Archive for the ‘World affairs’ Category

Sexual Healing

April 20, 2021

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—PTSD—comes in many forms.

Mental punishment for killing others has been with us for millennia, but has only been recognized in recent decades. If death is the ultimate retribution, there must be a price to pay by those who inflict it.

Movies usually make light of death—Netflix or Amazon are rife with glib murder, emotionless killing that we watch between burger bites without batting an eyelid—no nightmares, just another show. Our emotional distance from televised murder is so great that shows that wallow in death are rated safe for over thirteens, with death on a par with ‘foul language’. Telling someone to fuck off is equivalent to ending a life.

Many among us have thought of killing someone, or at the very least wishing someone dead—someone who has caused pain or destroyed a business, a family, or a lifestyle—but hardly anybody takes that to the next step, and if they do, they are usually destroyed by their action—vengeance exacts its own revenge.

In the US, practically every day in the last weeks registered some kind of mass shooting—forty-five in one month. Under cover of the second amendment, which was never written to provide cover to loony loners, assassins utterly devoid of sense regularly blast their way through schools, supermarkets, and shopping malls, and equally regularly get shot, shoot themselves, or end up in jail.

The American response to this carnage is thoughts and prayers, rather than arms control—the developed world watches in amazement, unable to comprehend the madness. China and other totalitarian states see clear evidence of the dangers of libertarian society.

Gun violence in the States splits mainly into white nutcases and black criminals. The guys (and they are always white guys) responsible for school shootings and all the other dreadful mass murders are invariably disgruntled employees, emotionally scarred men, or disturbed folks—the dystopian rants of morons in high places has made things much worse.

The spate of killings in the first months of the Biden presidency provides a handy narrative of Democrat-mediated lawlessness—hardly fair considering where the opposition to gun control comes from.

The criminal component is not of course color-coded—it’s linked (as everywhere) to the poorer segment of society—the disenfranchised are far readier to take up the law of the gun, be they white, Asian, Latino, or black.

It just so happens that in the US, that segment is predominantly black, but you only need to consider Mexico or Russia to understand crime-related gun violence is a technicolor nightmare coat.

The emotional pain of inflicting severe harm is huge—PTSD awaits those who make it out of the rabbit hole. If you don’t end up in prison, where the whole thing is made far worse, the mental scars show up in relationships, employment, family and friendships—anything that characterizes normal life.

Sex disorders are part of PTSD, leading to the appearance of therapies to teach men and women—though I suspect it is more prevalent for guys—to learn how to have sex again, trading anxiety for normality.

In Israel, where military service is compulsory, sex surrogates are a goverment-funded treatment choice. In a country that is permanently at war with a host of neighbors who would like it to disappear into the sea, PTSD is a heavy burden on young people and spills over into society.

Soldiers who have been seriously injured can choose sex therapy that includes er… sex. This had been criticized as government-sponsored prostitution, which technically it is, since women—and men, but much less so—are hired to provide a sexual service in exchange for cash.

The Israeli model has even been rabbi-approved, as long as the sex partners are unmarried. Among its successes? Sexually recuperating severely disabled men, for instance those confined to wheelchairs.

If you’re young, disabled, and horny, hope is out there—it’s not just COVID shots, Israel has also come up with sexual vaccination.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The Thin End

April 10, 2021

I learned my geography during the Portuguese colonial war—a triple war, to be exact: Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea. The notion that a small European nation could fight three wars on opposite sides of Africa for over a decade with no external help is astonishing.

In 1974, the Portuguese revolution marked the swansong of colonialism, but the triple war was certainly not lost—all the more astonishing since the liberation movements were backed by China and the USSR—even the US backed a couple of the rival ‘liberation’ factions, but no one backed the Portuguese, seen in Europe as a pariah fascist state.

The irony is that the liberation of those nations resulted in an enduring set of new dictatorships—hard left for Angola and Mozambique, and a failed narco-state in the case of Guinea. Thus ended the saga of The India Road—a fascist state becomes a democracy and enables autocratic communist regimes in Angola and Mozambique for the next half-century—the Perfect Prince would have been blood-flecked choleric.

The capital of the most northerly province of Mozambique was called Porto Amélia, named after the last Portuguese queen, Amelie of Orleans—after the country gained independence, the city was renamed Pemba.

Amélie d’Orleans tries to save her husband King Charles I during the regicide in 1910.

The province of Cabo Delgado is named after a narrow cape that protrudes six miles into the Indian Ocean above the Bay of Tungue, and since the VIIth century the provincial history is one of commerce and conflict—Cabo Delgado was part of the trade routes of the Arab dhows, and modern-day Tanzania begins on the north side of the River Rovuma, about thirty miles northwest of the cape itself.

Like an ocean front where opposing waters meet, Cabo Delgado is at the interface of religions—a sure recipe for war. It belongs to a sinister club that includes the Balkans, the Hindu Kush, Kashmir, the Sunni-Shia fault lines in the Mid-East, Belgium, and the island of Ireland.

But TIA—This Is Africa—so the Cabo Delgado conflict is spiced by tribal strife among the Maconde, Mwani, and Swahili.

TIA requires an understanding uncommon in Europeans—Mwani means beach in the Kimwani language, and the people have a very specific culture.

