|Monday 23rd of August 2021
Utuqaq by Iva Radivojević @emergence_zine
As four researchers embark on an expedition to drill ice cores in the Arctic in subzero temperatures, the presence of these visitors is witnessed by Utuqaq—ice that lasts year after year.
With a memory that extends millions of years into the past and a present form that shapeshifts in intricate patterns over the surface of the vast white landscape, this beautiful and vital Arctic ice is facing an increasingly uncertain future as the world warms.
Narrated through the Kalaallisut language of West Greenland—a melodic language that holds an understanding of spirits and presences that roam the land—Utuqaq observes the scientists drilling into the ice and asks, “What do they want?”
In this extended meditation on the sentience of the land, the film de-centers the human perspective and rests in the deep and boundless silence of the ice.
In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.
"At one point I decided to repeat some of the computations in order to examine what was happening in greater detail. I stopped the computer, typed in a line of numbers that it had printed out a while earlier, and set it running again. I went down the hall for a cup of coffee and returned after about an hour, during which time the computer had simulated about two months of weather. The numbers being printed were nothing like the old ones. I immediately suspected a weak vacuum tube or some other computer trouble, which was not uncommon, but before calling for service I decided to see just where the mistake had occurred, knowing that this could speed up the servicing process. Instead of a sudden break, I found that the new values at first repeated the old ones, but soon afterward differed by one and then several units in the last decimal place, and then began to differ in the next to the last place and then in the place before that. In fact, the differences more or less steadily doubled in size every four days or so, until all resemblance with the original output disappeared somewhere in the second month. This was enough to tell me what had happened: the numbers that I had typed in were not the exact original numbers, but were the rounded-off values that had appeared in the original printout. The initial round-off errors were the culprits; they were steadily amplifying until they dominated the solution." (E. N. Lorenz, The Essence of Chaos, U. Washington Press, Seattle (1993), page 134)
Elsewhere he stated:
One meteorologist remarked that if the theory were correct, one flap of a sea gull's wings would be enough to alter the course of the weather forever. The controversy has not yet been settled, but the most recent evidence seems to favor the sea gulls.
The World in the c21st exhibits viral, wildfire and exponential characteristics and feedback loops which only become obvious in hindsight.
Law & Politics
It was in 1991 [3 decades ago now] that Krauthammer spoke of the “Unipolar Moment” and highlighted that the US had emerged as the center of world power and unchallenged superpower.
The World in the c21st exhibits viral, wildfire and exponential characteristics and feedback loops which only become obvious in hindsight.
It was in 1991 [3 decades ago now] that Krauthammer spoke of the “Unipolar Moment” and highlighted that the US had emerged as the center of world power and unchallenged superpower.
Thirty years later, The US is exiting Afghanistan and we can speak of a Tripolar World with the US, China and Russia now ruling the c21st Roost.
The ''Salami Slicer'' has snaffled up Hong Kong and the World waits on tenterhooks for the inevitable move on Taiwan.
Debacle in Afghanistan @TariqAli_News
The fall of Kabul to the Taliban on 15 August 2021 is a major political and ideological defeat for the American Empire.
The crowded helicopters carrying US Embassy staff to Kabul airport were startlingly reminiscent of the scenes in Saigon – now Ho Chi Minh City – in April 1975.
The speed with which Taliban forces stormed the country was astonishing; their strategic acumen remarkable.
A week-long offensive ended triumphantly in Kabul. The 300,000-strong Afghan army crumbled. Many refused to fight.
In fact, thousands of them went over to the Taliban, who immediately demanded the unconditional surrender of the puppet government. President Ashraf Ghani, a favourite of the US media, fled the country and sought refuge in Oman.
The flag of the revived Emirate is now fluttering over his Presidential palace.
In some respects, the closest analogy is not Saigon but nineteenth-century Sudan, when the forces of the Mahdi swept into Khartoum and martyred General Gordon.
William Morris celebrated the Mahdi’s victory as a setback for the British Empire. Yet while the Sudanese insurgents killed an entire garrison, Kabul changed hands with little bloodshed.
The Taliban did not even attempt to take the US embassy, let alone target American personnel.
The twentieth anniversary of the ‘War on Terror’ thus ended in predictable and predicted defeat for the US, NATO and others who clambered on the bandwagon.
However one regards the Taliban’s policies – I have been a stern critic for many years – their achievement cannot be denied.
In a period when the US has wrecked one Arab country after another, no resistance that could challenge the occupiers ever emerged.
This defeat may well be a turning point. That is why European politicians are whinging.
They backed the US unconditionally in Afghanistan, and they too have suffered a humiliation – none more so than Britain.
The fact is that over twenty years, the US has failed to build anything that might redeem its mission. The brilliantly lit Green Zone was always surrounded by a darkness that the Zoners could not fathom.
The army, built up over two decades, had been infiltrated at an early stage by Taliban supporters, who received free training in the use of modern military equipment and acted as spies for the Afghan resistance.
