Friday, January 29, 2021

The New Covid Variants And The Danger Posed By A Faster Virus Mutation Rate


"My fear is that these new variants are going to really take off in the U.S. and we will see a lot more infections, hospitalizations and deaths."   Dr. Ashish Jah, Brown University school Of Public Health, ABC News last night.

Frankly, I found the piece  ('UK Struggles As Virus Variant Spreads', p. A8, January 25)  about the UK Covid variant, terrifying.  Especially quoting Jeffrey Barrett- Director of the Covid -19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute.   Dr. Barrett  observed:

"We're going to really have to contend with these new  variants in the virus in the next phase of the pandemic."    

What's the big deal?     By some estimates there are now dozens of the variants on the loose, all from an original "shape -shifting pathogen" against which humanity now wages a 'cat and mouse' battle.  Why are so many, including some - like the UK and South African variants (B.1.351 -  now reported in SC) - with the former likely more lethal than the original SARS-Cov-2 strain?   (A 2nd article on the same WSJ page refers to Covid and its "strain on South African undertakers"  -  with so many bodies there is a backlog for burial.)

According to Prof. Barrett this is a direct result of the virus incubating around the world, the prolonged incubation made possible by too many careless or lax citizens such as in the U.S. - tired of lockdowns or masking, or brainwashed by "individual liberty" canards such as spouted by Barton Swaim, Holman Jenkins Jr. and other WSJ simpletons.   All this incubation arising from multiple lax contacts (e.g. no masks in crowded social settings) over time that provides the virus "lots of opportunities to evolve."

That sober take indicated to me is that the more  "individual liberty" -obsessed we are about Covid protocols the more certain we are to get lambasted by a more deadly (and contagious!) mutation of the virus.  It also fully exposes the recent WSJ  op-ed balderdash of Barton Swaim, e.g.

"The experts on Covid should have realized the measures prescribed in their textbooks- contact tracing, lockdowns, shelter in plae orders- werr mostly unworkable in America - an unruly nation with a long tradition of non-conformity."

As the literal ravings of a lunatic who needs ECT three times a day and a lithium drip. So this fool would have argued from the outset for no special means to control the virus spread- and probably let 2.2 million die by now to preserve his precious illusion of "freedom".   Still not grasping this is not about politics but a global calamity which demands collective sacrifice to get it under control. But this is what you get when supposed smart scribes let their assholes govern their brains.  

Such political gamesmanship is also why the stupid blame game continues, to the detriment of us all, e.g.

Politics frustrate WHO mission to search for origin of virus

The  key facts that need to be known concerning the variants now include the following:  

-  Viral variants are new versions of the virus that arise as a result of small changes in the genetic code.   This is why genetic sequencing is so critical to keep track of the variants' emergence.  Again, this is evolution at work: in this case marking a progression for genetic adaptation of the virus to outflank its potential human host.

- Preliminary data so far suggest the new variants are no more deadly than the original SARS-Cov-2 virus, but are up to 50 percent more contagious - which means higher infections, more hospitalizations and deaths.  However, some other preliminary work shows the UK and S. Africa variants may be more lethal as well.  Perhaps up to 30 percent more lethal.  This is why if the vaccine rollout is too slow the variants could well overwhelm the entire U.S. (and global) health care systems.  

-  The UK variant has about two dozen separate mutations thus far, including some related to the so-called "spike protein"  which helps the virus to infiltrate cells by binding to them and then breaching their outer cell membranes, e.g.

Image of spike protein of SARS-Cov-2 virus is shown with three small antibodies (pink)attached to its receptor binding domains

-  The  S. African variant has more than 20 mutations, including several affecting the spike protein.  Unlike the UK variant it does not seem to be more lethal - while the UK variant according to some research may be up to 30 percent more lethal.  

 -  The efficacy of the existing vaccines against the new variants remains somewhat uncertain.  But most specialists agree that the fact the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines target the spike protein can confer enough immunity.  Both Pfizer and Moderna have conducted lab tests on several variants and found the vaccines are thus far effective against all.  

-  The emergence of the variants means that continued mutation toward more contagious (and lethal) forms is still possible and hence there can be no end to the Covid safety protocols (mask wearing, social distancing, avoiding indoor crowds etc.) even after vaccines are administered.   As one commentator put it on the Guardian UK site:  "The vaccine is not a 'get out of the house' and be  fancy- free card!"