…about 1,100 years ago Arab traders came down the east coast of Africa to take slaves. Entire groups became Muslim because the Arabs, being Muslim, were not allowed to take other Muslims as slaves… The Mwani value peace and harmony… relationships and family bonds and respect the elderly. Polygamy is common in this matrilineal society… Divorce is common and many women have been married several times, so family units are difficult to discern. Children go to Madrassa schools, and although they memorize and can recite the Koran, they don’t understand its meaning. Most Mwani are illiterate in the Kimwani language and speak only a bit of Portuguese… They have an awareness of God (Mwenyezimungu) and are very aware of the supernatural world, believing in spirits and magic, and fearing demons. Though fiercely Islamic in name, their worldview is strongly influenced by the animistic world of ancestors and the use of mediums such as witchdoctors. Women are more connected to the spirit world, holding “punge” (séances) which can last all night…

The development of offshore natural gas reserves in the Rovuma basin by French oil major Total in 2019 led to a significant ramp-up of terrorist activity in Cabo Delgado—the Mozambican army did little to control the situation, and in a page taken out of The Dogs of War, the government hired a mercenary group to fight the Islamic terrorists.

Soldiers of fortune are an African tradition, celebrated in books and movies, and personified in real life by colorful characters such as Colonel ‘Mad’ Mike Hoare, of Katanga fame. In the case of Cabo Delgado, the protagonist was Lionel Dyck, an ex-Rhodesia and Zimbabwe paratroop commander.

Dyck has certainly led an interesting life, bringing together ex-members of the Rhodesian African Rifles, Selous Scouts, and Chinese-trained ZANLA and Soviet-trained ZIPRA guerillas to form Zimbabwe’s paratroop battalion. Now in his seventies, Colonel Dyck took a contract from the Mozambican government and directed his Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) to perform counter-terrorism actions against the Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah group, an Isis offshoot.

DAG’s ‘airforce’ consisted of two Gazelle helicopter gunships—’helicanhões’ were invented by the Portuguese in Mozambique during the colonial war—an old Alouette chopper with a 20 mm gun, two light planes and a couple of Bat Hawk microlights with gun mounts.

During its stint in Cabo Delgado, DAG was accused of killing terrorists and civilians indiscriminately and of firing on a hospital where Islamic forces were hiding. The Ansar al Sunnah (supporters of the tradition)—known also as Al Shabaab—have done far worse, including beheading children as young as eleven.

The controversy around DAG lost them the contract renewal, but Dyck claims his men acted appropriately and had full oversight from the government.

The story of Cabo Delgado is the story of every African nation—the more resources exist, the more suffering is brought upon its people.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Zagovor

March 20, 2021

I had a six-hour road trip yesterday—confined to my car, but it was a beautiful spring day. It was long past dark by the time I got home, and to keep myself busy while the white lines flew by, I binged out on Wind of Change, the podcast I told you about last week.

In the end, it reminded me of Churchill’s definition of the Soviet Union—’a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’

Although the whole Wind of Change trip sounds like a red herring, if you excuse the double Soviet pun, some bits of it have the true mark of zagovor—conspiracy.

The most fun part of the story, and  certainly the most verifiable and the most bizarre, is the tale of drug smuggling from South America to the United States in the second half of the 1980s.

Recall that this is the heyday of the War on Drugs—in the fall of 1986, Reagan signs the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, and in 1989, George H.W Bush, aka Bush 41, appoints William Bennett ‘drug czar’—love the Russian terminology.

The manager of a bunch of heavy metal bands, including Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi, and The Scorpions, is a larger than life character called Doc McGhee. Indulge me in two quick linguistic excursions: first, the unorthodox use of umlauts means the band’s name is pronounced Moh-tlee Cree-e, and second, the good doc’s surname is spelled in the same way as the clarified butter (ghee) widely used in Indian cooking—but I digress.

McGhee, who was neither christened ‘doc’ nor possessed a doctorate, apparently changed his name by deed poll. Doc was allegedly involved in drug smuggling when he got into the music business, managing a moderately successful band called NiteFlyte.

Their greatest hit, called If You Want It, is a classic example of what my friends and I used to call disco shit—the sort of stuff that made Dr. Hook write If You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman and Sexy Eyes—except they were clearly taking the piss. This was 1980’s Miami—coke, women, and disco.

By the mid’80’s, Doc is a very successful band manager, but he’s also notorious for massive splurging on Crystal champagne, limos, hotel suites—all the usual suspects.

He’s very generous with the bands, but no one asks where the money comes from. Enter Steven Michael Kalish, a Texas drug smuggler—known for his aversion to guns and violence. Kalish’s bag (sorry) is smuggling weed, and Doc’s deal (sorry) is fronting the money.

But the Colombian connections are not Kalish’s, they’re Doc’s. And in a further, conspiratorial twist, Manuel Noriega, Panama’s dictator who ended his days in an American federal penitentiary, comes into the mix—Kalish talks about a direct connection with Noriega for money laundering through the Bank of Commerce Credit International, of bringing the dictator a personal gift of three hundred thousand dollars, and doing lines of coke on the guy’s desk.

The Luxembourg-registered BCCI served as a conduit through the years for the cash earned from smuggling pot and coke into the US, and was liquidated in 1991.

Kalish, McGhee, and a host of others smuggled hundreds of thousands of pounds of weed into the States—the way Kalish, who now lives in Hawaii, tells it, they would sail a fishing boat from Colombia to one of the southern states and then offload to tractor-trailers. Louisiana and North Carolina were typical destinations.

Kalish recently wrote a book called The Last Gentleman Smuggler, ghosted with Nikki Palomino, but I can’t find it for sale it anywhere.

An operation with that many folks involved stateside, plus the South American angle, was bound to end in tears—his last joint—oops, jaunt—involved a hundred people offloading bales into six semi-trucks. Kalish’s 1989 trial is reported by the Associated Press, and provides firm evidence that McGhee got off with a $15,000 fine and a five-year probation, mandating him to spend a further 250k and 3000 hours on his Make a Difference Foundation.

