The Overview - August 09, 2021

The Overview is a weekly roundup of eclectic content in-between essay newsletters & 'Conversations' podcast episodes to scratch your brain's curiosity itch.

Hello Eclectic Spacewalkers,

I wish that you and your family are safe and healthy wherever you are in the world. :)

Check out the previous The Overview - July 26, 2021: HERE

Read our latest essay - Technopoly: HERE

Watch/listen to our ‘Conversation with Ashley Colby’: HERE

Get our E-Book for free by using ‘substack’: HERE

Below are some eclectic links for the week of August 09, 2021.

Enjoy, share, and subscribe!

Table of Contents

Theme & Topics: Updates on COVID/Coronavirus/Delta Strain, How It Was Preventable & A Crime, A Complex Systems Approach, Disinformation, Healthcare, Increased Guilty Pleas, and How Philosophy Failed The Pandemic

  • Articles/Essays - Take Me to Your Leader: The Rot of the American Ruling Class via @DougHenwood; Covid pandemic was preventable, says WHO-commissioned report via @theguardian; Eros After Covid via @re_colston in @NewLeftReview; @the_eco_thought’s Hyper-Pandemic via @NewYorker; The Invisible Dead of COVID Colonialism via @dwallacewells in @intelligencer; Agamben WTF, or How Philosophy Failed the Pandemic via @bratton in @versobooks; Pandemic pushed defendants to plead guilty more often, including innocent people pleading to crimes they didn’t commit via @shiyan_cj, @Miko_Wilford, and @ksthrlnd in @conversationUS; Why Is the Intellectual Dark Web Suddenly Hyping an Unproven COVID Treatment?; Here Come the Robot Nurses by Anna Romina Guevarra in @bostonreview

  • Books - COVID-19: A Complex Systems Approach Papers and Commentaries via @stemacademic & @nntaleb; edited by @mb_ir, @normonics, and @ajmoralesguzman; Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

  • Documentaries - Crime of the Century by @alexgibneyfilm from HBO; The Healthcare Divide (full documentary) | @frontlinepbs; Can viruses be beneficial? | DW Documentary

  • Interviews/Lectures - On Contact: Pandemic! Via @ChrisLynnHedges; @Wikipedia Founder @jimmy_wales on Facts, Knowledge and Governance - @interintellect_ SuperSalon; Earth and Humanity: Myth and Reality via @NJHagens

  • Papers - Viral Visualizations: How Coronavirus Skeptics Use OrthodoxData Practices to Promote Unorthodox Science Online via (H/T: @commieleejones); Investigate the origins of COVID-19; The Numbers: Encountering Casualties in the Era of Covid-19* - @marydudziak

  • Podcasts - Breath via @RadioLab; How It Started, How It's Going & Bad Idea Machine via @onthemedia

  • TED Talks - Coronavirus Is Our Future | @alanna_shaikh | TEDxSMU; Why COVID-19 Will Never End | Kawing (Christina) Hui | TEDxBranksomeHallAsia; Epistemic insight: engaging with life's Big Questions | Berry Billingsley | TEDxFolkestone

  • Twittersphere - “North America is in the midst of a worsening mega drought, increasing the probability that any of a number of events could lead to a black swan-like economic/social crisis...” via @frieberg

  • Videos (Short) - The Worst Pandemics in History - What Do They Teach Us? Via AfterSkool; How Social Media Divides Us via @JakeOrthwein for @psych_of_tech; The Overview Effect: Nicholas McCay (Eclectic Spacewalk) via @amurshak for @agora_politics

  • Websites - Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19) via @ourworldindata; Anthropocene Curriculum



Take Me to Your Leader: The Rot of the American Ruling Class via @DougHenwood

“For more than three centuries, something has been going horribly wrong at the top of our society, and we’re all suffering for it…

One doesn’t want to idealize the ruling classes of the past. For all of history, their wealth and status have depended on exploiting those below them — and they’ve never shied away from extreme measures if they feel that those things are threatened. But the present configuration of the American ruling class is having a hard time performing the tasks it’s supposed to in order to keep the capitalist machine running. It’s not investing, and it’s allowing the basic institutions of society — notably the state but also instruments of cultural reproduction like universities — to decay…

You could say the ruling class is the capitalist class, of course, but what does that mean? CEOs of Fortune 500 companies? Their shareholders, to whom they allegedly answer? What about the owner of a chain of franchised auto parts stores in the Midwest? The owner may be able to get his congressperson on the phone — a senator might be harder — to get a tax break slipped unobtrusively into a larger bill, but what influence does he have over larger state policy? Are car dealers part of the ruling class? If so, what about new versus used? And what about someone like Henry Kissinger, a man who started as a clever functionary and ended up shaping US foreign policy in much of the 1970s, and who still has an influence over how diplomats and politicians think? How about less grand politicians and high government officials? Are they employees of the ruling class or its partners — or shapers, even? It’s not at all obvious.

Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1976. (Library of Congress)

Before proceeding, I should say I’m not taking seriously the idea that there is no ruling class — that there are voters in a democracy who may be divided into interest groups but none are dominant. Yes, the constrained democracy we live under is a lot better than a dictatorship would be; elections do act as a limit on elite power. But that’s a long way from the popular self-government socialists dream of. Nor am I taking seriously conceptions of a ruling class that center on PC-obsessed, organic-food-eating urban elites. That set has some influence, especially among the liberal wing of the consciousness industry, but it doesn’t shape the political economy.

I’d say the ruling class consists of a politically engaged capitalist class, operating through lobbying groups, financial support for politicians, think tanks, and publicity, that meshes with a senior political class that directs the machinery of the state. (You could say something similar about regional, state, and local capitalists and the relevant machinery.) But we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the political branch of the ruling class in shaping the thinking of the capitalists, who are too busy making money to think much on their own or even organize in their collective interest.”

Covid pandemic was preventable, says WHO-commissioned report via @theguardian

“Independent panel castigates global leaders and calls for major changes to ensure it cannot happen again…

The report recommends the creation of a “global health threats council”, to be led by heads of state, to keep attention on the threats of pandemics between emergencies and ensure collective action. It calls for a special session of the UN general assembly later this year to agree a political declaration. The WHO must have more power and more funding, while its regional directors and the director general should serve just a single term of seven years.

The panel says it is “deeply concerned and alarmed” about the current high rates of transmission of the virus and the emergence of variants. Every country must take the necessary measures to curb the spread, says the report. High-income countries with enough vaccines ordered for their own needs must commit to providing at least 1bn doses by 1 September to Covax, the UN-backed initiative to get vaccines to 92 low- and middle-income countries, and more than 2bn doses by mid-2022.

The G7 countries must provide 60% of $19bn (£13.45bn) needed for vaccines, therapeutics, tests and strengthening health systems, with the rest from the G20 and other high-income nations. The WHO and the World Trade Organization must bring together vaccine-producing countries and manufacturers to help scale up production around the world – and if nothing happens, then the patent waiver that middle-income countries have called for and the US has backed should come into force.”

Main Report:

Eros After Covid via @re_colston in @NewLeftReview

“In a public discussion with Albert Einstein about the origins of warfare in 1932, just years before Nazi violence would exile Freud from his home in Vienna, Freud argued that the will toward war was merely an effect of the destructive instinct. That instinct, he maintained to the end, is ineradicable. The countervailing means against war are ‘to bring Eros, its antagonist, into play against it’: the growth of affective ties between people can combat the destructive instinct. This call for a ‘community of feeling’ is a remarkably sentimental one for Freud, who even invokes the timeless imperative to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’ as a precept for the collective work of Eros. The psychoanalytic challenge to this statement would, of course, be that we hardly know ourselves, and that to reduce another person to the poorly taken measure of your own self is likely to miss the other person entirely. Better to say that one should love one’s neighbor not as oneself – or, to put it in the language of the Sanders campaign, ‘fight for someone you don’t know’, which includes yourself.

For leftists, the condition of class war often appears interminable, replete with countless losses, failures, false starts and false ends. For this reason, the left repeatedly finds itself in a state of mourning, grieving over the defeat of its most recent projects (Sanders and Corbyn among them). In this context, psychoanalysis can not only provide a vocabulary for the predations of capitalism; it can also teach us how to overcome those losses so that we might ‘fail better’ – a repetition renewed with every generation under conditions not of their making. If serial failures threaten to sunder the community ties that sustain emancipatory work, then perhaps the antidote is psychic ‘care’ as defined by Lisa Baraitser: ‘the arduous temporal practice of maintaining ongoing relations with others and the world’. To live with, and struggle for, others – their infinite demands and desires – is a vexed part of sustaining the horizon of leftism. Experiences of estrangement, loss, pain, grief, and trauma are potentially the most availing shared predicate of the afflicted; but they are also a formidable barrier to social community given the isolating effects of privation. What psychoanalysis would call the ethical relation to another’s pain – its prompt to address the impossible – tallies with the leftist programme of building solidarity in the face of almost immovable limits. This impossible work of Eros is what makes the transformations of revolutionary time possible. A matter of repetition: the struggle for communism will have been.”