Meanwhile, a  group of Chinese researchers published a study in the Future Microbiology journal in August reporting that for some recovering coronavirus patients, anal swab samples still tested positive after they had tested negative through throat swabs.  According to one of the authors:

Intriguingly, SARS-CoV-2 detection was positive in the anal swab of two patients and negative in throat swab and sputum samples. We propose anal swabs as the potentially optimal specimen for SARS-CoV-2 detection for evaluation of hospital discharge of covid-19 patients.”

It remains to be seen whether Americans would accept any such invasive testing method.  My bet is they won't unless they are already in special ICU Covid ward and such a test is determined to be essential to  proceed with a given treatment, or before releasing the patient (perhaps diagnosed with a variant) to the outside world.  

What they do need to accept - right now - is that there are Covid variants present in 29 states with the potential to spread unabated and bring our nation to its knees if protocol stupidity persists.  The World War II generation of my parents knew the sacrifice they needed to make for the common good and made it.  The jury is still out on whether this generation has the same capacity - or degree of patriotism.

See Also:

Virus mutations add urgency to vaccination effort as experts warn of long battle ahead


Novavax vaccine effective in variant hot spots but less so with South Africa strain

Thursday, January 28, 2021

The 'Game Stop' Speculative Frenzy And The Emerging Stock Bubble - What's Behind Them?

    Rise of Renaisance IPO Index (left) and share price change since start of year (From WSJ, James Mackintosh column)

"People were bored, sitting at home with nothing to do, often no work to attend, and few things to spend their extra cash on. Self-directed punting around in the stock market was a reasonable way to pass the day. It is a cold heart that begrudges the success that some of these amateurs enjoyed last year in an equity rally that baffled many market veterans.

Inevitably, though, there will be painful losses for some naive investors when the bubble eventually deflates. It is a high-risk game — many of those caught out will be least able to afford it. But this is not just about their financial health. This has become a destabilising force in global markets."  -  Katie Martin,  'Reddit army is on the hunt for hedge fund scalps',  The Financial Times

The  Financial Times headline three days ago said it all and caught my attention:

Bubble signals flash red as bitcoin races to extremes and stocks surge

Exponentially ramped up stock rallies and wild speculation by have-a-go amateur investors are stirring fears among market veterans over a bubble to rival anything seen in the past century.   Meanwhile the WSJ reported yesterday that Reddit’s popular WallStreetBets forum briefly went dark late Wednesday, stunning users who had been flooding the community with posts all week amid a frenzied stock rally.  This has centered on a video gaming company called Game Stop with maybe millions of day traders on Reddit getting even with Hedge funds for trying to short Game Stop shares.  ("Short" means they made bets - probably using a form of credit default swaps or other derivatives - to value GS shares below current market value.  The gang on Reddit evidently got PO'd and decided to rally their investor resources and buy up GS shares leaving the short sellers in the tank)

A message on the forum’s landing page initially said WallStreetBets had been taken private by its moderators because of technical difficulties on an “unprecedented scale as a result of the newfound interest in WSB.”

WallStreetBets has been the subject of growing fascination and scrutiny as once-unpopular stocks ranging from GameStop Corp. to AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. have drawn significant interest from individual investors, helping catapult their share prices to eye-popping highs. Much of the discussion surrounding these shares has originated on WallStreetBets and then was amplified across the internet.

But the Game Stop speculative frenzy and related ones (e.g. for electric vehicles like Tesla)  are only part of what appears to be a mammoth emerging bubble, which - when it "bursts" may see blood all around from losses.   This from the FT piece:

"After a dramatic rebound from the coronavirus crash last March, benchmark equity indices have toppled a series of records in the early days of 2021. Bitcoin, the most speculative bet of them all, has raced to extremes. Popular stocks such as Tesla continue to defy efforts at sober valuation.

Baupost Group founder Seth Klarman has warned that investors are under the impression that risk has “vanished”, likening them to frogs being slowly brought to the boil. GMO co-founder Jeremy Grantham has dubbed the rally since 2009 an “epic bubble” characterised by “extreme overvaluation”.

Fund managers are on alert for a pullback. “Timing the end of this frothiness is hard. It can go on longer than you think. I don’t see a huge move lower . . . But we have become more cautious,” said David Older, head of equities at Carmignac."

