Here be Dragons

Living with Coronavirus
Sunday August 8th, 2021
5:38 AM

When you look at ancient maps you see on the edges many drawings of sea serpents, sea monsters, and dragons.  Often these areas on maps are labeled “Here be Dragons”.  The map was not trying to claim actual dragons existed but rather using the reality that none had ever been found. Since no dragon has ever been found, it follows they must be somewhere no one has ever been. 

That is what these drawings and the term stood for, uncharted waters.  Uncharted waters are very dangerous.  A sailor has no idea if there are dangerous rocks, treacherous waves, coral reefs or hostile peoples and animals.  It is dangerous to travel uncharted waters because we are in a true unknown.  We cannot be certain there are not dragons here, because no one has ever been there before.

“Here be Dragons”. 

We are there, boys and girls, at the edge of the map.  Ask yourself how many times recently you have heard people; media pundits, professionals, and scientists of all ilk’s say, “This is unprecedented”?  I have heard it so many times the term is losing its impact.  Seems like we heard it almost every day during Trump’s term.  We hear it over and over during this Pandemic and we hear it almost every day about the weather, driven by the warmed, and still warming, climate humans created.

The human race now stands at the edge of the map, in uncharted waters, and uncharted waters are, by definition, dangerous.  In politics we have one party embracing the terrorists who stormed our Capital, which is unprecedented.  In climate we have multiple weather incidents around the globe daily, which are each individually unprecedented, and taken together show the effects of climate change on our weather systems, which is unprecedented.  In the Pandemic we have the rise of the Delta strain and fear of the next, even more deadly strain to come, which is unprecedented.

“Here be Dragons”.

The 1st Dragon

We started with the original strain from China where it jumped from animals to people (most likely still), but might have leaked from a lab (evidence has accumulated to support this position).  We probably won’t ever know, and it is not as important as dealing with the consequences of it infecting, sickening, and killing humans.  It was the original strain which appeared first in Seattle and kicked this whole thing off in the states.  Now we are in a Delta surge, with new variants appearing regularly.

The alpha variant was first detected in the U.K. in December 2020.  The alpha variant is more transmissible than the original coronavirus strain detected in Wuhan, China. Alpha is anywhere from 30% to 50% more infectious than other variants currently circulating. The alpha variant is likely to be deadlier than the original strain — about 55% deadlier. –NYT

The possible ‘zeta’ variant, or B.1.621 was first detected in Colombia and more recently detected in South Florida.  The B.1.621 variant has not yet received a Greek-letter designation. Some doctors have taken to calling B.1.621 the “zeta” variant.  So far, there is no evidence that this variant causes more severe disease or evades vaccine efficacy, even in South Florida where “zeta” variant cases have surged, the variant still does not account for the majority of cases. -Washington Post/Desert News

The delta plus variant is a mutation of the delta variant. The delta plus variant, was first detected in Europe in March but is believed to have originated in India alongside the original delta variant.  The delta plus variant has been labeled a “variant of concern.”  However, not enough cases of delta plus infections have been identified or studied to know if this variant is worse than the original delta variant. – Washington Post/Desert News

The delta variant is currently surging around the world. The delta variant was first detected in India in October 2020. The strain has been found to be more transmissible and cause more severe disease than other variants. The delta variant is more transmissible than the common cold and about as transmissible as chickenpox.  Studies have found that Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are less effective against the delta variant, compared to the alpha strain. However, vaccinated individuals are still more protected (from serious disease) than unvaccinated individuals against the delta variant. The delta variant has become the fastest-growing variant of concern and the dominant variant in the U.S.  Infections are surging across the U.S., driven by the delta strain of coronavirus. -NYT/Popular Science

The lambda variant was first detected in Peru in August 2020. The lambda variant is thought to be more dangerous than the original strain of coronavirus. The variant has now been detected in 29 countries, including the U.S. Like the delta variant, the lambda variant is highly transmissible and thought to be more resistant to vaccines.  Studies have found that Pfizer, Moderna and Coronavac’s Sinovac vaccines are less effective against lambda than against the alpha variant.  “As of now, though, there hasn’t been sufficient data regarding exactly how effective current vaccines are against preventing infection from lambda. Lambda can be a potential threat to the human society,” said senior researcher Kei Sato, of the University of Tokyo.  Less research has been conducted on the lambda variant, leaving many questions about the strain and many unknowns. Lambda has not yet been labeled a “variant of concern,” but further research is needed-Popular Science/Newsweek/Reuters

Global Infected      197,962,362                   202,321,369                       
Increase                  4,359,007
7-day average        622,715 infections diagnosed daily –UP

Global Dead          4,220,009                                          4,287,172
Increase                 65,163
7-day average       9,309 deaths daily –UP

USA Infected         34,980,052                                       35,739,777
Increase                 759,725
7-day average       108,532 infections diagnosed daily –UP