At a separate case in Louisiana, McGhee faced ‘150 years in jail and a $400,000 fine’. Once again, he walked. Kalish was sentenced to fourteen years and served eight and a half. Noriega’s name appears repeatedly.

So the real Zagovor is how McGhee beat the rap—and there’s the rub—the only agency that could get him off the hook was the CIA.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Wind of Change

March 13, 2021

Corona confinement took us all into uncharted territory.

Like the Portuguese sailors of The India Road, we found ourselves in a place we knew nothing about—the trick now for us, just as it was for them, is to get back to where we were.

This is a return to Neverland—the famous Peter Pan dream world of eternal childhood. The things we had when we left have changed, and even if they haven’t, we’ve changed, so it won’t be the same—it’s turned into a string of cliches: the new normal, home is the new office, bla bla, yakety yak.

The wind of change is blowing this year as we learn what non-linear means—it’ll take us by surprise, just as last year did—humans don’t do steep, but nevertheless I’m optimistic.

Confinement changed the way I live, in much the same way as austerity did ten years ago. At that time, I stopped buying newspapers, along with a bunch of other changes: going out to eat became a special event—I watched restaurants close by the bucketload—and I altered my work habits to save gas.

This time around, music became far more important than ever before in my life, and I got into other weird stuff like podcasts. The Bugle has become one of my favorites—it’s not always good, but when it is, it’s great! And lots of internet radio.

Soon I will be traveling again—I was due to go to Mexico this week, which would have provided some nice material for these pages—but now is not quite the right time.

And yet, I can feel the wind of change in the air—there’s so much pent-up energy just waiting to be released, so many places to go—but it will be weird. Two years ago, if you wore a mask in a bank the cops would think you were a bank robber, now you’re just another customer.

One of these podcasts develops an unusual theory—or at least it would have been bizarre before QAnon(sense), which is now peddling crap such as ‘Doctors and Nurses Giving the coronavirus vaccine Will Be Tried as War Criminals‘.

The concept is not new—intelligence agencies using insidious methods to influence folks in another country—in this case by means of music. As a wide-eyed child, well before the iron curtain was drawn, I listened in the dead of night to the Voice of America, to Radio Free Europe, but also to the English service of what was then the DDR—which apparently now stands for ‘Dance Dance Revolution’, not quite what the Stasi had in mind—and to the most Marxist-Leninist station of all, Radio Tirana.

Cold War radio was a big deal—yesteryear’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all wrapped into one—and I always thought Tirana was a perfect name for the capital city of Enver Hoxha’s communist dictatorship.

The musical plot—I have a hard time believing it, but it has all the trappings of an urban legend—is a simple, credible story: the year is 1990, the Berlin Wall is falling, and the Soviet Union is crumbling with it, as Mikhail Gorbachev promotes his dual policies of Glasnost and Perestroika.

To help the liberation effort, what could be juicier than a little rock ‘n roll?

Enter The Scorpions, a German metal band little-known in Anglo-Saxon circles but very popular in Europe and South America. The lead singer is Klaus Meine, a native of Hannover, already in his early forties when the wall came down.

The band—known for its heavy rock and power ballads—deals with the usual subjects popular with the head-banging fraternity, to wit (if you excuse the pun) bikes, girls, muscle cars, and guns.

But wait! Suddenly a totally out-of-character political song—and a good one—emerges from the pen of Herr Meine. Klaus has often written lyrics for the Scorpions, rarely the music.

Voila the conspiracy theory: Wind of Change, which the band released in 1990, was written by that famous tunesmith, the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States.

The signature whistling at the start of the song is timeless, the power ballad feel is great, and the way the drums come in on the chorus with a triple gunshot is perfect. The lyrics set the scene:

Follow the Moskva
Down to Gorky Park
Listening to the Wind of Change

August summer night
Soldiers passing by
Listening to the Wind of Change

The video is suggestive, with plenty of Soviet imagery and Gorby meeting the Polish pope, champion of the Solidarity movement in his native country, though the lyrics get a little cheesy as the song develops—I learned to play it today, so I studied them at length.

Klaus Meine denies any CIA involvement in the genesis of the song, although he underscores the power of rock ‘n roll—it packs more punch than the Bolshoi.

But there seems to be a twinkle in his eye when he ends the interview…

…it adds another chapter now with the CIA. At the end of the day, the song became bigger than life. It’s one of those songs [that] make their own way, and there’s nothing I can do.

One thing’s for sure, we’re in the wind of change and we must embrace it. Churchill understood change, and his words help us set the course.

‘We must take change by the hand, or rest assuredly, change will take us by the throat.’

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Let It Rain

February 20, 2021

I’m writing these words while the rain falls in buckets outside. For me, rain and music go hand in hand. Songs like Have You Ever Seen the Rain, or Dylan’s Buckets of Rain—one of the most poignant love songs ever written, come to mind… or even the more esoteric Box of Rain, by the Dead—someone told me many years ago the song is about heroin.

It’s been a rainy season and a half, so far—from Texas to Jakarta, climate change has been showing its colors. Last Thursday I was supposed to be on a call to West Texas, but they’d had no power since Monday—I was tempted to tell them last time I saw that was in Mozambique. You don’t think of the US as a vulnerable country, where a large part of a state as rich as Texas can be without electricity or water for days, but the evidence is there.