What gives?  According to the FT,  markets are "floating on an unprecedented wave of monetary and fiscal support, with yields near historic lows and investors — institutional and retail — sitting on piles of excess cash, outlandish patterns in stocks could persist for some time."

Where did all this cash come from if the economy is supposed to be in such a hole?  From March through November, personal savings was $1.56 trillion higher than in 2019, a rise of 173 percent. Normally the savings rate bounces around in a narrow range, around 7 percent just before the pandemic. It spiked to 33.7 percent in April, its highest level on record dating to 1959.

Even as millions of individuals faced great financial hardship this year,  40 million losing jobs, Americans in the aggregate were building savings at a startling rate. It had to go somewhere. But where? Holding on to extra cash was one option — and sure enough, currency in circulation has spiked by $260 billion since February, a 14 percent increase. Deposits in commercial banks are also way up — by 19 percent since the first week of March.  

To be sure, most of this money is from middle or upper middle class people who've been able to work from their home offices and still rake in the $$$.  It's not from those laid off, obviously, or even grocery workers earning $12 an hour.  In any case, with no place to spend their money - given all the businesses closed and online shopping losing its pizzazz -  the locked- in are looking for gamier pastures.

For those who are comfortable with risk, there is investing in stocks, which helps explain the 16 percent rise in the S&P 500 for the year.   After all,  most casinos are shuttered and there's a dearth of other fun activities (cinemas)  in the Covid lockdown era. For those comfortable with a lot of risk — and also into day trading - why not  take advantage of the market’s momentum?   Enter the Reddit Game Stop buy -up brigade on WSB,  to teach those hedge fund honchos a thing or two. Well, when they're not buying a darling stock like Tesla or doing other option trading.  Wait. Trading options?  What's that?  

Well, the market for stock options is where traders can place bets with brokers that a stock will rise or fall. Speculation in these markets  has now reached a frenzied level not seen since the tail end of the dotcom boom two decades ago. That enthusiasm is having a growing influence over the regular stock market itself, and also prefigures a bubble if ever there was one.  

Over the past year, and even during the deep uncertainty that flummoxed the market at the start of the pandemic, individual investors — often with little experience — have been pouring into the market. What has lured them varies: free trades, extra cash from relief payments or even an itch for action with most sports leagues shut down. Options trading hit a record in 2020, with some 7.47 billion contracts traded, according to the Options Clearing Corp. That’s a 45% increase compared with the previous record, set in 2018.  

So how would options work in terms of the Reddit-based investor clique taking down the Hedge fund bosses, e.g. by going for Game Stop shares?  Basically, the Reddit pro-Game Stop investor makes a bet the share price is going to rise so buys a call option at a brokerage firm. This contract gives the buyer the right — but not the obligation — to buy a stock at a given price at some point in the future. If the share price is higher on that date, the buyer can purchase the shares using the contract, then sell them for a profit.

Just as the buyer stands to benefit from a rising share price, the dealer who sold the contract stands to lose.  Brokerage firms make money by charging fees on products, not by predicting where share prices go. So to hedge their risk on a given contract, they buy a calculated percentage of the stock they would be forced to sell if the buyer ends up making money on the bet.

But as the stock prices rise, brokers must buy more shares to keep their hedges in balance. And buying more shares helps push share prices up.

Apart from the Game Stop mania (share prices soared 800% in just the last week), a larger bubble looms and has many on the Street worried. In a note in mid-January, analysts at Absolute Strategy Research produced a checklist of bubble indicators, setting the rally in U.S.  “growth” stocks in the same context as the boom and bust in Japanese equities in the 1980s, the more abrupt rise and fall of dotcom stocks in the late 1990s.

Common features include low interest rates, stock valuations that tower over earnings, runaway retail trading, and rapid accelerations in equity gains. On all these points, conditions look alarming. ASR points out that more than 10 per cent of stocks in the US blue-chip S&P 500 benchmark are 40 per cent or more above their averages of the past 200 days — a phenomenon seen only four times in the past 35 years.  According to Ian Hartnett, co-founder of ASR. quoted in the FT:

Clients are increasingly worried.  There is career risk in the fear of missing out. People find a way to rationalize every bubble. They have to explain to a chief investment officer or to an investment committee why they have gone long here.”

