Jones is no doctor. Nor is she an epidemiologist, virologist, statistician, or public health professional; the DoH has a highly qualified team of those. A technical manager, Jones didn’t have the authority or expertise to decide unilaterally how to visualize data. But when experts disagreed with her, she assumed they were wrong—or deliberately deceiving the public. After she was fired from the DoH for a pattern of insubordination, Jones claimed that Deputy Secretary for Health Shamarial Roberson had asked her to “manipulate data to mislead the public” about the safety of reopening rural counties. According to Dr. Roberson, this is “patently false.” Emails show a state epidemiologist told Jones to temporarily disable data export from the dashboard to verify dates against other official sources. The data was aggregated from local public health authorities in 67 counties; it couldn’t be falsified or hidden. In other words, Jones is no “whistleblower.” She’s a conspiracy theorist.

In amplifying Jones’ story, the media has all but ignored Dr. Roberson, who has impressive experience in epidemiology and a doctorate in public health. As a Black woman from a disadvantaged background, she has risen to the forefront of Florida’s pandemic response. Dr. Roberson deserves the recognition the media has lavished on her ex-employee. But according to The Narrative, serving in a conservative administration disqualifies her.”

Read the whole thing. Shills gotta shill.

An Edelman poll released in January by Axios found that 56% of Americans think “reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations.” With the next Rebekah Jones, that proportion will grow.

Only 56%?!

For liberal thought leaders sympathetic to Jones, The Narrative doesn’t merely overpower facts. It supersedes principles. Listen to experts, unless they serve under a conservative governor. Believe survivors, unless they accuse your ideological ally. Trust science, unless it contradicts your political biases.

All scientists and journalists ought to print out this quote by Henri Poincaré and to hang it above their desks.

Thought must never submit — neither to a dogma, nor to a political party, nor to a passion, nor to a special interest, nor to a preconceived idea, nor to anything other than the facts themselves — because when thought submits, it ceases to be.

Henri Poincaré, Le libre examen en matière scientifique (1909); my translation of: “La pensée ne doit jamais se soumettre, ni a un dogme, ni a un parti, ni à une passion, ni à un intérêt, ni à une idée préconçue, ni à quoique ce soit, si ce n’est aux faits eux-mêmes, parce que, pour elle, se soumettre, ce serait cesser d’être.

(4) Meanwhile in Israel, vaccination centers are underemployed because the older, more vulnerable population groups are reaching saturation, and some of the younger are reluctant to get the shot, saying ‘they will take their chances with the virus’. While for ‘classic covid’ 20-year olds this may be a rational decision as as mortality in that age bracket is very very low, I am not certain that is still the case for the British mutation which is now by far the dominant strain here.

Nevertheless, if you are not thinking in terms of population herd immunity, but of protecting the most vulnerable groups, we are already much of the way there. The light-green bars in each age group indicate people who have had both jabs, the dark green those who have had the first shot and are in their 3-week wait for the second one. The government target is 90% for ages 50 and above: we are already reaching that benchmark for 70 and above, are inching toward 80% for ages 60-69, and toward 70% for ages 50-59. I really am not sure why “incentive programs” are needed here when the people who need the jabs most seem to be coming on their own.

What do medical personnel do? There is no vaccination mandate for anyone here (not even medical personnel, which kind-of surprised me), but the article cited above claims that vaccination rates of doctors and nurses range from just 60% at Laniado Hospital in Netanya to 94% of doctors and 89% of nurses at Hadassah Ein Kerem in Jerusalem (one of the “Big Four” university hospitals). How many of the remaining 6% and 11% have immunity from prior COVID19 infections is not mentioned in the article.

(5) The Washington [com]Post has been accusing Tom Cotton (R-AR) for months of peddling debunked conspiracy theories about the origin of the Wuhan virus. Guess what? WaPo is now rating the same story ‘likely’ https://pjmedia.com/news-and-politics/brucecarroll/2021/02/08/washington-post-flips-on-coronavirus-origin-n1423984

What difference a year can make! From ‘bug-eyed right-wing conspiracy theory’ to mainstream. And yes, a lab leak during risky ‘gain of function’ research (thanks to shoddy biocontainment discipline at the Wuhan lab) is what I’ve been suspecting for the past 8-9 months, and what “masgramondou” was blogging about in early April last year. [To be fair to the WaPo, last April they  may have been the first mainstream media source  (archive copy at http://archive.is/Tg5oo ) to report on biosafety concerns at the Wuhan Level 4 biocontainment facility.] Quoting again what I reported then:

In January 2018, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing took the unusual step of repeatedly sending U.S. science diplomats to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which had in 2015 become China’s first laboratory to achieve the highest level of international bioresearch safety (known as BSL-4). WIV issued a news release in English about the last of these visits, which occurred on March 27, 2018. The U.S. delegation was led by Jamison Fouss, the consul general in Wuhan, and Rick Switzer, the embassy’s counselor of environment, science, technology and health. Last week, WIV erased that statement from its website, though it remains archived on the Internet.

What the U.S. officials learned during their visits concerned them so much that they dispatched two diplomatic cables categorized as Sensitive But Unclassified back to Washington. The cables warned about safety and management weaknesses at the WIV lab and proposed more attention and help. The first cable, which I obtained, also warns that the lab’s work on bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.

“During interactions with scientists at the WIV laboratory, they noted the new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” states the Jan. 19, 2018, cable, which was drafted by two officials from the embassy’s environment, science and health sections who met with the WIV scientists. (The State Department declined to comment on this and other details of the story.)

The Chinese researchers at WIV were receiving assistance from the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch and other U.S. organizations, but the Chinese requested additional help. The cables argued that the United States should give the Wuhan lab further support, mainly because its research on bat coronaviruses was important but also dangerous.

As the cable noted, the U.S. visitors met with Shi Zhengli, the head of the research project, who had been publishing studies related to bat coronaviruses for many years. In November 2017, just before the U.S. officials’ visit, Shi’s team had published research showing that horseshoe bats they had collected from a cave in Yunnan province were very likely from the same bat population that spawned the SARS coronavirus in 2003.

“Most importantly,” the cable states, “the researchers also showed that various SARS-like coronaviruses can interact with ACE2, the human receptor identified for SARS-coronavirus. This finding strongly suggests that SARS-like coronaviruses from bats can be transmitted to humans to cause SARS-like diseases. From a public health perspective, this makes the continued surveillance of SARS-like coronaviruses in bats and study of the animal-human interface critical to future emerging coronavirus outbreak prediction and prevention.”

The research was designed to prevent the next SARS-like pandemic by anticipating how it might emerge. But even in 2015, other scientists questioned whether Shi’s team was taking unnecessary risks. In October 2014, the U.S. government had imposed a moratorium on funding of any research that makes a virus more deadly or contagious, known as “gain-of-function” experiments.


There are similar concerns about the nearby Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention lab, which operates at biosecurity level 2, a level significantly less secure than the level-4 standard claimed by the Wuhan Insititute of Virology lab, Xiao said. That’s important because the Chinese government still refuses to answer basic questions about the origin of the novel coronavirus while suppressing any attempts to examine whether either lab was involved.



Spanish Bombs

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

It’s one of the best known paintings of the Modern era. Expatriate Spaniard Pablo Picasso created Guernica in response to an atrocity that occurred during the Spanish Civil War, an episode that was a harbinger of the ruthless slaughter of the Second World War.

On April 26, 1937, the Condor Legion, a corps of German Luftwaffe pilots who had volunteered to assist the Nationalist forces fighting in Spain, launched a raid on the defenseless Basque city of Guernica. Multiple waves of airplanes bombed and strafed the civilian population of the town. The total number of casualties is disputed, but hundreds were killed.

An early experiment in the terrorizing carpet bombing later refined by the Nazis, the Guernica bombing demonstrated the callous brutality and effectiveness of twentieth century warfare, and the willingness to reach beyond the conventional battlefield to strike at enemies. The world recoiled…

View original post 1,270 more words

COVID19 mini-update, February 6, 2021: two promising new Israeli drugs; Dr. Seheult on the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine; Israel’s former COVID19 czar says time to end lockdowns, let people get back to work

(1) Dr. Seheult has a video about the new one-shot vaccine developed in Belgium by Janssen Farmaceutica, now a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson

(2) Israel crossed the grim milestone of 5,000 dead, all of them “of” rather than just “with” COVID as our reporting rules are fairly stringent.