Another witness, Jeffrey Eggers, a retired Navy Seal and a White House staffer under Bush and Obama, highlighted the vast waste of resources:
‘What did we get for this $1 trillion effort? Was it worth $1 trillion? … After the killing of Osama bin Laden, I said that Osama was probably laughing in his watery grave considering how much we have spent on Afghanistan.’ He could have added: ‘And we still lost’.
Lebanon: suicidal parasites who kill their host. @nntaleb
Law & Politics
JUN 20 :: Fast Forward
However, what I am noticing is a metastatic expansion of this Protest
It is about the Haves and the Have Nots. Its about the moment of Epiphany when the Have Nots appreciate the predicament in which they have been placed and identify with each other rather than a ‘’boogaloo’’ structure that has been placed upon them.
Will they have that moment of Epiphany? Well There certainly has not been a more ‘’conducive’’ moment.
The central problem in #Lebanon is beyond corruption. It's that the parasite killed its host. @nntaleb
21 OCT 19 :: The New Economy of Anger
nose-diving economic opportunity is creating tinder-dry conditions.
The Phenomenon is spreading like wildfire in large part because of the tinder dry conditions underfoot.
Prolonged stand-offs eviscerate economies, reducing opportunities and accelerate the negative feed- back loop.
Antonio Gramsci wrote, “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear. now is the time of monsters.”
Annals of Inquiry Will the Next American War Be with China? @NewYorker By Benjamin Wallace-Wells
Law & Politics
The images from Afghanistan circulating in Washington this week have been of collapse and evacuation: the interior of a military cargo plane, filled with more than six hundred Afghan evacuees sitting on the floor and grasping straps; a little girl with a pink backpack being handed over a wall, with hopes of escaping; hundreds of Afghans chasing a departing cargo plane on the runway at Hamid Karzai International Airport, as if they might grab hold of it and be lifted away. “Please don’t leave us behind,” an Afghan Air Force pilot pleaded, via the news network the Bulwark, speaking on behalf of many who were undeniably being left behind. “We will be great Americans.”
In the U.S., some of the deepest lamentations came from people who had poured themselves into this project.
“We were overly optimistic and largely made things up as we went along,” Mike Jason, a retired Army colonel who trained Afghan police, wrote in The Atlantic last week.
“We didn’t like oversight or tough questions from Washington, and no one really bothered to hold us accountable anyway.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, anticipating that the lamentations might grow even deeper and more catastrophic, sent out a suicide-prevention blast:
“Veterans may question the meaning of their service or whether it was worth the sacrifices they made. They may feel more moral distress.”
These feelings, the V.A. noted, were normal. “You are not alone.”
That so many in Washington were seeing the same images, and reacting in many of the same ways, had a strange-bedfellows effect on politics this week.
This past Sunday, on MSNBC, Representative Barbara Lee, of Oakland, the only member of Congress who voted against the Authorization for Use of Military Force, in September, 2001, explained what this week’s events proved to her.
“There is no military solution, unfortunately, in Afghanistan,” she said.
“We have been there twenty years. We have spent over a trillion dollars. And we have trained over three hundred thousand of the Afghan forces.”
On Twitter, you could find a very similar sentiment coming from a former senior Trump defense official, Elbridge Colby, who wrote,
“We Americans are just not good at imperialism. Many of the same pathologies characterized our effort in Vietnam.”
Colby, a fortysomething graduate of Yale Law School, was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development in the Trump Administration.
Amid many people saying roughly the same thing about the now-ending generational conflict over Islamic extremism, Colby is distinguished by a vision of the generational conflict to come.
In his view, idealism and Afghanistan are both sideshows to the real military, economic, and diplomatic action—all of which concerns China.
I spoke to Colby by Zoom last week, as the Taliban captured Kandahar and Herat. He was in Brazil, where, it turned out, his family has spent the pandemic.
“Get out of the Middle East,” he said, when I asked how the U.S. should reprioritize its resources.
“More significantly, I think we’re going to have to reduce in Europe. Basically, my view is, if you’re in the U.S. military and you’re not working on China”—he paused for a moment to acknowledge a couple of lesser but still worthy projects, nuclear deterrence and “a cost-effective” approach to counterterrorism—“get yourself a new job.”
Elbridge Colby goes by Bridge. To his patrician name, add a patrician face (long nose, side-parted sandy hair) and a patrician legacy: his grandfather, William Colby, was Nixon’s C.I.A. director, and his father, Jonathan Colby, is a senior adviser in the Carlyle Group, the defense-friendly private-equity giant.
Bridge nearly overlapped at Harvard College with Tom Cotton, and at Yale Law School with Josh Hawley.
He was considered for a role as a foreign-policy adviser to Jeb Bush in 2015; according to the Wall Street Journal, campaign operatives torpedoed his chance to be Bush’s foreign-policy director by raising concerns that he was insufficiently hawkish about Iran.