Some also point to the explosion in trading by amateurs (such as in the  Reddit Game Stop group)  as a concern. Seen as flighty “weak hands” by fund managers, intolerant of losses and quick to exit bets, they have been on the ascendant as lockdown boredom encourages them to the commission-free trading offered by start-ups such as Robinhood.  Americans were turning to stocks as “the casinos are closed [and] a lot of sports are shut down”,   according to one stock maestro and bubble analyst quoted in the FT.

Even given the warning signs, investors are not staging any rush to the exits. In part this is because the surge in retail trading may be less troubling than it looks. Unlike previous episodes of retail trading exuberance, analysts and fund managers suspect that the bout may be more robust and less likely to saddle households with huge losses.

In his WSJ 'Business & Investing' piece ('If It Looks Like A Bubble And Floats Like A Bubble', Jan. 25, p. A1)  James Mackintosh points out five parallels of the current stock rise to the dot-com bubble.  They include:

1-  Exponential growth in the price of story stocks

2- A flood of early IPOs tapping into popular themes

3-  New investors who don't know what they're doing.

4-  Old economy stocks soaring as they tap into popular themes

5-  Federal Reserve low interest rates.

Mackintosh dives into the pitfalls associated with each of these, e.g. for (1), "anything connected to clean energy of electric vehicles has gone ballistic", and (3) "too many stocks are being swung around by amateurs hoping to win big, or buying because a share price is low".  One wonders if these factors are part of what's driving the Game Stop share buying irrational exuberance.  He also cites "buying the wrong stock" - such as last year's rush into Zoom Technologies.  Could buying up Game Stop shares just to punish hedge fund short sellers be a wrong move? Maybe.

Lastly, in respect of (5) Mackintosh notes that super low Treasury yields and low interest rates "justify higher prices for stocks with reliable cash flows"  - but again this feeds into the existing bubble.  What about the bubble bursting, stocks crashing?  This could arise if there is a future adverse effect on cash flows, say the outlook for bond yields changes for whatever reason.

So yep, the stock market is near record highs, and optimism abounds among the more cash flush hoi polloi. Coronavirus vaccines are finally getting jabbed into arms. Interest rates are at historic lows. Meanwhile,  investors expect the Democrats who control Washington to pour another couple trillion dollars of stimulus into the still struggling economy.  

But bear in mind none of these factors is fixed, they are all variables subject to change.  Republicans may halt the big Covid relief package in its tracks or cut it down to measly proportions (and neither of the moderate Dems - Manchin or Sinema -  may sign onto budget reconciliation to get it passed). The virus may spawn a deadlier variant for which none of the vaccines work and lockdowns become permanent or nearly so.  And, for whatever reason, the Fed is forced to jack up interest rates to 2 % or more. 

Stay tuned.  

See Also:

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Solution Of Diophantine Equation

 Solve: 3x - 4y = 29  

There are no immediate integral solutions since neither 3 or 4 divide evenly into 29. So we write, using the Euclidean algorithm:   

4 = 1*3 + 1   and 3 + 1*2 + 1   and 1 = 4- 3 

So that (3, 4) = 1  

=>  3(3) - 4(2) = 1  

=> 3(11) - 4(1) = 29 

 So that x = 11, and y = 1  

Other solutions (for r = integer) can be obtained using:  

x = 11 + 4r   and y = 1 + 3r  

Check for r =2 :  x = 11 + 4(2) = 19  and y = 1 + 3(2) = 7 = 7 

 Subst. into the equation: 3x - 4y = 29 to get:   3(19) - 4(7) = 57 - 28 = 29  

Other values of r can also be tried by the reader, just ensure they're integers!

WSJ's Barton Swaim Attacks The "Expert Class" - But Only Reveals His Abject Trump Obeisance


                      Barton Swaim - Proud White Nationalist & Trump Apologist

Let us acknowledge here, maybe for the fifth time,  Barton Swaim  is one of the most peevish nabobs in the WSJ's pro -Trump stable.  Swaim's serial polemics against liberals, intellectuals and democrats reached a new nadir with his recent op-ed 'Trump and the Failure of the Expert Class' (Jan. 23-24, p. A11) wherein he claims with zero evidence: 

"The great theme of the Trump years, the one historians will note a century from now, was the failure of America's expert class.  The people who were supposed to know what they were talking about, but didn't."   