USA C-19 deaths      613,157                                         616,718
Increase                    3,561
7-day average          508 deaths daily –UP

Maine Infected       70,463                                             71,306  
Increase                   843
7-day average        120 infections diagnosed daily –UP

Maine deaths         900                                    901
Increase                  1
7-day average        0.1428 deaths daily –DOWN

“Senior researcher Kei Sato told Reuters: “Lambda can be a potential threat to the human society,” echoing the language of the paper he co-authored, which called Lambda and three other VOIs “potential threats” to society. Those three other variants are Eta, Iota and Kappa.” -Microsoft News

“Dr. Pablo Tsukayama, a molecular microbiologist at Cayetano Heredia University in Lima, Peru, and one of the people who helped document Lambda, told Al Jazeera on July 27: “When we found it, it did not attract much attention, but we continued processing samples, and by March, it was in 50 percent of the samples in Lima. By April, it was in 80 percent of the samples in Peru,” he said. “That jump from one to 50 percent is an early indicator of a more transmissible variant,” Tsukayama added.” -Microsoft News

“We’ve failed to shut this down as we have other pandemics,” says Jonathan Eisen, a biologist at the University of California, Davis, who studies how pathogens evolve. “It may be around forevermore, leaving us continually trying to figure out what to do next.” -Microsoft News

“Eta, which is now in several countries; Kappa, which arose in India; Iota, which first popped up in New York City—and especially Lambda, which has torn through Peru and shows signs of having unusual success in infecting fully vaccinated people, according to one early study. It has already spread to Argentina, Chile, Ecuador as well as Texas and South Carolina.” -Newsweek

“Just how destructive can these variants get? Will future variants expand their attack from the lungs to the brain, the heart and other organs? Will they take a page from HIV and trick people into thinking they’ve recovered, only to make them sick later? Is there a Doomsday variant out there that shrugs off vaccines, spreads like wildfire and leaves more of its victims much sicker than anything we’ve yet seen? The odds are not high that we will see such a triple threat, but experts can’t rule it out.” -Microsoft News

“The next variant,” says Dr.Osterholm, “could be Delta on steroids.”

“All coronaviruses mutate, and we knew this one was mutating, too,” says Sharone Green, a physician and infectious disease researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. “But we didn’t think the mutations would so strikingly affect transmissibility and possible evasion of immunity. Having billions of people infected presents a breeding ground for variants unlike anything we’ve ever seen with these sorts of viruses,” he says.

“COVID-19’s mutation rate is on the low side—about one mutation for every 10 replications, or around a fifth of the flu’s mutation rate and a tenth of HIV’s—COVID-19 takes advantage of a grim numbers game. A single person infected with COVID-19 might carry 10 billion copies of the virus, enough to produce billions of mutated viruses every day. What happens to all those mutations? Almost always the answer is: nothing. The genetic scrambling is random, with the result that virtually all mutations either have no effect whatsoever on the virus, or else do something that makes the virus less effective or even renders it entirely non-functional. But once in a while—perhaps every million trillion times—a random mutation confers some potentially dangerous new characteristic.” -Newsweek

“To become a significant variant, a mutated virus has to out-replicate the far more numerous copies of the virus that already predominate in the population, and to do that it needs features that give it big advantages. “A virus’ job is just to keep propagating,” says Green. “Any mutation that helps the virus survive and spread will make it more successful as a variant.” When billions of people are infected with billions of copies of a virus, all bets are off. Thanks to Delta’s infectiousness, and the huge number of people whose refusal or inability to get vaccinated leaves them primed to become living COVID-19 mutation labs, the conditions are ripe to produce yet more, potentially more dangerous, variants in the coming months.” -Newsweek

The Human race has never before faced a problem like this.  No previous pandemic has had the spread, or the infrastructure provided by the very humans it infects, to increase that spread.

Here be Dragons.

The 2nd Dragon

In politics more and more evidences keep coming out showing the depth of Donald Trump’s attempted Coup de Ta.  Trump spread the lie of rigged elections for years.  Trump ramped it up and tried to leverage the Vice President to violate the Constitution.  He tried to leverage the DOJ and sought to weaponize the DOJ against his political opponents.  He and his cronies enraged the crowd he invited to his political rally, then pointed them at Congress to interfere with the certification of our electoral college votes.

D.C. Metro and Capitol Police point out that the actions undertaken by the most violent people in that Trump crowd clearly meet the definition of terrorism in the statute.  The GOP is either silent, or still fomenting the lie that the election was stolen.  The GOP resist at every turn, any investigation into the details of January 6th, because we all know some of those elected representatives were on board with the terrorists.  Any investigation into the details of January 6th will shine a light on their actions and behaviors that day which will conflict with their denials.  Only two GOP members are standing up for the constitution and doing the right thing investigating Jan 6th.