Colby arrived at Trump’s Pentagon as an aide to the President’s first Secretary of Defense, General Jim Mattis.
Mattis aside, the Administration’s skepticism of neoconservative idealism suited him (as Colby put it, “a nice version of ‘What’s in it for us?’ ”), as did Trump’s emphasis on China-baiting.
Following Trump’s lead, many elected Republicans of Colby’s generation, Cotton and Hawley among them, have increasingly described China as an omni-villain, a prime source of economic competition and a national-security threat for a generation to come.
In this context, Colby has found his star on the rise.
This fall, he will publish his first book, “The Strategy of Denial,” which offers a military strategy for how to deal with China.
As advance copies circulated this summer, Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, pronounced it “brilliant” and said that it would be “constantly referred to as we grapple with this challenge”—a suggestion, if one were needed, that many conservatives believe that this conflict is here to stay.
Colby’s book is clinical and ominous. He wants the American people prepared to go to war with China over Taiwan, both because that might deter China from invading the island and because, if deterrence fails, he thinks that American military intervention will be the only way to keep Taiwan free.
He notes the Chinese leadership’s decades-long insistence that Taiwan is part of China, and documents the steady Chinese military buildup: around ten-per-cent annual increases in its budget for a quarter century; he also pointed out that China has a Navy that exceeds America’s in the number of boats, if not yet tonnage, as well as missiles that can reach U.S. bases around Asia and as far as Honolulu.
All of this is pointing, Colby argues, to an invasion of Taiwan, an event he sees as likely and whose consequences he believes could be disastrous.
His concerns in the book do not include human rights; they are instead almost entirely strategic—a successful invasion would send an unmistakable message to all other countries in Asia about who is the dominant power in the region and who gets to write the rules of the economic order.
Military strategists come with all kinds of personalities—Colby is a worrier.
He argues that Chinese aspirations and military buildup suggest a specific danger: a series of focussed, regional wars, likely to begin with Taiwan, and he sketches out scenarios for how the U.S. would need to defend or retake the island.
As Afghanistan fell to the Taliban this week, the Global Times, a state-affiliated Chinese media outlet, published an editorial arguing,
“From what happened in Afghanistan, those in Taiwan should perceive that once a war breaks out in the Straits, the island’s defense will collapse in hours and U.S. military won’t come to help.”
Colby told me, “My gut says, ‘Bridge, maybe you’re exaggerating,’ but my mind says, ‘Holy shit!’ ” He added, “Excuse my language.”
His book, which takes something of a chess-game view of grand strategy in the Far East, argues that, if China loses a military campaign for Taiwan, it will be forced to confront the “burden of escalation”—of broadening a conflict that it’s losing—and will likely retreat, but that if Taiwan’s allies lose a limited war they will either have to retake the country from China or concede Chinese supremacy in the Far East.
Colby said, “The situation’s already bad now, and it’s going to get worse—to the point where they could win a fight over Taiwan and they might pull the trigger. And Taiwan’s not going to be the end.”
When Colby and I spoke, he seemed anxious to emphasize that his warning is not intended for a conservative audience but for a broad one.
He worries that Americans have been too persuaded by post-Cold War propaganda to understand that, in any conflict with China, Washington will need to partner with Asian nations (Vietnam, perhaps, or Malaysia, or Indonesia) whose modes of governance we may not love.
And he is troubled by whether most Americans will see Taiwan as of sufficient interest to them.
Colby said that he wrote his book largely to make a “brass tacks” case to ordinary Americans about why they should care enough to defend Taiwan and “other exposed Asian partners.”
“Great powers create market areas,” he said. “And that’s what China’s trying to do. And, if the Chinese have a trade area over which they’re ascendant that comprises fifty per cent of global G.D.P. or more, you can bet that Americans are going to suffer.”
Last November, he pointed out, the Chinese government had sent Australia a list of fourteen grievances, ranging from the Australian government’s regulation of Chinese companies to criticisms of the Chinese government made by Australian M.P.s.
Chinese strength has been building for a quarter century, he said. “The problem is coming due in this decade.”I asked Colby how well he thought Americans had been prepped for this potential conflict by their leaders. “Great question,” Colby said. “The state is terrible.”
smart liberal’s reply to Colby might be: Is this for real? Americans have spent much of the past two decades trying to find some way through the disastrous interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan that political hawks urged on them.
Now that the full depth of the latter debacle has become so impossible to deny that the V.A. is issuing suicide-awareness bulletins for former soldiers suffering from “moral distress,” the hawks want to urge another generation-defining conflict on Americans?
Colby’s response is to try to sever the transformational vision of the forever wars from his own hawkishness—to argue that those were neoconservative adventures, intent on democratizing foreign countries, and that his own realist camp does not envision regime change and does not aspire to remake China.
“What really makes me angry, frankly, is the aggressive kind of neoconservatives and liberal hawks. They are the ones that used up that gas tank of will,” Colby told me.