Written like a true Trump -loving knuckle dragger.  How so?  Because the "evidence" he goes on to cite borders on the laughable, if not the outright imbecilic.   He begins, naturally enough, by taking the political class to task for predicting a major Hillary victory in 2016.   Of course, that prediction was basically correct, as she netted nearly 3 million more votes than Trump.  She was upended, however, by the archaic and  quixotic Electoral College. 

The same anti-democratic, anomalous system that -  but for 44,000 odd votes in 6 swing states - would have seen Trump re-elected, despite Biden getting 7 million more votes nationwide.   

Having punked out with that one, he then lays into Yale professor Timothy Snyder who - with many others - tried to warn of the fascist threat posed by Trump's candidacy.  Writing (ibid.):

"Timothy Snyder was among the most strident of these prophets warning: 'When the terrorist attack comes, remember all authorities at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power'."

Well, that was exactly what happened with the Trump-incited insurrection for which the swine is now being tried again after a 2nd impeachment,  and as I noted in a post following the January 6th atrocity:

"Even for the lowest I.Q. observer it was obvious that Trump's incessant 4 years of incitement had finally seen his cockroaches come to roost, and in our very Capitol. This after Trump egged on his zombies at a rally to march to Congress to protest its acceptance of the results of the election that he lost, blabbing:

"We will never concede! It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore, and that’s what this is all about.”

The Traitor  even suggested that he would join them, although he did not.   But given these zombies believe anything Trump farts out of his pie hole they marched on - full of grievance - and likely stoked on Ripple, year- old bennies and bad weed.

True, Trump did not explicitly urge them to force their way into the Capitol building but he tweeted enough incendiary words to drive them to rage.  Including:

"These are the things that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously  and viciously stripped away  from great patriots who have been badly and unfairly treated for so long.

The experts Swaim castigates - including Timothy Snyder, Harvard Law Prof Lawrence Tribe,  historian Michael Beschloss, Adam Schiff, former CIA chief John Brennan, and psychologist Bandy X. Lee - had warned of worst-case scenarios derived from Trump's upending of norms and disregard for the Constitution. Many, including former GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, called repeatedly for his removal, by the 25th amendment, or any other means.  But it was like they were shouting into the wind.  

What was their error according to Swaim?  

 "These cultured authorities couldn't tell the difference between a populist protest against elite contempt and a coup carried out by powerful ideologues"    

Which he insisted would "go down as one of the great failures of American intellectual history."  

In fact, it is Swaim's failure of intellect and critical thinking which is in play here. His inability to discern that the invasion and ravaging of the Capitol was not against "elite contempt" but against the nation's electoral system, the Constitution and democracy itself. For the intent was not simply to act out but to halt the certification of an election. Nor did this traitorous travesty need "powerful ideologues"  or an especially savvy and diabolical leader.  All it required was the incitement to fury of a gullible, brainwashed horde of misfits and their intention to kill congressional leaders - as well as the VP, Mike Pence ("Let's hang Mike Pence!") - with the insurrectionists even bringing a workable gallows to the scene, as well as pipe bombs, assault rifles and Molotov cocktails.  

The declared claim of the seething pro-Trump rats  included assassination (e.g. of AOC, Pence, Nancy Pelosi) and taking hostages using plastic zip ties.  The final tally of the dead was 5 but it could have been vastly worse, which Swaim's blinkered idiocy takes no account of.    Like the 45 Repuke Senate traitors who voted yesterday to dismiss a Senate trial as "unconstitutional" Swaim seeks to whitewash away the violent insurrection.  Indeed, Swaim actually claimed that Trump "never praised Nazis", seeming to forget  or dismiss   the extremist protest in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, when Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides.” Thereby effectively praising the neo-Nazis on one side as  he played down any danger posed by extremist groups.  Basically, he employed false equivalence to try to escape blame for praising his beloved Nazis and White Nationalist scum.

So yes, this was an assault on democracy whether Swaim - or the 45 Repuke Senate seditionists -  are too co-opted and cowardly to see it.  That assault included Trump's efforts to shake down the Georgia Secretary of State to find him nearly 12,000 extra votes, as well as trying to recruit a lower level DOJ stooge to help him overturn the election i.e. by    removing then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and replacing him with a Department of Justice lower lackey (Jeffrey Clark)  who would use the power of the DOJ to force Georgia legislators to decertify the state's election results, preventing Congress from conducting the Electoral College vote count. 