@the_eco_thought’s Hyper-Pandemic via @NewYorker

“Is COVID-19 a hyperobject?” I asked them.

“It’s the ultimate hyperobject,” Morton said. “The hyperobject of our age. It’s literally inside us.” We talked for a bit about fear of the virus—Morton has asthma, and suffers from sleep apnea. “I feel bad for subtitling the hyperobjects book ‘Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World,’ ” Morton said. “That idea scares people. I don’t mean ‘end of the world’ the way they think I mean it. But why do that to people? Why scare them?”

What Morton means by “the end of the world” is that a world view is passing away. The passing of this world view means that there is no “world” anymore. There’s just an infinite expanse of objects, which have as much power to determine us as we have to determine them. Part of the work of confronting strange strangeness is therefore grappling with fear, sadness, powerlessness, grief, despair. “Somewhere, a bird is singing and clouds pass overhead,” Morton writes, in “Being Ecological,” from 2018. “You stop reading this book and look around you. You don’t have to be ecological. Because you are ecological.” It’s a winsome and terrifying idea. Learning to see oneself as an object among objects is destabilizing—like learning “to navigate through a bad dream.” In many ways, Morton’s project is not philosophical but therapeutic. They have been trying to prepare themselves for the seismic shifts that are coming as the world we thought we knew transforms.”

The Invisible Dead of COVID Colonialism via @dwallacewells in @intelligencer

“Revisions of this kind suggest that the full scale of the brutality will soon come into view, as our statistics accommodate deaths once unseen or unacknowledged. But for Americans now breathing sighs of relief, celebrating their own vaccinations and watching national trajectories decline, the opposite is just as likely: They will turn more and more away from a pandemic that is now concentrated abroad, treating deaths in the global south as invisible.

This is both understandable and grotesque, especially because, as Zeynep Tufekci has recently suggested, the deadliest phase of the pandemic may still lie ahead of us, and “it’s now entirely possible that most COVID deaths could occur after there are enough vaccines to protect those most at risk globally.”

Tufekci’s essay was published in theTimes the same week the newspaper discontinued the print section it had devoted to international coverage of the virus since April 2020. The following Wednesday, Brazil had its second-highest day of reported cases of the entire pandemic. On June 3, the World Health Organization warned of a third wave across Africa, where test positivity was rising in at least 14 countries, and where only 31 million, in a total population of 1.3 billion, had received even a single vaccine dose. Alarm about the Indian surge has subsided here without being replaced by concern about COVID spread elsewhere in the subcontinent. Over the past month, the infection rate in Nepal has been higher than in India; in the Maldives, it was often ten times as high.”

Agamben WTF, or How Philosophy Failed the Pandemic via @bratton in @versobooks

“In my book, The Revenge of The Real: Politics for a Post-Pandemic World, I consider the origins and doomed future of Agamben’s brand of negative biopolitics. “While Agamben’s own worldview is classically Europeanist, dripping with lurid Heideggerian theology, his influence on the Humanities is much wider and deeper” and so the reckoning due goes well beyond revised syllabi. “The question is how much of the philosophical traditions to which Agamben has been attached over the last decades will also need to be shelved. What then to do with the artifacts of Agamben’s life work? It is a traditionalist, culturalist, locally embedded doctrinal edifice, protecting the ritual meaningfulness of things against the explicit nudity of their reality: like the defiant monologues of a Southern preacher, his sad, solemn theory is undeniably beautiful as a gothic political literature, and should probably be read only as such”

Even so, the reckoning with legacies of his and other related projects is long overdue. His mode of biopolitical critique blithely ventures that science, data, observation and modeling are intrinsically and ultimately forms of domination and games of power relations. Numbers are unjust, words are beautiful. To accept that real, underlying processes of biochemistry are accessible, and generative of both reason and intervention, is presumed naive. It's a disposition also found in different tones and hues in the work of Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, and especially Ivan Illich, who died from a facial tumor he refused to treat as doctors recommended. Even here at University of California, San Diego, a hub of interdisciplinary biotechnology research, many colleagues insist that the “digitalization of Nature” is “an impossible fantasy”, even as they accept an mRNA vaccine based on a prototype bioprinted from a computational model of the virus’ genome uploaded from China before the actual virus even made it to North America.