Yet there are signs of a change. For one, analysis of mortality by age bracket (by regularly monitoring this page of the Clalit HMO) reveals a significant decrease in mortality in the over-60 group (where over 80% have gotten the first Pfizer shot and a substantial portion have gotten the 2nd shot). Severe patients are slowly trending down, with (sources tell me) fewer older patients and an increase in young patients. The UK mutation appears to account for 70-80% of cases here now; the South African and Brazilian mutations are set to have been contained through an airport shutdown (just extended by two weeks).

The Maccabi HMO released further data on the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine. If anything, they look even better than the first batch.

As of Thursday, only 254 individuals out of the 416,900 who were already a week after the second Pfizer shot – the time where the immunity is considered to kick in – got infected with the virus, the organization reported. Moreover, those who were found to be positive only had light symptoms, with just four of them being hospitalized, all of them in light [read: “mild”] condition. Over the same period of time, some 12,944 new cases of COVID-19 emerged in the control group of some 778,000 people having a diverse health profile.

[…] From a segmentation of the infections that did occur, it appears that the immunity increases as the days go by. Among the 254 people who contracted the virus, 76 of them were infected after seven days, 44 on the eight day, and 24 on the ninth day. Between day 22 and 24 – when the test period ended – no one was infected.

Meanwhile, some very good news about two new experimental Israeli drugs, both originally developed as immunomodulators, achieving very good results with severe COVID19 patients.

EXO-CD24, developed by Prof. Nadir Arber at Sourasky Medical Center (still popularly known as Ichilov Hospital, the largest hospital in Tel-Aviv), was applied in a Phase 1 trial to 30 moderate to severe COVID19 patients, and 29 of them could be discharged from the hospital in 3 to 5 days. (H/t: Jeff Duntemann)

Allocetra by Enlivex (a macrophage modulator) achieved hospital discharges in 19 out of 21 critically ill COVID19 patients, average time to discharge 5.6 days. (The two remaining patients are alive but still in hospital.)

(3) Prof. Ronny Gamzu, CEO of Ichilov Hospital and former national “COVID19 czar”, says lockdowns have outlived any usefulness that might justify the economic damage they wreak. As the most vulnerable groups have reached high vaccination levels, it is time to let people get back to work.

Note that Gamzu (an economics professor at Tel Aviv U. as well as an obstetrician by training) fought tooth and nail against the 2nd national lockdown all summer until hospitals cried “Uncle!” as their ICUs (normally at an ebb that time of year) were packed to the rafters.

UPDATE: US Supreme Court, in 6-3 ruling: CA (mis)governor Gavin Newsom’s forced closures of places of worship is unconstitutional.

Last night, the Supreme Court ordered California to allow churches to resume indoor worship services. However, California is permitted to limit attendance to 25 percent capacity. In addition, the state’s ban on singing and chanting at religious services can remain in place for now.

The Court fractured over these matters. Justices Thomas and Gorsuch would have enjoined [=confusing legalese for prohibit, restrain] the entire set of restrictions imposed by California.

Justice Alito would have done so too after 30 days, unless California could “demonstrate[] clearly that nothing short of [its] measures will reduce the community spread of COVID–19 at indoor religious gatherings to the same extent as do the restrictions the State enforces with respect to other activities it classifies as essential.”

Like Thomas and Gorsuch, Justices Barrett and Kavanaugh would have have [barred] the state from limiting attendance at religious services. However, they would have kept the ban on singing and chanting in place for now.

[…] Chief Justice Roberts […] stated: “The State’s present determination — that the maximum number of adherents who can safely worship in the most cavernous cathedral is zero — appears to reflect not expertise or discretion, but instead insufficient appreciation or consideration of the interests at stake.”

But it’s Neil Gorsuch who’s really giving it with both barrels:

Meanwhile, the State allows most retail operations to proceed indoors with 25% occupancy, and other businesses to operate at 50% occupancy or more. Apparently, California is the only State in the country that has gone so far as to ban all indoor religious services. . . . The State tells us that worshippers are sure to seek close physical interactions. . . Yet, California is not as concerned with the close physical proximity of hairstylists or manicurists to their customers, whom they touch and remain near for extended periods. The State does not force them or retailers to do all their business in parking lots and parks. And California allows people to sit in relatively close proximity inside buses too. Nor, again, does California explain why the narrower options it thinks adequate in many secular settings— such as social distancing requirements, masks, cleaning, plexiglass barriers, and the like—cannot suffice here. Especially when those measures are in routine use in religious services across the country today.