“Now the American people are tired. They are skeptical. And they”—the neoconservatives—“said, ‘Oh, we’re going to fight Islamofascism because otherwise we’re going to turn into the Caliphate,’ or whatever. And it’s like, no, that’s not what’s going to happen.”
But the Afghanistan experience, recounted in the news this week, suggests that the original ideological design of a national-security encounter—whether “realist” or “idealist”—doesn’t matter for very long: any conflict is quickly defined by the decisions made in its midst. What matters most of all is whether that conflict is brought into existence.
Among Republicans, it hasn’t been hard to detect warlike notes against China: Hawley has denounced Big Tech for its alleged willingness to sell out to the Chinese government, Marco Rubio has focussed on China’s persecution of the Uyghur Muslims, and Cotton has promoted a “targeted decoupling” from China’s economy, insisting that the two great powers will find themselves in a “protracted twilight struggle that will determine the fate of the world.”
As the Chinese government’s persecution of Uyghur Muslims has worsened and its pressure on Hong Kong has mounted, plenty of liberals have been alarmed, too, for reasons that are sometimes the same and sometimes different.
“The two nations represent systems of governance that are diametrically opposed,” George Soros wrote last week, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. “Relations between China and the U.S. are rapidly deteriorating and may lead to war.”
Bill Kristol, the founding editor of the Weekly Standard and a conservative foreign-policy eminence, told me that with the exception of the onset of the Cold War he could not recall such a “quick kind of pivot” across the whole foreign-policy establishment, both Democratic and Republican, as the one now taking place to a focus on China—one which struck him as often aggressive. “Look, I am a hawk,” Kristol said.
But “even I get a little bit nervous by the bellicosity on Taiwan. And this is where things can get out of hand. You can either encourage people in Taiwan to do things that are a little foolish, or you can encourage the hawks in Beijing to say, ‘Let’s act now because it will get worse in five years.’ There’s not a lot of subtlety in the discourse.”
This week, one line coming out of the Afghanistan crisis was that the American era was over, that the U.S. was a chastened and exposed power.
To listen to the China hawks was to hear an opposite contention: that the patterns of American intervention ran deep, and were politically various, and were not likely to be so simply dislodged.
When I asked Colby what he thought united the changing Republican Party with the China cause, he said that to him it was a story of disempowerment.
The Republican story post-Trump, he told me, was “ ‘We’ve been deindustrialized, we have economic insecurity, there’s these élites’—there’s a disempowering function going on.”
Colby said he detected in these politics an “anti-hegemonic” tone that echoed the fear of China. Like a lot of what Colby said, that assertion struck me as smart and interesting but a little overelaborate.
The real situation seemed more basic. As U.S. involvement in Afghanistan ends, a hawkishness on China is emerging, in some expected places and some unexpected ones, and we might soon find ourselves managing claims about the necessity of war all over again.
16-FEB-2020 :: They now turn to rule over the people by means of what could be dubbed “big data totalitarianism” and “WeChat terror.” @ChinaFile #COVID19 Xu Zhangrun
Law & Politics
Xu Zhangrun, who published a rare public critique of President Xi Jinping
Viral Alarm: When Fury Overcomes Fear An Essay by [ex] Tsinghua University professor Xu Zhangrun @ChinaFile #COVID19
That‘s right, we, We the People, for [as I have previously said] how can we let ourselves ―survive no better than swine; fawn upon the power-holders like curs; and live in vile filth like maggots?!
you will all be no better than fields of garlic chives, giving yourselves up to being harvested by the blade of power, time and time again. @ChinaFile #COVID19
[ “garlic chives,” Allium tuberosum, often used as a metaphor to describe an endlessly renewable resource.]
What is thriving, however, is all that ridiculous ―Red Culture and the nauseating adulation that the system heaps on itself via shameless pro-Party hacks who chirrup hosannahs at every turn @ChinaFile #COVID19
A polity that is blatantly incapable of treating its own people properly can hardly be expected to treat rest of the world well Such places will only be able to find their assumed pulchritude reflected back at them in mirror of their imperial self-regard
Australia is assuming it was a bioweapon attack. If true we are in WW3 if not, the goverment are now facists. Neither choice is good. @still_a_nerd
08-MAR-2021 :: Xi has taken calculated risks. The muscular and multi-faceted nature of Chinese Power is seen in its handling of COVID19
.@FHeisbourg François Heisbourg: «Le coronavirus, c’est un Tchernobyl chinois à la puissance dix»https://bit.ly/3kLgQl8
First, they staged their "exemplary handling" of the pandemic in a very loud manner, in order to avoid interest in the regime.
And then they severely punished countries that demanded an impartial international investigation, made up of the best experts.
Australia, which had insisted on the need for transparency, was imposed economic sanctions and a block on its imports.
The debate on the origin of the virus remains totally open, fundamental and potentially explosive.