As I have suggested elsewhere, this orientation is exemplary of the drawn-out influence of Boomer Theory. The baby boomers have tyrannised the Left's imagination - bequeathing tremendous capacities to deconstruct and critique authority but feeble capacities to construct and compose. Perhaps the ‘68 generation’s last revenge upon those who inherit their messes, is the intellectual axiom that structure is always more suspicious than its dismantling and composition more problematic than resistance, not just as political strategies but as metaphysical norms. Their project was and remains the horizontal multiplication of conditional viewpoints as both means and ends, via the imaginary dismantling of public reason, decision and structuration. This is how they can at once fetishize “the Political” while refusing “governmentality.”...

If Philosophy and the Humanities are to claim due legitimacy for present and future challenges, the collective conception of another positive biopolitics –based in the reality of our shared technical and biological circumstances–is absolutely essential.
Toward that, I conclude with another passage from The Revenge of The Real: “A laissez-faire vitalism for which “life will find a way” is not an option; it is a fairy tale of a comfortable class who don’t live with the daily agency of sewage landscapes and exposed corpses…” Instead, “(This positive) biopolitics is inclusive, materialist, restorative, rationalist, based on a demystified image of the human species, anticipating a future different from the one prescribed by many cultural traditions. It accepts the evolutionary entanglement of mammals and viruses. It accepts death as part of life. It therefore accepts the responsibilities of medical knowledge to prevent and mitigate unjust deaths and misery as something quite different from the nativist immunization of one population of people from another. This includes not just rights to individual privacy but also social obligations to participate in an active, planetary biological commons. It is, adamantly, a biopolitics in a positive and projective sense.”

The pandemic is, potentially, a wake-up call that the new normal cannot be just the new old normal. This means a shift in how human societies —which are  always planetary in reach and influence— make sense of themselves, model themselves and compose themselves. This is a project that is as philosophical as it is political. Failure is not an option.

Pandemic pushed defendants to plead guilty more often, including innocent people pleading to crimes they didn’t commit via @shiyan_cj, @Miko_Wilford, and @ksthrlnd in @conversationUS

“Sure enough, a survey of 93 defense attorneys found that plea bargaining practices have indeed changed during the pandemic. More than 60% of the lawyers surveyed said they thought prosecutors were offering more lenient deals than they would have before the pandemic. At the same time, more than 30% of the attorneys had a client who claimed innocence, but nevertheless accepted a plea offer because of concerns related to COVID-19.

To examine whether COVID-19 exacerbated the innocence problem in guilty pleas among a larger sample of potential defendants, we used a computerized simulation platform of legal procedures funded by the National Science Foundation and developed at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. More than 700 U.S. adults agreed to participate in our study, and we randomly assigned them to be either innocent or guilty of stealing a pair of sunglasses. In the simulation, all participants were detained before trial, then offered a plea deal to be immediately released.

Among both guilty and innocent conditions, we further randomly informed half of the participants about the complications related to COVID-19 – that the jail was currently having an outbreak of coronavirus and court dates had been pushed back because of the pandemic.

The results confirmed that both guilty and innocent participants were more likely to plead guilty when warned of the increased complications posed by COVID-19. Further, innocent participants ranked the pandemic as a more important factor in shaping their decision to plead than guilty participants.

As the pandemic wanes, courts and the legal system as a whole are resuming more normal operations. But the fundamental problems with the plea process – excessive trial penalties and pretrial detention – will remain.”

Just 12 People Are Behind Most Vaccine Hoaxes On Social Media, Research Shows via @NPR

“Researchers have found just 12 people are responsible for the bulk of the misleading claims and outright lies about COVID-19 vaccines that proliferate on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

"The 'Disinformation Dozen' produce 65% of the shares of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms," said Imran Ahmed, chief executive officer of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which identified the accounts.

Now the vaccine rollout is reaching a critical stage in which most adults who want the vaccine have gotten it, but many others are holding out, these 12 influential social media users stand to have an outsize impact on the outcome.”

A few people really do ruin the internet for everyone: this study of 1.8 billion Reddit comments shows 0.1% of all communities generate 38% of attacks on other reddits! (1% accounts for 74%!) And a few active users on those Reddits kick off the conflicts”


Why Is the Intellectual Dark Web Suddenly Hyping an Unproven COVID Treatment?