The most odious Swaim mental travesty  - rivaling all the others - was when he writes (ibid.):  

"Mr. Trump only assaulted democracy in the ordinary sense of the word, and only after the 2020 election.  The effort was discreditable and disruptive but also delusional and ineffective.  It was not what the president's expert class critics had foreseen.  "  

But there is no "ordinary sense" of assaulting  our democracy: one either attempts to subvert it (using sedition) or doesn't. Whether one succeeds is also immaterial to the existence of a  crime.  After all attempted murder is still a felony!   Trump used both sedition and incitement to insurrection to attempt to overturn an election and stay in power. 

As to the experts on fascism keeping an eye on him, in fact they HAD foreseen his impending assault.  Trump had gone on for months barking about mail ballots, how they were "fraudulent" and how 2020 would be a "rigged election".  So while experts may not have seen the final form (insurrection, overrunning the Capitol) Trump's efforts would take, they did grasp it was likely to be extreme, after exhausting all legal (court) cases with frivolous challenges.  

But then Swaim expels this brain fart:

"Perhaps critics failed to understand Trump's assault on democracy because they had carried out a similar assault in 2018-19 with the support of the federal bureaucracy ... I'm referring to the Russia scare.   The belief Mr. Trump won only because his campaign colluded with agents of Moscow and therefore his election was illegitimate."     

But, of course, the serious person with full mental capacity - not half like Swaim- knows there was no "Russia scare"  but an actual usurpation of the 2016 election's integrity that no amount of spin can wipe away.  We've known since Mueller's investigation that Trump came out of the gate illegitimate because he was. Catapulted into the presidency by barely 77,000 votes in 3 swing states thanks to Russian interference and the conspiracy of his own campaign honchos (like Mike Flynn) with Russian GRU agents.  As former federal prosecutor Mimi Rocah made clear on a segment of 'All In'  a year ago:

"There's just so many facts in this indictment about the coordination of the Trump campaign with Wikileaks, through Roger Stone. Remember that GRU indictment - if you go back to that- one of the objects of the conspiracy is not just hacking but hacking and disseminating.  You can't look at them alone, you have to go back to everything we know, the Trump Tower meeting, the calling out by Trump to Russia (to grab Hillary's emails)...there's just so many other things."

Rocah, in other words, had put her former federal prosecutor's finger on exactly why the reactionary Right media and Trump apologists were able to peddle this balderdash there's "nothing there".  National Security specialist and counterinsurgency expert Malcolm Nance also reaffirmed at the same time how Roger Stone was the "bridge and link for that information" passed from the Trump campaign to Russian intelligence. Adding: "This is a critical,  critical indictment. They're saying they've identified the link.", i.e. in showing the bridge and coordination between Stone,  the Trump campaign, and the Russians.  


"This indictment is based not just on the hearsay or the testimony of others. Robert Mueller brings documentation to the table....And believe me there's also other information in the special counsel's office we don't know about especially from other members of the Trump team including Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn and others."

 Let's also recall here it was Trump's hired Toady Bill Barr who spewed out the claptrap that Mueller's report had basically exonerated Trump.  But if one reads Volume 1, the evidence is clear this is total misdirection and propaganda.

Mueller not only defined a conspiracy in the case of his indictment filed against 12 GRU agents in 2018, but made it public, E.g.   

Mueller  also - if you read part one of his report-  makes it clear Trump was involved in this  conspiracy.  As Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Tribe elegantly summed it up:

"What we have here is a situation where the Mueller report shows without any doubt that a hostile foreign power attacked the United States in this (2016) election.  That Donald Trump welcomed that attack, benefited from it and then - the last couple of years - tried to cover it up every possible way. "

All of which was amply born out in the 966 -page Senate Intelligence Committee report, entitled :  Volume 5: Counterintelligence Threats and Vulnerabilities,”

The report "leaves no doubt that an extensive network of Russian operatives with intelligence ties worked with Trump's operatives to torpedo Hillary Clinton's campaign four years ago."