Controlling the COVID19 Narrative, suppressing the Enquiry, parlaying the situation into one of singular advantage marks a singular moment and Xi Jinping has exhibited Chinese dominance over multiple theatres from the Home Front, the International Media Domain, the ‘’Scientific’’ domain over which he has achieved complete ownership and where any dissenting view is characterized as a ‘’conspiracy theory’’
It remains a remarkable achievement.
New SARS-CoV-2 variants have changed the pandemic. What will the virus do next? @ScienceMagazine @kakape
Edward Holmes does not like making predictions, but last year he hazarded a few. Again and again, people had asked Holmes, an expert on viral evolution at the University of Sydney, how he expected SARS-CoV-2 to change.
In May 2020, 5 months into the pandemic, he started to include a slide with his best guesses in his talks. The virus would probably evolve to avoid at least some human immunity, he suggested.
But it would likely make people less sick over time, he said, and there would be little change in its infectivity. In short, it sounded like evolution would not play a major role in the pandemic’s near future.
“A year on I’ve been proven pretty much wrong on all of it,” Holmes says.
Well, not all: SARS-CoV-2 did evolve to better avoid human antibodies. But it has also become a bit more virulent and a lot more infectious, causing more people to fall ill. That has had an enormous influence on the course of the pandemic.
The Delta strain circulating now—one of four “variants of concern” identified by the World Health Organization, along with four “variants of interest”—is so radically different from the virus that appeared in Wuhan, China, in late 2019 that many countries have been forced to change their pandemic planning.
Governments are scrambling to accelerate vaccination programs while prolonging or even reintroducing mask wearing and other public health measures.
As to the goal of reaching herd immunity—vaccinating so many people that the virus simply has nowhere to go—“With the emergence of Delta, I realized that it’s just impossible to reach that,” says Müge Çevik, an infectious disease specialist at the University of St. Andrews.
Yet the most tumultuous period in SARS-CoV-2’s evolution may still be ahead of us, says Aris Katzourakis, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Oxford.
There’s now enough immunity in the human population to ratchet up an evolutionary competition, pressuring the virus to adapt further.
At the same time, much of the world is still overwhelmed with infections, giving the virus plenty of chances to replicate and throw up new mutations.
Predicting where those worrisome factors will lead is just as tricky as it was a year and a half ago, however. “We’re much better at explaining the past than predicting the future,” says Andrew Read, an evolutionary biologist at Pennsylvania State University, University Park.
Evolution, after all, is driven by random mutations, which are impossible to predict. “It’s very, very tricky to know what’s possible, until it happens,” Read says. “It’s not physics. It doesn’t happen on a billiard table.”
Still, experience with other viruses gives evolutionary biologists some clues about where SARS-CoV-2 may be headed.
The courses of past outbreaks show the coronavirus could well become even more infectious than Delta is now,
Read says: “I think there’s every expectation that this virus will continue to adapt to humans and will get better and better at us.”
Far from making people less sick, it could also evolve to become even deadlier, as some previous viruses including the 1918 flu have.
And although COVID-19 vaccines have held up well so far, history shows the virus could evolve further to elude their protective effect—although a recent study in another coronavirus suggests that could take many years, which would leave more time to adapt vaccines to the changing threat.
Explaining the past
Holmes himself uploaded one of the first SARS-CoV-2 genomes to the internet on 10 January 2020.
Since then, more than 2 million genomes have been sequenced and published, painting an exquisitely detailed picture of a changing virus.
“I don’t think we’ve ever seen that level of precision in watching an evolutionary process,” Holmes says.
Making sense of the endless stream of mutations is complicated. Each is just a tiny tweak in the instructions for how to make proteins.
Which mutations end up spreading depends on how the viruses carrying those tweaked proteins fare in the real world.
The vast majority of mutations give the virus no advantage at all, and identifying the ones that do is difficult.
There are obvious candidates, such as mutations that change the part of the spike protein—which sits on the surface of the virus—that binds to human cells.
But changes elsewhere in the genome may be just as crucial—yet are harder to interpret. Some genes’ functions aren’t even clear, let alone what a change in their sequence could mean.
The impact of any one change on the virus’ fitness also depends on other changes it has already accumulated.
That means scientists need real-world data to see which variants appear to be taking off. Only then can they investigate, in cell cultures and animal experiments, what might explain that viral success.
The most eye-popping change in SARS-CoV-2 so far has been its improved ability to spread between humans.
At some point early in the pandemic, SARS-CoV-2 acquired a mutation called D614G that made it a bit more infectious.
That version spread around the world; almost all current viruses are descended from it.
Then in late 2020, scientists identified a new variant, now called Alpha, in patients in Kent, U.K., that was about 50% more transmissible. Delta, first seen in India and now conquering the world, is another 40% to 60% more transmissible than Alpha.
Read says the pattern is no surprise. “The only way you could not get infectiousness rising would be if the virus popped into humans as perfect at infecting humans as it could be, and the chance of that happening is incredibly small,” he says.