Governor DeSantis is having a flame war with the POTUS Joe Biden.  Biden is encouraging people to wear masks and get vaccinated for themselves and all their loved one’s health.  DeSantis is telling Biden “Not in my Florida” as virus infections spike in Florida.  He ordered that no school in Florida can mandate masks on children in the schools, as schools open up, and as childhood cases of Covid-19 climb.  Insisting on the “Freedom” not to wear a mask in public. “Freedom” to only to be vaccinated if you choose to be vaccinated. There are no vaccine mandates in the USA.

Freedom to die unnecessarily from Covid-19 when 98% of new deaths are among the unvaccinated, even as Florida spikes. Both measures are not about individual rights, but about the health and general welfare; the Common Good.  Reminds me of seatbelts.  When seatbelts were mandated by law, these same type of folks screamed about their liberty.  Now they scream about infringement on their liberties over wearing a mask, or getting a shot. 

These childish reactions show the privilege they exist in.  It illustrates the reality that these folks have never in their lives lost their liberty. Only someone who has never lost their liberty could see mask mandates for public health as an infringement on their liberty.  Masks protect all of us.  Vaccines protect all of us.  The Common Good is for all of us.  To scream about your personal liberty over public health measures is exceedingly self-centered.

As if they are saying, “I do not want to wear a mask or get vaccinated.  It is my free choice not to.  If I then spread the disease to your grandmother who dies, that is not on me or my behavior.  Besides, you could never prove “I” infected your grandmother, the virus did.  Not my problem, life sucks, get a helmut.”

Thomas Jefferson once said of religious liberty; “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”  Another person’s personal beliefs do not affect me, they cannot infringe my liberty to believe as I choose. Non-compliance with public health measures picks all our pockets and breaks all our legs. Non-compliance helps the virus spread, breed, and mutate.  Non compliance is not about your personal inconvenience, it is about all of our liberties to live Covid free.  Non-compliance breaks my leg with Covid, and picks my pocket for medical expenses.

In my view, Non-compliance is Un-American.  It is working against team USA which is fighting the virus, and for team Covid, because you “don’t wanna.”  “It’s uncomfortable”, “I don’t like it”, “it’s a pain in the ass”, “I don’t trust the scientists”: like Ian Anderson once sang, “With endless whining sounds.” 

Newsflash, no one is happy about it.  None of us want to social distance, want to get a new vaccine, or want to live in a mask all the time.  We know we need to for the good of ourselves and others.  Some of us are acting like adults, and some of us are acting like bratty children who don’t want to eat their greens.

“A GOP official from Texas who regularly espoused anti-vaccine and anti-mask views online has died from COVID-19, five days after posting a meme on Facebook questioning the wisdom of getting inoculated against COVID.  Dickinson City Council member and Galveston County Republican Party chair H. Scott Apley, 45, died in a local hospital around 3 a.m. Wednesday morning Apley is a staunch conservative and devout Christian. But based on his social media activity, Apley didn’t believe COVID was going to affect him or his family.”

How many more reports like this one until the GOP base realizes that Republican Party politics is literally killing them?

Here be Dragons.

The 3rd Dragon

“As throngs surged toward a barricade manned by a vastly outnumbered handful of police, a white flag appeared above the masses, flapping in the wind: It featured an ichthys — also known as a “Jesus fish” — painted with the colors of the American flag.  Above the symbol, the words: “Proud American Christian.”  It was one of several prominent examples of religious expression that occurred in and around the storming of the Capitol last week, which left five people dead — including a police officer. Before and even during the attack, insurrectionists appealed to faith as both a source of strength as well as justification for their assault on the seat of American democracy.  While not all participants were Christian, their rhetoric often reflected an aggressive, charismatic and hypermasculine form of Christian nationalism — a fusion of God and country that has lashed together disparate pieces of Donald Trump’s religious base.

“A mistake a lot of people have made over the past few years … is to suggest there is some fundamental conflict between evangelicalism and the kind of violence or threat of violence we’re seeing,” said Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a history professor at Calvin University and author of “Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.” “For decades now, evangelical devotional life, evangelical preaching and evangelical teaching has found a space to promote this kind of militancy.”

A form of this faith was on display in front of the Capitol the day before the attack, when hundreds of Trump supporters massed near the building for a “Jericho March.” The event’s name was a reference to the biblical account of Israelites besieging the city of Jericho in the Book of Joshua.  Trump supporters who gathered in Washington for the Jericho March were encouraged to march around the Capitol, shouting and blowing shofars as a protest against the 2020 presidential election results.