Indeed since then the connections have been nailed:

So Swaim can bleat all he wants about Trump being "persecuted" through his 4 years,  or employing dismissive dodges, e.g. "Mr. Trump's character deficiencies were always obvious, even to his supporters."  But the fact his MAGA hordes were roped into believing his lies that the election was "stolen" - and violently acted on them-  shows those deficiencies were nowhere near as "obvious" as Swaim portrays.

Thus the non-compromised  media had a solemn obligation to report every vile aspect of the Trump-Russian conspiracy and its effects.    Mueller, as special prosecutor, also had a duty to spell out the charges in public as opposed to punting and  letting  Barr put words in his mouth to twist the meaning of the investigation.  (Which then led to a bogus investigation of the investigators.)

Those who still dispute there was such a conspiracy need to read the Mueller Report, Volume I, and ponder what it really says.  Also, that a prime sewer rat that Trump pardoned - Michael Flynn - had openly attempted to do Putin's bidding by proposing a direct attack on our democratic system, e.g.

The preceding, by itself, shows Swaim's brain has been colonized by Trump's absurd claims, QAnon codswallop and white nationalist baloney.  Swaim's stream of lies and misinformation in his piece concerning the Trump Covid -19  response actually rivals the Russia "scare" claim.  For example:  

"No nation that values individual liberty and isn't an island managed to slow the spread of Covid-19 without causing economic ruin and attendant disorder."  

Totally disregarding the fact South Korea did just that, by dedicated testing, contact tracing and social distancing.  But when a liar is hot on his beat, penning rubbish, why stop with that Swaim canard?   And so, with the experts and intellectuals in his sights he goes on to spout:  

"The Trump administration made its share of mistakes during the early stages of the 2020 pandemic, although the president's chief failing was his lack of rhetorical clarity."  

I guess Swaim means Trump suggesting the intake of disinfectant or bleach was a "lack of rhetorical clarity" i.e. see this clip:

Or maybe he means when Trump admitted on tape to Bob Woodward ('RAGE') that he deliberately downplayed the threat of the virus when he knew it was more deadly than the seasonal flu.   Or when he continually isolated his Covid team from delivering the actual news to millions of Americans- choosing PR performances instead.    Given Swaim clearly was more mesmerized by the optics and PR it's little wonder he dismisses the experts.  But as journalist Laurie Garrett has shown,  it is TRUMP and Trump alone who bears major responsibility for fucking up the national response:


" In 2018, the Trump administration fired the government’s entire pandemic response chain of command, including the White House management infrastructure. In numerous phone calls and emails with key agencies across the U.S. government, the only consistent response I encountered was distressed confusion."

But  no recounting of Swaim's bullshit about experts would be complete without noting this chestnut:  "The outstanding failure of the 2020 pandemic was the experts' belief that the only sensible response involved sustained closures of businesses and schools."    

But this bleating blockhead misses the memo -and point -that given the U.S. was so late in coming to the testing table, there was no other option but shelter-in-place lockdowns. In fact,  had they begun even earlier instead of being delayed by Trump's downplaying (along with  politicizing masks, social distancing)-  it would have likely saved 100,000-200,000 more lives -   of the 424,000 now dead from the virus.   So his additional remark "the people paid to know what they were talking about, didn't" falls flat like his WSJ hit piece.  

The truth is it is Barton Swaim who has no clue what he is talking or writing about, so no surprise all we behold is a stream of misinformed and deranged twaddle dressed up as an erudite critique of experts.  But this is what one gets when one's intellect, common sense, and judgment have been sacrificed on the altar of Trump obeisance.

See Also:


Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Discovery Of New Magnetar Shows Connection To Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs)


Artist's conception of the recently discovered magnetar in the constellation Vulpecula. Green lines are magnetic field structures.  Polar light rays denote radio, gamma ray and x-ray emissions.  These arise after the crust-cracking star quakes.  (From Phys. Today, January, 2021, p. 15)

Magnetars are highly magnetized young neutron stars each left over from the explosion of a star on the order of ten times the solar mass.  They possess magnetic fields on the order of 100 million times stronger than the Earth's.  The strain induced by the magnetic field increases until its abruptly relieved in as "starquake".    This event then gives rise to the characteristic  bursts of X-rays and γ-rays  that signal the magnetar.