In this particular case, was it policy, climate change, or infrastructure? Apparently, you can blame all three—different actors have taken their pick. Undoubtedly, snowstorms in Texas are well outside the definition of normal weather patterns—they fall into the ‘extreme event’ category—such events are typical of climate change. Texas is so confident in its energy self-sufficiency that it doesn’t link to the US national electricity grid—this is an obvious policy failure—when the Texas system collapsed, there was no external supply.

The collapse was linked to a single and obvious fact—below 32oF, water freezes. This affected the cooling systems of energy plants, including nuclear—Texas has two of those. Although the bulk of the Texas outages were due to freezing of natural gas pipelines, the conservative media had a field day blaming renewable sources like wind and solar. If the double-peach orang-u-tan still had a license to tweet, there would have been a host of fake news typos on the topic. As it is, there’s enough crap going around, like this quote from a Colorado Republican congresswoman.

We have Joe Biden who is nice and warm in his fossil-fueled White House singing kumbaya with his environmental extremists while Americans are freezing to death.

A recent article in the New York Times analyzes the renewables question—turns out wind power only meets seven percent of the Texas energy requirement—hardly a critical factor, but the debate has grown to a new level of hysteria as climate change skeptics rage about wind turbine blades freezing—oblivious to the irony that they’re only freezing because of climate change.

Meanwhile, Jakarta holds the dubious record of being the world’s fastest sinking city, around four inches per year. In north Jakarta, the ground is estimated to have sunk about eight feet in the last ten years, making any building one story shorter.

The monsoon rains have visited upon Jakarta a flood of epic proportions.

The times seem a little biblical at present, featuring a succession of plagues—and there’s no indication these are one-off events. Climate change is here for the foreseeable future and may well bring with it a bunch of new surprises, known as indirect effects. One example is an increase in disease because particular temperatures favor certain pathogens.

As for the COVID plague, in most European countries, and in the States, there is a clear downward trend, and there’s hope that vaccination will shut the virus down for good. So at least there’s a few things to smile about.

And as usual, fact can be stranger than fiction. A thirty-year old man in the UK was this week offered a priority vaccine when his BMI was flagged at twenty-eight thousand. Turns out his height had been registered not as six feet two inches but as 6.2 cm.

A back-calculation puts his real weight at 238 lb, give or take, so he’s on the lower end of the ‘obese’ category, but you’d have thought the guys who write the algorithms might idiot-proof them.

The NIH BMI calculator is certainly deficient in this respect—it allowed me to determine the BMI for a human who is 6 cm tall, and one of average height weighing only one kilogram.

I propose that the code geeks add what I will now call the Wibaux Humpty Dumpty test. When you input a person’s height, the app calculates what that person would weigh if he or she were a perfect sphere.

Humans are roughly the same density as water, i.e. 1 g/cm3, although some are considerably denser in the brain area. In order to apply the WHD law, we need to determine the volume of our spherical human, and that will be the weight in grams—for an average balloon person, that is around 2.5 metric tons, rather more than an automobile.

The BMI for the rotund one will be slightly under one thousand, a pretty exceptional upper limit. It would certainly have saved the embarrassment of the doctor’s explanatory phone call.

Before the doctor’s call, the thirty-year-old man called his mom to tell her he was being vaxed due to obesity. Her reply is pure poetry.

‘Well, perhaps this is the wake-up call you need…’

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The Perfect Square

February 13, 2021

John Le Carré died on the 12th of December last year, at the age of 89. I was twelve when I read his third book, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold—since then, I read everything he wrote.

Unlike other spy novelists, and in sharp contrast to the current fad, there was no gripping first chapter that hooked you to the book. He built the house from the ground up, and slowly reeled you in. His books had no explicit sex (unlike mine) and although people got hurt, wounded, and killed, he never indulged in it—all in all, very British.

If I had to pick his best book, it would be The Honourable Schoolboy—Le Carré’s heroes orbited around public schools (which in the UK means private schools), Oxford and Cambridge, and the British army—hardly the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters.

Most of the authors I read, much like the music I prefer, are considerably older than I am—many are dead. Dylan is only ten years younger than Le Carré.

After Le Carré died, I bought The Spy Who Came In from the Cold—but this time in digital, and I have been slowly savoring it, mixed in with other reads, as the fancy takes me.

The spymaster’s pen name means ‘The Square’, and when I was choosing a pseudonym, it struck me as a fine idea to have two names, one simple and one complicated—Peter Wibaux seemed the perfect choice—and even though, like Le Carré, the name sounds French, that’s not where I got it from.

New revelations about the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a physicist prominent in the Iranian effort to develop a nuclear weapon, drew immediate comparisons to both Le Carré and James Bond—always a bizarre pairing.

Bond movies (I’m one of the few people that read Ian Fleming’s early books) are the polar opposite of a Le Carré plot. After I read the article published recently, I can assure you this story is much more John than James—although on balance it’s closer to Frederick Forsyth than to Le Carré, simply because of the nature of the action.

Jacob Nagel, who was an acting national security advisor for Netanayahu, and a former IDF official, states:

It is certain that if Iran developed the bomb, it would be a problem for the whole world… Israel especially cannot live with a nuclear Iran. So we will defend ourselves by ourselves, and in the process we are defending you, too.

The Mossad had documents proving that Fakhrizadeh had worked on several nuclear warheads, each one able to cause five Hiroshimas.

He was serious. He still meant to do what he planned. So someone decided that he had had enough time on earth.

The assassination was meticulously planned, starting with the murder weapon—very little can be found about it, except that it was a ‘one-ton automated gun. The question then arises of how such a weapon was brought into Iran from hostile territory. We’re told it was smuggled in piece by piece, which would mean it was then reassembled locally.