But Holmes was startled. “This virus has gone up three notches in effectively a year and that, I think, was the biggest surprise to me,” Holmes says. “I didn’t quite appreciate how much further the virus could get.”
Bette Korber at Los Alamos National Laboratory and her colleagues first suggested that D614G, the early mutation, was taking over because it made the virus better at spreading.
She says skepticism about the virus’ ability to evolve was common in the early days of the pandemic, with some researchers saying D614G’s apparent advantage might be sheer luck.
“There was extraordinary resistance in the scientific community to the idea this virus could evolve as the pandemic grew in seriousness in spring of 2020,” Korber says.
Researchers had never watched a completely novel virus spread so widely and evolve in humans, after all.
“We’re used to dealing with pathogens that have been in humanity for centuries, and their evolutionary course is set in the context of having been a human pathogen for many, many years,” says Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome Trust.
Katzourakis agrees. “This may have affected our priors and conditioned many to think in a particular way,” he says.
Another, more practical problem is that real-world advantages for the virus don’t always show up in cell culture or animal models.
“There is no way anyone would have noticed anything special about Alpha from laboratory data alone,” says Christian Drosten, a virologist at the Charité University Hospital in Berlin.
He and others are still figuring out what, at the molecular level, gives Alpha and Delta an edge.
Alpha seems to bind more strongly to the human ACE2 receptor, the virus’ target on the cell surface, partly because of a mutation in the spike protein called N501Y.
It may also be better at countering interferons, molecules that are part of the body’s viral immune defenses. Together those changes may lower the amount of virus needed to infect someone—the infectious dose.
In Delta, one of the most important changes may be near the furin cleavage site on spike, where a human enzyme cuts the protein, a key step enabling the virus to invade human cells.
A mutation called P681R in that region makes cleavage more efficient, which may allow the virus to enter more cells faster and lead to greater numbers of virus particles in an infected person.
In July, Chinese researchers posted a preprint showing Delta could lead to virus levels in patient samples 1000 times higher than for previous variants.
Evidence is accumulating that infected people not only spread the virus more efficiently, but also faster, allowing the variant to spread even more rapidly.
The new variants of SARS-CoV-2 may also cause more severe disease. For example, a study in Scotland found that an infection with Delta was about twice as likely to lead to hospital admission than with Alpha.
It wouldn’t be the first time a newly emerging disease quickly became more serious.
The 1918–19 influenza pandemic also appears to have caused more serious illness as time went on, says Lone Simonsen, an epidemiologist at Roskilde University who studies past pandemics. “Our data from Denmark suggests it was six times deadlier in the second wave.”
A popular notion holds that viruses tend to evolve over time to become less dangerous, allowing the host to live longer and spread the virus more widely.
But that idea is too simplistic, Holmes says. “The evolution of virulence has proven to be quicksand for evolutionary biologists,” he says. “It’s not a simple thing.”
Two of the best studied examples of viral evolution are myxoma virus and rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus, which were released in Australia in 1960 and 1996, respectively, to decimate populations of European rabbits that were destroying croplands and wreaking ecological havoc.
Myxoma virus initially killed more than 99% of infected rabbits, but then less pathogenic strains evolved, likely because the virus was killing many animals before they had a chance to pass it on. (Rabbits also evolved to be less susceptible.)
Rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus, by contrast, got more deadly over time, probably because the virus is spread by blow flies feeding on rabbit carcasses, and quicker death accelerated its spread.
Other factors loosen the constraints on deadliness. For example, a virus variant that can outgrow other variants within a host can end up dominating even if it makes the host sicker and reduces the likelihood of transmission.
And an assumption about human respiratory diseases may not always hold: that a milder virus—one that doesn’t make you crawl into bed, say—might allow an infected person to spread the virus further.
In SARS-CoV-2, most transmission happens early on, when the virus is replicating in the upper airways, whereas serious disease, if it develops, comes later, when the virus infects the lower airways. As a result, a variant that makes the host sicker might spread just as fast as before.
From the start of the pandemic, researchers have worried about a third type of viral change, perhaps the most unsettling of all: that SARS-CoV-2 might evolve to evade immunity triggered by natural infections or vaccines.
Already, several variants have emerged sporting changes in the surface of the spike protein that make it less easily recognized by antibodies.
But although news of these variants has caused widespread fear, their impact has so far been limited.
Derek Smith, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Cambridge, has worked for decades on visualizing immune evasion in the influenza virus in so-called antigenic maps.
The farther apart two variants are on Smith’s maps, the less well antibodies against one virus protect against the other.
In a recently published preprint, Smith’s group, together with David Montefiori’s group at Duke University, has applied the approach to mapping the most important variants of SARS-CoV-2
The new maps place the Alpha variant very close to the original Wuhan virus, which means antibodies against one still neutralize the other.