California worries that worship brings people together for too much time. Yet, California does not limit its citizens to running in and out of other establishments; no one is barred from lingering in shopping malls, salons, or bus terminals. Nor, yet again, has California explained why more narrowly tailored options, like a reasonable limit on the length of indoor religious gatherings, would fail to meet its concerns.

I have my suspicions why not. And I am vicariously ashamed for my nominal coreligionists Breyer and Kagan for siding with Governor Noisome and taking the name of ‘science’ in vain.

Out: claims the elections are rigged are conspiracy theories. In: TIME magazine article about why rigging the election was a good thing

You can’t make this up. This is your arrogant, condescending, Brahmandarin “Brave New World” administrator class at work. Tim Pool just posted this reaction video:

ADDENDUM: Ed Driscoll at Instapundit:

GOP GAINS ANOTHER CONGRESSIONAL SEAT: Judge ruling: Certify Claudia Tenney as winner in NY-22. Life News.com notes that Tenney “is pro-life and gives Republicans 213 House seats, just 5 short of taking the House back from Nancy Pelosi.

As Glenn wrote in November, “For a guy who supposedly lost, Trump sure had a lot of coattails. And for a guy who supposedly won, Biden sure didn’t.”

ADDENDUM 2: Nina Bookout at Victory Girls Blog gives a good summary of the TIME expose (archive copy here) how the election was “Fortified” (read: rigged) to ensure a “proper outcome”. Note: it’s not Ms. Bookout, or me, who are using words like ‘cabal’ and ‘conspiracy’. TIME is, in their exposé.

[…] the participants want the secret history of the 2020 election told, even though it sounds like a paranoid fever dream–a well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information. They were not rigging the election; they were fortifying it. And they believe the public needs to understand the system’s fragility in order to ensure that democracy in America endures. […]

There was a conspiracy unfolding behind the scenes, one that both curtailed the protests and coordinated the resistance from CEOs. Both surprises were the result of an informal alliance between left-wing activists and business titans.[…]

And of course, all of this is a good thing now. “We had to kill democracy in order to save it.”

A rare image of a bifurcation point in history: March 21, 1943 and the Arsenal Bomb Plot

British historian Mark Felton posted this video about the events of March 21, 1943 in Berlin.

On that day, a memorial ceremony took place at the old Arsenal building in Berlin, with nearly the entire Nazi top in attendance. Right afterwards, they were given a private showing of an exhibition of captured Red Army weaponry. Colonel Rudolf Freiherr [=Baron] von Gersdorff, chief intelligence officer (Ic) of Army Group Center, was to be their guide.

Unbeknownst to them he was carrying two bombs in his uniform pockets. He had been maneuvered into this role by his direct superior, AGC First Staff Officer (Ia) Col. Henning von Tresckow, who had made his own attempt on Hitler’s life just a week earlier. The bombs’ 10-minute time fuses — British-manufactured ones that made no sound — would run out well before the scheduled 30-minute tour was over.

At 5:12 into the video, you can see this still, which I had no idea existed.

Still from exhibition room at Berlin Arsenal, March 21, 1943, showing Col. Rudolf Freiherr von Gersdorff minutes before his bombs were supposed to go off. In front of him, Admiral Dönitz, standing behind Göring [y”sh]

Unfortunately, Hitler [y”sh] either lost interest, or was running late for the rest of his program (which Felton discusses in detail further in the video) — or did he sense something was afoot? Or was he just following his general modus operandi of ensuring his movements were unpredictable to would-be assassins?

Gersdorff, knowing his target had eluded him, went away to a restroom and managed to defuse his bombs at the last moment. He would live for another three and a half decades, while his target would take his own life just over two years after that fateful day. As for Tresckow, he took his life after the July 20, 1944 Stauffenberg Plot failed, lest he betray his comrades under torture.

What if Gersdorff had succeeded? I am exploring this “Valkyrie 1943” timeline, with as little dramatic license as possible, in an “hard alternate history” series, available on Amazon:

At the moment in the picture above, history bifurcated. The map of Europe would have looked very different, and millions of people who fell in battle or were murdered in the last two years of WW II would likely have lived.