The black Opel in which Fakhrizadeh was assassinated. The accuracy of the hit is obvious from the state of the vehicle.

Although the one-ton gun is all over the net—not least because plagiarism is the web’s dirty secret—and there are passing mentions of the use of satellites and AI, the one-ton bit remains bizarre.

Why one-ton? From the images of the car, the projectiles went through the glass, which given the profile of the victim, must have been bullet-proof. That means 50 calibre or larger, i.e. a round 13 mm in diameter, or about half an inch.

John Browning first created the M2 .50 machine gun back in 1918—it weighs around one hundred thirty pounds, if you include both the tripod and the traverse. That leaves 942 kg (over 2000 lb) to spare, if we’re talking metric tons.

Where did that go? Presumably the weapon was mounted on a frame, and there will have been a number of support systems, as well as a bomb to destroy the weapon after the kill.

One-ton-gun has a rap ring to it, but I still can’t see what might make it that heavy or how you could possibly drive it around in a police state undetected.

Nevertheless, an automated gun appears to have been used—twenty Mossad operatives were involved in the plot, over a period of eight months. Some of the people involved were Israelis, but not all.

The remarkable thing about the killing is that Fakhrizadeh’s wife, sitting less than a foot away from her husband, was unharmed, while thirteen bullets hit the physicist. Twelve bodyguards who accompanied the couple in convoy were all unharmed. Then the bomb went off and blew up the gun, which was fitted inside a Nissan pickup.

The Mossad people all made it out, according to the account in the Jewish Chronicle—that may well be disinformation, if some of the spies are deep cover assets based in Iran.

The Iranian was killed on Friday, November 27th, which raises the question of whether this was a last effort by Trump to power-blitz Israel before Biden took office. Israel says no, the Americans had nothing to do with it.

Apparently, there was a courtesy call made to Washington, but a source states Israel never asked for permission.

“It was more like checking the water temperature.”

 

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The Triple V

February 6, 2021

Social distancing, vaccine hesitancy, economic recovery, conspiracy, plandemic, scamdemic—just some of the words and phrases that permeate our day.

The coronavirus vaccines have made excellent progress—never has a set of vaccines been produced so quickly. Partly, this is because the new vaccines work by using a different approach—they’re based on ribonucleic acid, or RNA.

The coronavirus genome—how can something so nasty look this pretty?

RNA is the lesser known sibling of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, and like its big brother, it provides cells with a blueprint for manufacturing the compounds they require. Our DNA makes messenger RNA, known as mRNA, which is then translated to make proteins.

In this case, mRNA strands that contain code to make virus-specific antigens are injected into the cells—this can only be done if we know the genome of the virus, i.e. if it has been sequenced.

Once inside a cell, the mRNA instructs the cell’s production apparatus to make the appropriate antigen, and the antigens fight off the viral infection.

In both the US and UK, the vaccination tide is turning, but in mainland Europe things are not as good—the supply line isn’t working well, but as soon as that improves there will be a marked fall in hospitalizations and death rates.

As I write, the UK has vaccinated more of its population than any other nation in Europe—Brexit supporters are gloating that this would not have been possible within the EU. However, Member-States do their own purchasing and make their own decisions on approval and safety, as evidenced by Hungary—the militant Magyars are busy shooting up both the VladVac and its Beijing sibling, so this is another example of Brexit bollocks.

What the Brits did right (and it’s great to see them do something right considering the dog’s breakfast they made of the pandemic) was the procurement—the Israelis did the exact same thing, but far better, which is why they’ve now vaccinated one-third of their nine million population, while Portugal is at less than 400,000 out of ten million souls.

Vaccination nation—everyone pales when compared to Israel. The chart shows doses administered as a percent of population.

When it comes to delivery, the UK National Health Service has worked wonders—that’s the second thing the Brits got right—using a trained, competent, national infrastructure instead of sub-contracting the work to Tory chums whose healthcare business experience consists in making rubber ducks and paper clips.

Of course, you cannot examine the triumvirate Virus-Vaccine-Variants without discussing the two large elephants in the room.

The first is the duration of immunity and the vaccination rate: in the US, about five percent of the population has been vaccinated over a period of about one month, considering a double dose is required, or about eleven percent, if you assume everyone so far has had only a single dose.

Even if we roll with a single dose, it would take seven months to reach the magical seventy percent number where the virus cries uncle and goes away. By then, the first groups vaccinated may well have lost their immunity, since it is thought to last five months or so.

Seventy is only magic if that percentage of the population is immune at the same time.

As for the variants, the jury is still out. Faster spread means more deaths, even if the virus isn’t nastier—it’s just a numbers game. Vax resistance is another matter altogether, and a number of people have pointed out that immunizing the first world is going to bite us in the butt, because wealthy nations leave large swathes of Africa, Asia, and South America open to development of vax-resistant strains—instead of fine-tuning with bats or pangolins, the virus will fine-tune in humans.

As Europe and America make plans to see the end of this plague, a true hundred-year event, and reboot their economies, I leave you with a couple of pre-vac thoughts.

The first is that informal economies, prevalent in southern Europe but also significant in northern nations—think gig economy—naturally encourage virus spread. Folks who don’t have a declared formal occupation cannot confine because they won’t get paid, and neither are they eligible for compensation—for builders and other contractors, sharing vans, tools (yes, that sounds bad), and meals are all virus brushfire. Often, they won’t get tested to avoid being quarantined—if the spouse also has an informal job, both wage earners spend fourteen days without income.