Of the approximately thirty magnetars currently known in our Galaxy and the Magellanic Clouds, five have exhibited transient radio pulsations.  A subset of these are known as FRBs or fast radio bursts,  which are millisecond-duration bursts of radio waves arriving from cosmological distances -  some of which have been seen to repeat.  A leading model for repeating FRBs is that they are extragalactic magnetars, powered by their intense magnetic fields. 

In the latest issue of Physics Today  the finding of a galactic FRB and its connection to a magnetar in our own galaxy has now been reported. (January, p. 13).  This followed an international effort which determined that the signal received coincided with x-ray and gamma-ray emissions from the same location.  Specifically, the site corresponds to a magnetar in the constellation Vulpecula.  The findings provide new observational constraints on FRB origin theories, as well as a direction for future research.   

On April 27, 2020, the Burst Alert Telescope aboard NASA's Neil Gehrels Swift observatory detected multiple bursts of x-rays and gamma rays from the magnetar SGR 1935+2154.  This was in the context of the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) FRB project.  The combination of this two-component bright radio burst and the estimated distance to SGR 1935+2154 together imply a burst energy at 400 to 800 megahertz of approximately 3 × 1034 erg, which is three orders of magnitude higher than the burst energy of any radio-emitting magnetar detected thus far. Such a burst coming from a nearby galaxy - at a distance of less than approximately 12 megaparsecs-  would ordinarily be indistinguishable from a typical FRB.  

However,  the specific signatures- in terms of variation in brightness and frequency (see below):

Disclosed these signals were exceptional and not an ordinary FBR.  In particular, the energy signal from SGR 1935+2154 indicated common features with giant radio pulses (GRPs) emitted by pulsars. A key to the team's finding was confirmation by the CHIME radio telescope in British COlumbia which detected the FRB coming from the same direction as the signal.  (The signal, though well outside the radio telescope's bandwidth field, was only detected on account of its extreme brightness.)  Further confirmation then followed thanks to the alert monitoring of data by a Caltech grad student, Christopher Bochenek.  This was in the course of his daily inspection of data collected by radio telescopes and making up the university's Survey for Transient Radio Emission 2 catalog.   

Despite the latest finding the physics of the connection between magnetars and FRBs remains sketchy.   Thus, how exactly a magnetar can produce FRBs is still being debated.   One proposed hypothesis is that a star quake (see top graphic) causes a magnetar to generate short-lived flares of electrons and other charged particles that collide with those emitted form previous flares - thus creating a shock front and enormous magnetic fields. In this dynamic, electrons swirling around the magnetic field lines emit bursts of radio waves while the heated electrons emit x-rays.  

Another hypothesis is that the starquake triggers disturbances in the magnetic field lines near the magnetar's surface.  These disturbances then induce relativistic particles to stream from the magnetosphere and then generate radio emissions.   

According to Caltech grad student Bochenek (ibid.):  "We knew the source would need to be a compact object and have strong magnetic fields and that magnetars and neutron stars create coherent radio emissions. But it's not like anyone expected magnetars to make such bright radio emission, before the discovery of FRBs."

All  of which points the need for further research, specifically focused on the specific mechanisms and circumstances that drive magnetars to develop FRBs, and more generally determine how coherent radio emissions can arise under extreme conditions. For example, with respect to the original hypothesis of particle collisions noted above, is it possible for shocks to arise via a variation in the physical conditions (plasma) such that  the following form for the  Vlasov -Boltzmann equation applies:

St (<f>)  = - e/m <{d v/c x d B d f / v  > 

For which turbulent shocks can be engendered.  A powerful shock front would be the necessary result and attendant on it intense magnetic fields with the potential to excite the FRBs.   Any resolution of the mechanisms will certainly require many more observations - to understand the physics behind FRBs.  One notable motivation for future investigations would be a search for non-radio counterparts, say in nearby  galaxies for similar events.  

In this case, one could conjecture that a coincident neutrino burst detected from the same source as an FRB might provide evidence of a different magnetar-driven FRB mechanism.  In this case perhaps one involving an ultra-relativistic shock wave interacting with thermal synchrotron photons.   

Meanwhile, the FRB source found in Vulpecula could answer other open-ended questions, such as: How frequently do the signals repeat over years to decades?  And:  How distant and energetic are the bursts?  It's an exciting new arena for astrophysics and one which portends new insights into the workings of our universe.

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