The Delta variant, however, has drifted farther away, even though it doesn’t completely evade immunity.
“It’s not an immune escape in the way people think of an escape in slightly cartoonish terms,” Katzourakis says.
But Delta is slightly more likely to infect fully vaccinated people than previous variants. “It shows the possible beginning of a trajectory and that’s what worries me,” Katzourakis says.
Other variants have evolved more antigenic distance from the original virus than Delta. Beta, which first appeared in South Africa, has traveled the farthest on the map, although natural or vaccine-induced immunity still largely protects against it.
And Beta’s attempts to get away may come at a price, as Delta has outstripped it worldwide.
“It’s probably the case that when a virus changes to escape immunity, it loses other aspects of its fitness,” Smith says.
The map shows that for now, the virus is not moving in any particular direction. If the original Wuhan virus is like a town on Smith’s map, the virus has been taking local trains to explore the surrounding area, but it has not traveled to the next city—not yet.
Predicting the future
Although it’s impossible to predict exactly how infectiousness, virulence, and immune evasion will develop in the coming months, some of the factors that will influence the virus’ trajectory are clear.
One is the immunity that is now rapidly building in the human population. On one hand, immunity reduces the likelihood of people getting infected, and may hamper viral replication even when they are.
“That means there will be fewer mutations emerging if we vaccinate more people,” Çevik says. On the other hand, any immune escape variant now has a huge advantage over other variants.
In fact, the world is probably at a tipping point, Holmes says: With more than 2 billion people having received at least one vaccine dose and hundreds of millions more having recovered from COVID-19, variants that evade immunity may now have a bigger leg up than those that are more infectious.
Something similar appears to have happened when a new H1N1 influenza strain emerged in 2009 and caused a pandemic, says Katia Kölle, an evolutionary biologist at Emory University.
A 2015 paper found that changes in the virus in the first 2 years appeared to make the virus more adept at human-to-human transmission, whereas changes after 2011 were mostly to avoid human immunity.
It may already be getting harder for SARS-CoV-2 to make big gains in infectiousness.
“There are some fundamental limits to exactly how good a virus can get at transmitting and at some point SARS-CoV-2 will hit that plateau,” says Jesse Bloom, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
“I think it’s very hard to say if this is already where we are, or is it still going to happen.”
Evolutionary virologist Kristian Andersen of Scripps Research guesses the virus still has space to evolve greater transmissibility.
“The known limit in the viral universe is measles, which is about three times more transmissible than what we have now with Delta,” he says.
The limits of immune escape are equally uncertain. Smith’s antigenic maps show the space the virus has explored so far. But can it go much farther? If the variants on the map are like towns, then where are the country’s natural boundaries—where does the ocean start?
A crucial clue will be where the next few variants appear on the map, Smith says. Beta evolved in one direction away from the original virus and Delta in another.
“It’s too soon to say this now, but we might be heading for a world where there are two serotypes of this virus that would also both have to be considered in any vaccines,” Drosten says.
Immune escape is so worrying because it could force humanity to update its vaccines continually, as happens for flu.
Yet the vaccines against many other diseases—measles, polio, and yellow fever, for example—have remained effective for decades without updates, even in the rare cases where immune-evading variants appeared.
“There was big alarm around 2000 that maybe we’d need to replace the hepatitis B vaccines,” because an escape variant had popped up, Read says.
But the variant has not spread around the world: It is able to infect close contacts of an infected person, but then peters out.
The virus apparently faces a trade-off between transmissibility and immune escape. Such trade-offs likely exist for SARS-CoV-2 as well.
Some clues about SARS-CoV-2’s future path may come from coronaviruses with a much longer history in humans: those that cause common colds.
Some are known to reinfect people, but until recently it was unclear whether that’s because immunity in recovered people wanes, or because the virus changes its surface to evade immunity.
In a study published in April in PLOS Pathogens, Bloom and other researchers compared the ability of human sera taken at different times in the past decades to block virus isolated at the same time or later.
They showed that the samples could neutralize strains of a coronavirus named 229E isolated around the same time, but weren’t always effective against virus from 10 years or more later.
The virus had evidently evolved to evade human immunity, but it had taken 10 years or more.
“Immune escape conjures this catastrophic failure of immunity when it is really immune erosion,” Bloom says.
“Right now it seems like SARS-CoV-2, at least in terms of antibody escape, is actually behaving a lot like coronavirus 229E.”
Others are probing SARS-CoV-2 itself. In a preprint published this month, researchers tinkered with the virus to learn how much it has to change to evade the antibodies generated in vaccine recipients and recovered patients.
They found that it took 20 changes to the spike protein to escape current antibody responses almost completely. That means the bar for complete escape is high, says one of the authors, virologist Paul Bieniasz of Rockefeller University.
“But it’s very difficult to look into a crystal ball and say whether that is going to be easy for the virus to acquire or not,” he says.