The debate around education and the hot topic of teacher vaccination has also, if you excuse the pun, gone viral. Apart from the flu shot (and in recent years also pneumonia), vaccines are a childhood experience. Children’s immunity becomes adult immunity, and all is well.

Vaccinating teachers is a good thing, since it’s a high risk profession—they get Covid from the kids—but it certainly won’t stop the spread of coronavirus to the wider population because the parents get it from the children.

Vaccinating children isn’t an option either, because the vaccine doesn’t stop you from infecting others—it only protects you, or put another way, turns you into an asymptomatic carrier–which is what kids are anyway.

As Uncle Winston famously said, “This is not the end, it is not the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning.”

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Game Stop

January 30, 2021

GameStop is a retailer for video games and accessories based in Dallas, Texas.

Their website is down when accessed from UK and mainland Europe—sometimes US companies do that because of GDPR, the EU data protection law, but usually there is an explanatory message. This one reads more like a denial of service:

Access Denied

You don’t have permission to access “http://www.gamestop.com/” on this server.

Reference #18.16231102.1612006228.93d5a50

I guess the company’s founders thought the name represented a place to stop (and shop) for gamers, rather than a plea to stop games—a year ago, it boasted five thousand five hundred retail stores in the United States.

Not only was GameStop hit by the pandemic, but for years, online operators have been carving up the main street, bricks and mortar businesses.

Individual investment is a big thing in the States—according to the Motley Fool, about one-third of American adults have a brokerage account—you can’t even find a number for the EU or UK.

It was individual investors that drove the NASDAQ to frenzied heights in the nineties during the dotcom bubble, and it was the same folks who got skinned when the bottom fell out of the market.

The professional investment community, aka Wall Street, has a name for individual investors, the folks on Main Street—dumb money.

Stock market games have been a around a long time—the best book on the subject was written in 1923 by Edwin Lefèvre, about a legendary operator called Jesse Lauriston Livermore.

Livermore’s whole life was boom and bust, culminating with his suicide at the age of sixty-three. It’s hard to see how suicide would run in the family on a genetic basis, but his son and grandson went the same way.

One of the classic stock operator moves was to corner the market, i.e. to own enough stock to manipulate the price—after World War I, Livermore cornered the cotton market. It took a meeting with President Woodrow Wilson to get him to sell back the cotton for the purchase price—when the president asked why he’d cornered the market, Livermore replied, “To see if I could, Mr. President.”

One of Livermore’s many aphorisms. He would certainly have had something to say about GameStop.

Stock market operators, i.e. investment bankers, hedge funds, and others, use the gamut of tools available to make money.

In my book Atmos Fear, Wall Street trader named Mark Wendale is speaking with a Brit ‘merchant’ banker.

Wendale was now trading CDOs squared, and even cubed, where the product was supported on an identical product, making it increasingly difficult to grasp what the exposure was.

“Those cubed-things you have, they rather remind me of a flat earth story.”

“Huh?” Wendale drew a blank.

“Well, it’s the support, really. In the Middle Ages one thought the earth was a fleht dish. Do you know what supported it?”

“Before my time.”

Wendale couldn’t give a shit about flat dishes. Crazy limey stories. He held up his glass for some more burgundy, and stuffed his mouth with salmon.

“Elephants.” The Brit answered his own question.

“Elephants, huh? Pink ones?”

The British executive didn’t react.

“Four of them, one at each corner. Jolly big ones, one imagines.” He finished off his G & T and daintily picked at a cherry tomato, after anointing it with balsamic vinegar.

Wendale was totally confused. “What the hell do four elephants have to do with cubed CDOs?”

Goddamn limeys were so tortuous.

“Well you see, what troubles me is the support base. When they asked the chap what held up the elephants,  he said ‘it’s elephants all the way down!’.”

Short sports, as Lefèvre calls them, borrow stock from a broker and sell it, on the assumption that its price will decrease. Two conditions have to be met for that to happen: the first is that the stock actually decreases in price, so that when the short sport has had enough, he or she buys the stock back at the lower price and returns the ‘borrowed shares’ to the broker—of course they won’t be the same shares, but they will be identical.

The second is that there are enough shares to buy. If there aren’t, the price of each share increases due to demand, and by the time the operator closes his position, the sport has become rather dangerous, and there is plenty of money to be lost.

Of course, there’s a third possibility, which is that share-buying raises the price—when that happens, the short sport must hold his/her nerve, because the higher the shares go, the bigger the loss when the trade is finally closed.

This is the quintessential battle between bulls and bears, as a rule played institutionally—when the ‘dumb money’ dares to go against Wall Street wisdom, the pros gang up on the individual investors and give them a good trouncing to punish them for their arrogance.

In these days of alternate truth (the artist formerly known as lies), it’s great fun to watch what’s been happening to GameStop shares.

GameStop never intended that the company name could mean this, but when will the game stop?

Wall Street hedge funds analyzed the future of GameStop, and decided it was not headed for a happy ending—the obvious move therefore was to short them to the hilt.

At present, Bloomberg tells us that 139% of GameStop shares have been sold short. You may wonder how you can sell short more shares than actually exist? Let me give you an example:

A has an account with Broker 1, and owns 100 shares of GameStop.

B, who has an account with Broker 1, borrows them and sells 100 shares short.

C, who has an account with Broker 2, buys them.

D, who has an account with Broker 2, shorts them.

If the trade is called because e.g. the stock price goes up, and A and C wish to sell their shares and make a profit, there are 200 shares to return, 100 from B and 100 from D, but only 100 shares physically (or digitally) exist.