There is an infinity of Pasts[…] At each and every instant of Time, however brief you suppose it, the line of events forks like the stem of a tree putting forth twin branches[…] One of these branches represents the sequence of facts as you, poor mortal, knew it; and the other represents what History would have become if one single detail had been other than it was.

André Maurois (1931)

COVID19 update, February 3, 2021: Sputnik vaccine trial in The Lancet; mouthwash and colchicine

(1) Interim results from a Phase 3 trial of the “Russian vaccine”, a.k.a., “Sputnik V”, were published in The Lancet. This is a “viral vector vaccine” like Oxford/AstraZeneca.


Quoting the results paragraph from the abstract:

Between Sept 7 and Nov 24, 2020, 21 977 adults were randomly assigned to the vaccine group (n=16 501) or the placebo group (n=5476). 19 866 received two doses of vaccine or placebo and were included in the primary outcome analysis. From 21 days after the first dose of vaccine (the day of dose 2), 16 (0·1%) of 14 964 participants in the vaccine group and 62 (1·3%) of 4902 in the placebo group were confirmed to have COVID-19; vaccine efficacy was 91·6% (95% CI 85·6–95·2). Most reported adverse events were grade 1 (7485 [94·0%] of 7966 total events). 45 (0·3%) of 16 427 participants in the vaccine group and 23 (0·4%) of 5435 participants in the placebo group had serious adverse events; none were considered associated with vaccination, with confirmation from the independent data monitoring committee. Four deaths were reported during the study (three [<0·1%] of 16 427 participants in the vaccine group and one [<0·1%] of 5435 participants in the placebo group), none of which were considered related to the vaccine.

Assuming these data are genuine and not cherry-picked (remember: this was the same journal that was forced to retract hydroxychloroquine studies based on fabricated data), this looks quite good. As for why these data look much better than those for the similar Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine: I quickly skimmed through the paper and found two possible reasons. (1) the participants in the trial appear to have been stringently screened and may have been a healthier population, on average; (2) the ethnic composition of the sample is that of the Moscow population, i.e. over 98% white, while the Oxford/AstraZeneca trials had a more ethnically diverse sample, including dark-skinned individuals who, at least at high Northern latitudes with barely any sun in winter, are known to struggle more with COVID than Caucasians. (Moscow is at 55°46′ North, i.e., roughly at the same parallel as the English-Scottish border region.)[*]

(2) Dr. John Campbell interviews the Canadian host of the Friendly Pharmacy channel. He and Lindsey (who is located in British Columbia) discuss both the usefulness of mouthwash as a prophylactic for COVID19 infection (and respiratory infections more generally), and promising clinical trial data with the ancient anti-inflammatory drug colchicine, used for tamping down on severe COVID19.

Full disclosure: I have taken colchicine for gout in the past — for which it is very effective. (Plus, it costs a pittance.)

(3) I had my second Pfizer jab today. There were no lines at the vaccination station: this is in part the result of past success, as so many people in the priority groups (Israel started with age 60+, then gradually moved the age limit down until it is now at 35+, in addition to HS juniors and seniors) either already had both shots, or are sitting out their three weeks between the first and second shots.

The dark green bars are people in the 21 days between first and second shot. The light green bars are people who got both doses.

So at this point, in order not to waste doses, the HMOs (at least Clalit and Maccabi) will vaccinate all comers regardless of age, unless screened out for past allergic reactions. (I again had to convince the nurse that the notations in my chart about a suspected cross-reaction to an IV antibiotic had nothing to do with vaccinations. Still, it’s good that they screen out anyone at elevated risk to have an adverse event.)

Six and a half hours after the shot, I am not noticing much of anything except mild sensations at the injection site. I will update this if anything noteworthy changes. [NB: on a lark, I took 50mg zinc rather than my usual 25, as I suspected my immune system would be doing overtime.]

[*] It’s all about Vitamin D, as I’ve belabored here over and over. Even though somebody with my skin type should get enough vitamin D from sunshine alone, here at the 32nd parallel, I have been taking a few thousand units of vitamin D daily since the beginning of the pandemic.