“This is our moment, Lord, this is our moment to take our country back,” declared one woman standing in a prayer circle near the U.S. Supreme Court. “This is our moment to fight … with you as our weapon. You are our fighter.”  A few minutes later, someone could be heard chanting a few feet away: “We fight for God, and God fights for us!” -Religious News

Yea, the Nazis thought so too.
The 4th Dragon

On climate everything is still on fire and another historic California town was consumed by the wildfires.  The megadrought is still ongoing, replete with crop failures and a culling of livestock.  Out in ranchland you can make a buck buying thin, starving, dehydrated, cattle cheap. Fatten them up yourself, and resell them a month or two later for a tidy profit.  For once the small farmer is taking advantage of the large corporate operations, which cannot get the water they need for such big herds. Expect meat prices to rise sharply over winter, vegetables too, especially the “out of season” fresh California and Arizona imports.

The Oroville hydroelectric plant shut down, for the first time ever. 

“OROVILLE (AP) — Drought-stricken California on Thursday shut down one of its largest hydroelectric plants because there’s not enough water to power it. The six-turbine Edward Hyatt Power Plant was taken offline after the water level in the Oroville Dam reservoir that feeds it sank to an historic low of less than 642 feet above mean sea level.”

“The reservoir in the Sierra Nevada foothills north of Sacramento was less than a quarter full.  It was the lowest level since the nation’s tallest dam was completed in 1967 and the first time the hydroelectric plant has been idled by lack of water, officials said.  The plant can produce enough power for 80,000 homes and businesses but its shutdown had been expected “and the state has planned for its loss in both water and (electrical) grid management,” said a statement from the state Department of Water Resources.”

“Steps have been taken in anticipation of the loss of power generation,” the statement said.  “This is just one of many unprecedented impacts we are experiencing in California as a result of our climate-induced drought,” agency director Karla Nemeth said.  The western United States is in the midst of an historic drought that is emptying reservoirs and contributing to massive wildfires. -SFC

Wildfires are an issue in Europe as well, from Turkey to Siberia.  Flash Floods and mudslides have been a anathema in other parts of Europe. Here in my Maine home it has been 60-70F all summer, more like Humboldt CA than Maine. Chilly, dank, almost always raining and often very windy.

Whenever you see two weather patterns, a high here and a low there; between them are the windstorms. The greater the difference between A and B, the stronger the winds. Wind, like all other weather, will continue to increase in “Frequency and Intensity”. Winds stripped the shingles off my roof last winter.

“The Amazon, the largest rainforest on Earth—accounting for nearly a third of the world’s primary forest—was once one of our greatest carbon sinks. As we recently celebrated World Nature Conservation Day on July 28, we must face the grim consequences of our actions. The Amazon now pumps carbon into the atmosphere.” -AP

Then there is AMOC.

I have a educational/science site I frequent that tracks earths weather systems, oceans, and air comprehensively. Using it I can look at the jet stream in real time, or watch the gulf stream in real time, all from data gathered the world over through various science collections. With this interactive site I can look at the gulf stream’s current, and temperature in real time.

I have been concerned about the gulf stream for several years now, but this year it looks to me like it is dying, just breaking down in rapid time. I used to be able to see the gulf stream work up the US east coast, then transverse the Atlantic and sinking back down near the British coast. Today I see it goes as far as Nova Scotia, just north east of me. There it breaks down into a thousand miles of small eddies, never actually reaching England as far as I can see. Yesterday I saw confirmation of my concerns.

“Human-driven planetary warming threatens to collapse a system of currents in the Atlantic Ocean that regulate and impact weather across the globe, a new scientific study has found. The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, a section of the Gulf Stream, transports warm water from the tropics northward and cold water from the North Atlantic to the south. This natural redistribution of heat has long worked to stabilize regional climate and weather conditions; however, scientists have been warning that the system is slowing down. A 2019 United Nations report concluded that while the current is “very likely” to weaken this century, a total breakdown was unlikely.

But the new study, published Thursday in the journal Nature Climate Change, indicates the situation could be far direr than previously thought. The current changes may be tied to “an almost complete loss of stability of the AMOC over the course of the last century,” the analysis states.

“The findings support the assessment that the AMOC decline is not just a fluctuation or a linear response to increasing temperatures but likely means the approaching of a critical threshold beyond which the circulation system could collapse,” Niklas Boers, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and the study’s author, said in a statement.

A crippled Atlantic current system could trigger catastrophic, potentially irreversible changes, from rising seas in North America to major disruptions to seasonal monsoon rains in Asia and South America.

“The mere possibility that the AMOC tipping point is close should be motivation enough for us to take countermeasures,” Levke Caesar, a climate physicist at Ireland’s Maynooth University, told The Washington Post. “The consequences of a collapse would likely be far-reaching.” -Huff Post

“Here be Dragons”.

As I sat in my hilltop retreat another football stadium (65,163) of my fellow humans were devoured by the Covid Dragon, of those 3,561were my fellow Americans, and 1 was a fellow Mainer.

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