“It seems plausible that true immune escape is hard,” concludes William Hanage of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“However, the counterargument is that natural selection is a hell of a problem solver and the virus is only beginning to experience real pressure to evade immunity.”
And the virus has tricks up its sleeve. Coronaviruses are good at recombining, for instance, which could allow new variants to emerge suddenly by combining the genomes—and the properties—of two different variants.
In pigs, recombination of a coronavirus named porcine epidemic diarrhea virus with attenuated vaccine strains of another coronavirus has led to more virulent variants of PEDV.
“Given the biology of these viruses, recombination may well factor into the continuing evolution of SARS-CoV-2,” Korber says.
Given all that uncertainty, it’s worrisome that humanity hasn’t done a great job of limiting the spread of SARS-CoV-2, says Eugene Koonin, a researcher at the U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Some dangerous variants may only be possible if the virus hits on a very rare, winning combination of mutations, he says.
It might have to replicate an astronomical number of times to get there. “But with all these millions of infected people, it may very well find that combination.”
Indeed, Katzourakis adds, the past 20 months are a warning to never underestimate viral evolution.
“Many still see Alpha and Delta as being as bad as things are ever going to get,” he says. “It would be wise to consider them as steps on a possible trajectory that may challenge our public health response further.”
T. Rowe Price, Amundi Among Winners as Zambia Bond Bets Pay Off @markets
There is still more to be had from the rally in Zambia’s bonds -- the world’s best-performing dollar debt this year -- according to bondholders including T. Rowe Price and Amundi Asset Management who bought the securities after the country defaulted nine months ago.
That bet has paid off: Zambia’s Eurobonds outperformed all other emerging-market sovereign dollar bonds since the beginning of January, returning almost twice as much as its closest rival, Ecuador.
The benchmark 2024 securities rebounded from around 42 cents, climbing to more than 75 cents this week after Hakainde Hichilema’s victory in the presidential election on Aug. 12.
T. Rowe Price was not invested in Zambia before the default, but saw an “attractive opportunity” afterward, said Samy Muaddi, a portfolio manager at the Baltimore-based firm.
The country said in October it would restructure its debt, and suspended coupon payments a month later.
“Following the default there was much panic and uncertainty,” Muaddi said. “Having invested in the recovery of many countries following periods of debt distress we took a contrarian view.”
Investors such as T. Rowe Price and Amundi are betting Hichilema, who will be sworn in on Aug. 24, will be able to secure an International Monetary Fund economic program and associated $1.3 billion loan by the end of April, reducing the risk of losses for bondholders.
“Hichilema’s economic platform is based on private sector-led liberal market reform, which bodes well for the IMF program,” said Ray Jian, an emerging-market portfolio manager at Amundi, which has an overweight position in Zambia and added to it in the second quarter.
“We do believe the cure of the bond default is one of Hichilema’s priorities, as a more market-based Zambia economy needs the bond market to partially finance its reform and growth program.”
Still, some caution is warranted: “There are still many challenges for Zambia to work through,” said Muaddi.
“Restoring market access after such a crisis requires a steadfast commitment to sustainable macroeconomic policy.”
For now, many investors are giving Zambia the benefit of the doubt. The country’s currency, the kwacha, has surged almost 10% against the dollar in the past week to the strongest level in more than two years.
The country could reach a deal with the IMF as soon as the fourth quarter, though more likely early next year, according to Rand Merchant Bank’s Neville Mandimika and Daniel Kavishe.
“An IMF bailout would facilitate the restructuring of Zambia’s debt and increase the likelihood of it being accepted in other debt-assistance programs,” said Aleix Montana, Africa analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft. “Zambia’s commitment to reforming its public finances will be judged on the outcome of the negotiations with the IMF.”
Turning to Africa
We are getting closer and closer to the Virilian Tipping Point
“The revolutionary contingent attains its ideal form not in the place of production, but in the street''
any Early Warning System would be warning a Tsunami is coming
Du 10 janvier au 14 avril 1964, siégea dans ce bâtiment aujourd'hui délabré, devant toutes les Autorités Congolaises, la Commission Constitutionnelle qui proposa au peuple, pa référendum, la première Constitution @BuabuaWa
Du 10 janvier au 14 avril 1964, siégea dans ce bâtiment aujourd'hui délabré, devant toutes les Autorités Congolaises, la Commission Constitutionnelle qui proposa au peuple, pa référendum, la première Constitution due à l,initiative des Congolais eux-mêmes.
What is clear is that Abiy’s campaign to centralize power in the capital is in tatters.
With many regions seeking more devolution, the conflict threatens the integrity of the state, according to a key Western diplomat, who asked not to be identified citing the sensitivity of the matter.
Abiy’s authority is at serious risk unless he can find a way to force the Tigrayans back. The Nobel peace prize winner has awakened more enemies than just the TPLF.
“We have one thing in common and that is we are fighting the same enemy,” said Kumsa Diriba, the commander-in-chief of the Oromo Liberation Army.