COVID19 update, Groundhog Day edition: various ICYMI items

Things have been pretty hectic at work and home, so have been neglecting the blog a bit. Here are a few items you may have missed:

(1) The European Union vaccine fustercluck. As a Belgian source told me, “if this is what the EU stands for, it can go to h*ll, and good on the UK for getting out”. Der Spiegel English Edition has one long article from a German perspective, the Daily Telegraph another from a British perspective.

My Belgian source told me the EU should have done the same as Israel: pay premium prices for its jabs rather than cheese paring, as the money saved from relaxing lockdowns and other COVID19 restrictions on the economy will very quickly make up for the extra expense.

(2) Somewhat surprisingly, then again not, French PM Emmanuel Macron nixed another lockdown. Being a career economist before entering politics, he is keenly aware of the economic ravages of a lockdown, and therefore probably was unwilling to pay that price again if the benefit looked dubious to him.

For US context: it is important to realize that the political elite in a country like France, while just as overbearing and out of touch as its US counterpart, generally are smart people — the Grandes Ecoles (Geat Schools, idiomatically: the elite colleges one tier above the university system) do not admit based on legacy or affirmative action.

Speaking of smarts: Nobody in their right mind would ever accuse Andrew “Fredo” Cuomo of having a surfeit of those. His execrable leadership-off-a-cliff as (mis)governor of NY state does not stop him from ‘burning incense to himself’ (zichzelf bewieroken, priceless Dutch idiom used instead of a more graphic English one). PJ Media looks at his bungling and the media cover-up. A Russian immigrant to whom I described this asked me if the US media were like the Pravda of yore, or worse.

(3) I’ve been thinking of starting an item, “Turtleboy of the week”, for the most nauseating kowtow to Emperor Xi.[*] Alas, I’d have to run this as a daily feature. Harvard, with its decision to invite the politruk and Xi puppet at the head of the WHO as a commencement speaker, would be one worthy awardee; YouTube, for demonetizing the Epoch Times channel, would be another.

(4) The defiance of COVID19 restrictions against communal gatherings by Israel’s chareidi (“ultra-Orthodox”) minority baffles more than one outside observer — especially in light of the exalted status pikuach nefesh (freely: ‘when a life is at stake’) has in halacha (Jewish law).

This article in the JPost adds some context. Basically, paraphrasing the writer, strict observance of Jewish law is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for being chareidi — because otherwise it would just be a somewhat stricter version of mainline Orthodoxy. Its communal activities are what define the identity of both the Chasidic and “Litvak” streams of chareidi society, and COVID19 restrictions hit those particularly hard.

Another article I saw the other day, by Ḥaviv Rettig Gur in the Times of Israel, pointed out that large chareidi families tend to live in cramped apartments that act primarily as places to sleep, while during the day children [and often, but not always, the husband] are away long hours studying at seminaries.

(At least one [modern-]Orthodox coworker sarcastically referred to ‘chareidism’ as ‘the religion closest to Judaism’.)

(5) An article in De Standaard (in Dutch) looks at the effectiveness of existing vaccines for mutant strains like the one from South Africa (short answer: somewhat reduced for Oxford-AstraZeneca and for the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine; no available data yet for Pfizer and Moderna). It also looks at the ease with which updated vaccines could be produced (trivial for Pfizer and Moderna, still easy for Oxford-Astrazeneca) — these could be issued as bivalent vaccines for both strains, in fact. The main hurdle would be regulatory: would the EU equivalent of the FDA insist on a full round of clinical trials for what amounts to the biochemical version of a software patch?

(6) New vaccine kids on the block:

  • Novavax claims 96% effectiveness against ‘classic COVID’, 86% against UK mutation, but (worryingly) only about 60% against South African mutation. Its technology may make it attractive for use in people at risk from vaccine reactions:

Called a recombinant protein vaccine, the Maryland company uses genetic engineering to grow harmless copies of the coronavirus spike protein in insect cells. Scientists extract and purify the protein and then mix in an immune-boosting chemical.

  • Data are now also available for Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine (developed by its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutica in Beerse, Belgium). It is 66% effective at preventing disease, and 85% effective at preventing severe disease.

Thus far, Pfizer and the very similar Moderna still seem to be the ones to beat.

[*] There’s a Chinese insult, roughly corresponding to SOB or bastard, that literally means: turtle-“lover”. Also, ‘your mother is a turtle’ is still pretty potent, as a turtle does not know its ancestors and turtles mate indiscriminately.