How much fun is that?

Social media has upended all our lives, even for those not involved in the fever of posting, pik-ing, and tiktok-ing.

In this case, Reddit drove the crazies, and because of a perfect storm, the dumb money upended the Wall Street operators—citizens watch from the sidelines and cheer.

What are the three ingredients of the perfect storm?

  1. The generalized use of brokerage accounts in the States;
  2. Lockdown, or some other form of pandemic confinement, which results in far higher internet activity;
  3. The US federal government stimulus checks, clearly put to good use.

Now, when you consider that the checks were sent (and signed) by the orang-u-tan himself, and that his favorite indicator for the US economy was the stock market, the whole thing gets far more jolly.

Add to that, one of the little people’s favorite broker has the extraordinary name of Robin Hood. Allegedly, under pressure from the hedge fund operators, at one point last week it suspended the purchase of GameStop shares, in an effort to staunch the bleeding as the hedge funds, squeezed to the testicles by the dumb money, desperately attempted to close their positions and cut their losses.

The net was immediately awash with comments predicated on the Sheriff of Nottingham and Sherwood Forest.

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez came out as Maid Marian defending the ordinary folks, and Ted Cruz—Wibaux central casting’s choice for the evil Sir Guy of Gisborne—have taken up the cause, stunning even Biden with this display of bipartisan unity.

The hedge funds are preparing to do battle, as Fortune Magazine puts it, “Much like in trench warfare, after the first wave gets decimated, the second wave takes up the banner and marches onward.”

What a wonderful popular movement—and in these days of confinement, what else is there to do?

People of the world! All ye dumb investors! Arm thyselves, seize thy swords and maces, go forth and splurge, for the battle is joined—soon the day will be done and the war will be won.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The Hippo Line

January 24, 2021

Scandinavian nations are quite distinct from the rest of Europe—and when it comes to the subject of sex, their taboos are very different from what you’d see in the US or Britain. In 2020, the Danish national broadcaster came up with a novel idea—a cartoon show targeting kids between the ages of four and eight predicated on a simple, if improbable, concept: a middle-aged man with a gigantic shlong.

How long a shlong? The pundits are uncertain. Wikipedia refers dozens of meters, whereas a US sports site rates it at about twenty feet—a paltry six meters.

However long John’s dong is, it can certainly stop the traffic!

The hero is John Dillermand, literally ‘John Willyman’, who invariably appears dressed in a retro striped swimsuit—the penile protruberance is a (substantial) extension of his red and white bathing costume.

In the Belgian Spirou cartoon books—a fabulous read for any child, and certainly one of my favorites—the Marsupilami has a similar appendage, although in his case it is a prehensile tail, rather than a prehensile penis.

Willy man’s dong is a lot more versatile because human activities are so varied—you can variously see him trying to light barbecues (and burning his glans, which you really don’t want to encourage kids to try at home), hanging from his whanger while suspended in mid-air by helium balloons, flogging a lion, walking dogs, and using said shlong as a helicopter propeller—shaft and blades, if you excuse the pun.

After hearing about all this performance and reading about the controversy the cartoon generated, I had to see the show for myself. YouTube has only snippets, mostly with voice-overs by amused, bemused, or outraged commentators—during the lion-whipping scene one guy says that “his diller is taming the pussy.”

As always, in an effort to provide my readers with the fullest possible experience, I squirreled out the link from the Danish broadcaster; I can only hook you directly to the first episode, but this cartoon link gets you on the peewee page, and after you accept cookies—in this case Danish pastries, which may explain why the West has such an obesity problem—the cartoons of your choice may be viewed.

This is probably not the best idea the Danes have ever had—it ranks up there with the Muhammad cartoon episode—a rather different kind of cartoon.

Of course, bad choices are not a Danish exclusive—in the 1980s, no doubt after an enthusiastic encounter with a few lines of coke, Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar decided to install a zoo on his property, the infamous Hacienda Nápoles.

Among the various animals Escobar selected were four hippos. An apocryphal—but eminently credible—tale is that dried hippo poop was excellent at concealing the smell of cocaine. After the drug lord was killed in 1993, there was a protracted legal wrangle between his family and the government as to the ownership of the hacienda.

In 2006, the government finally won, and management of the property was given to the municipality of Puerto Triunfo. No one could afford the upkeep, and most of the animals in the zoo were given away.

The hippo is the most dangerous creature in the bush—it kills more humans in Africa than any other animal—perhaps for that reason, allied to the difficulty in dealing with a three-tonne creature, the cocaine hippos were given a pass and either made their escape, or most probably, were released into the wild.

Narcohippos basking on the Rio Magdalena.

Unfortunately, Escobar sourced his hippos much as he did his women—three females to one male. The male was called Pepe, and I suspect he was good friends with John Dillermand—at present, the hippo population numbers around one hundred, of which a couple of dozen still reside on the grounds of the hacienda.

The animals adapted perfectly to the lakes and waterways around the Rio Magdalena and have become a tourist attraction. They also ram canoes, scare the shit out of local fishermen and are displacing local species in the area.

Since the Magdalena River is the largest in Colombia—almost one thousand miles long—there is serious concern that the hippos will spread throughout the nation. A sterilization program was put in place to stop aquatic pachyderm proliferation.

Sterilizing a hippo is not a job for the faint-hearted—apart from the challenge of trapping and sedating a six-and-a-half-thousand-pound animal, it takes three hours just to cut through the hippo’s skin, blubber, and muscle before you get to the spot.

The vets recognize this will not be an easy job—the hippo population is expected to quadruple in the next decade and, before Malthus gets his way, there may well be thousands of cocahippos on the loose.

As a yardstick, Colombia managed to sterilize one (!) female in 2019. Over the period between 2011 and 2019, while the cocaine hippos rutted enthusiastically, the nation achieved a record sterilization of four males and two females—two-thirds of a hippo per year.

And you thought vaccination was tough…

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Strange Days

January 16, 2021

After I came up with the ‘Strange Days’ title, I began writing some paragraphs on COVID and the situation in the US, but found it all so depressing that I scrapped the lot.

Even the ludicrous factoid that a Peruvian court recently charged Bill Gates and George Soros with creating the Coronavirus failed to amuse me, and I realized I’ve been writing about little else for the past months—it’s bumming everyone out, including me, so I’m going to stop doing it.

Having said that, a few things about this mad circus still make me smile.

So, I got out my cordless razor, shaved my head, and settled down to write about music.

Strange Days, huh? The Doors released the album in 1967—on the 25th of September, missing the Summer of Love by five days. On the cover were a circus strong man, a midget, and a juggler.

It must have been an extraordinary time to live through. Where I lived, press censorship was at its zenith, six years after the start of the war in the Portuguese colonies in Africa and one year before the dictator Salazar fell off his beach chair—he never recovered from his injuries.

The Beatles released Sergeant Pepper, the Jefferson Airplane released Surrealistic Pillow, the Grateful Dead released their eponymous album, and the Stones released two original LPs—Between the Buttons and the more sinister Their Satanic Majesties Request. Clapton’s Cream released Disraeli Gears, and Hendrix released his amazing debut album, Are You Experienced.

If no other music had ever been made, this would be enough to keep me happy for a lifetime—I don’t know why 1967 was such a prolific year—psychedelic drugs most certainly helped, marijuana was more popular than lockdowns, but at the core it was just an incredible collection of talent, bands competing to come up with the best music.

Not only that, but these songs were often recorded on four tracks—bear in mind that any decent home studio these days has one hundred and twenty-eight tracks to play with—and the music is nowhere near as good.

The standard recording technique used back in 1967 is called bouncing, where tracks 1 and 2, or even 1, 2, and 3, are bounced, or recorded, to track 4. You might have drums on 1, bass on 2, and lead guitar on 3, so 4 would now have all those pre-mixed. That way, you free up more tracks on the recorder, but you’re unable to do an individual track mixdown at production stage, so you’re stuck with the volumes and effects you bounced—for instance, if you wanted a bit more delay or echo only on the lead in a particular segment of the song, you couldn’t do that after the bounce.

This excellent YouTube video (if you scroll to my previous post you’ll see the interview with the yellowstone capitol cretin has been removed—I left the link pour encourager les autres) shows how the multi-track was used in Sgt. Pepper. If you run out of patience, the blue track starts around 2:30 minutes in, and the red track (McCartney’s lead vocals) at around the 5 mark.

In 1967, Simon & Garfunkel released a live album recorded in New York, and Dylan released his Greatest Hits Vol. II. It was the first Dylan album I ever owned, though I only bought it some years later.

The cover shows Bob Dylan’s back, clad in a denim jacket—lord knows what happened to mine—sporting his trademark coat hanger harmonica. Uncle Bob’s hair is permed, and he’s clearly in the juices of youth—he turns eighty on May 24th. From the first bars of Watching The River Flow, I was hooked on the blues.

I found all sorts of fun things as I wrote this. One was the quote below from John Lennon about the Sgt. Pepper album.

Sgt Pepper is Paul, after a trip to America and the whole West Coast, long-named group thing was coming in. You know, when people were no longer The Beatles or The Crickets – they were suddenly Fred and His Incredible Shrinking Grateful Airplanes, right? So I think he got influenced by that and came up with this idea for The Beatles. As I read the other day, he said in one of his ‘fanzine’ interviews that he was trying to put some distance between The Beatles and the public – and so there was this identity of Sgt Pepper. Intellectually, that’s the same thing he did by writing ‘He loves you’ instead of ‘I love you.’ That’s just his way of working. Sgt Pepper is called the first concept album, but it doesn’t go anywhere. All my contributions to the album have absolutely nothing to do with the idea of Sgt Pepper and his band; but it works ’cause we said it worked, and that’s how the album appeared. But it was not as put together as it sounds, except for Sgt Pepper introducing Billy Shears and the so-called reprise. Every other song could have been on any other album.

Another gem was a concert Chuck Berry did in Belgium, of all places. Not in 1967, but two years earlier—if you think his band looks square, watch the audience—they look as if they belong in a Salon de Thé off the Grande Place.

Chuck Berry is a mandatory presence in this article because he influenced all the wonderful artists I’ve mentioned. He once caught Keith Richards in the dressing room picking up his guitar, and promptly punched him in the face—Richards called it one of his greatest hits.

All this procrastination because by now you’re asking, “Out of all this wonderful music, what’s your favorite tune?”

I just can’t go there, sorry. But this is one of the greats, and it is not so widely known.

The lyrics are as LSD as they get, the lead guitar is a classic Hendrix mix of major and minor scales, and this performance is at Regis College in Denver, Colorado—a quick look on the web reveals it to be part of Regis University, a Jesuit school.

Hmm… The Wind Cries Mary must have gone down a storm with the disciples of Ignatius de Loyola. Still, I guess Hendrix was the black pope of electric guitar.

I was going to sign off with an hasta la vista, but instead, quoting a comedian I heard earlier today, I leave you with a slight paraphrase.

Astra la Zeneca.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.


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