“Ivermectin is the new hydroxychloroquine,” Gorski concluded. “It’s been promoted the same way and by the same people. The same conspiracy theories have sprung up around it as the scientific evidence supporting its use is weak at best, negative at worst.” (Gorski noted that, a website promoting ivermectin data, looks suspiciously similar to, one promoting hydroxychloroquine data. These sites do appear to be intimately related; resolves to the same IP address as as well as and, websites promoting hydroxychloroquine and claiming to count the deaths caused by doctors not using hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin to treat COVID-19. All of these sites refer physicians to the FLCCC for “treatment protocols.”)...

It's a familiar set of claims, amounting to an assertion that being given the broadest possible platform is the same as being silenced, and that one's theories being tested is the same as them having been suppressed. While Big Tech continues to issue a confused, belated, and at times contradictory response to the problem of people using its platforms to promote health quackery, Weinstein, Heying, Taibbi, and Weiss have positioned themselves as the vanguards of intellectual freedom by, in their ways, buttressing these claims. In fact, and without, perhaps, even realizing it, they’ve acted as foot soldiers for something entirely commonplace: a politicized and pseudoscientific response to a deadly disease.”

Here Come the Robot Nurses by Anna Romina Guevarra in @bostonreview

“The pandemic increased demand and possibilities for automating care, but doing so may deliver racist stereotypes and unemployment for women of color. But what does this ramping up of interest and investment in robotics mean for human workers?

In the short term, there is no question that while robots may provide some support to human workers and help minimize their exposure to unsafe conditions, they cannot replace their human counterparts. At the current level of robotics, total replacement would require an impossible degree of predictability of work environments. As one of the pioneers in the field of social robotics, Lucy Suchman, noted, “Robots work best when the world has been arranged in the way that they need it to be arranged.” Robots can function very well in factories and warehouses because assembly-line work provides a uniform environment; in homes and health care facilities, such uniformity is more difficult to achieve.

In the long run, though, robots may not always be so limited. Thus, it is critical that we consider not only whether robots can replace human workers—since someday the answer will surely be “yes”—but also whether they should. Indeed, the very attempt at automation represented by Grace and her cohort not only raises questions about the nature of work in general, but specifically about what it means to do care work. What does it mean to take care of another human being? And, in turn, what does it mean for an algorithm to care?...

We need to continue to explore the ethics of developing care robots, informed by critiques about current models of automation by researchers such as Pramod P. Khargonekar and Meera Sampath and what they propose as “socially responsible automation.” This model of automation suggests that there are ways that businesses can pursue automation while simultaneously investing in training and building the skills of human workers to adapt to this technology-driven workplace. Thus, the idea is not to simply replace human workers with a more efficient technology but to develop a workplace where robots and human workers can truly coexist.

But more importantly, I propose that the ethics of developing care robots must be based on a framework of labor justice that continues to develop remedies to the structural inequities that govern the lives and labor of essential workers. This can be done by supporting and adopting Senator Elizabeth Warren and Ro Khanna’s proposal for an Essential Workers Bill of Rights. The provisions of this bill would ensure that care workers are not only receiving a living wage and health care security, but that they also have access to child care and paid sick and medical leave.

I do not think that we can imagine a society without both human workers and robots. So, as roboticists work on developing care technologies, we need to attend to how the racialized and gendered perceptions get coded into the design. The guiding principle cannot solely address how best to simulate humanity, but instead concern how to center principles of justice and equity in designs for coding care. Only then will it be possible to produce algorithms that truly care.”


COVID-19: A Complex Systems Approach Papers and Commentaries via @stemacademic & @nntaleb; edited by @mb_ir, @normonics, and @ajmoralesguzman

“Selection of research papers on COVID-19 using agent-based models, cellular automata, networks, population dynamics, spatial-temporal patterns, risk management, tail-risk modeling, data analysis and visualization.

A few examples:

  • Policies and strategies to face outbreaks taking into account uncertainty and incomplete information.

  • Applications of probability and decision-making for contagion outbreaks.

  • Various simulation approaches for viral diffusion.

  • Use of observational data to account for natural patterns of human behavior in modeling and decision-making frameworks.”

Digital Download:

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

Cryptonomicon zooms all over the world, careening conspiratorially back and forth between two time periods—World War II and the present. Our 1940s heroes are the brilliant mathematician Lawrence Waterhouse, crypt analyst extraordinaire, and gung-ho, morphine-addicted marine Bobby Shaftoe. They're part of Detachment 2702, an Allied group trying to break Axis communication codes while simultaneously preventing the enemy from figuring out that their codes have been broken. Their job boils down to layer upon layer of deception. Dr. Alan Turing is also a member of 2702, and he explains the unit's strange workings to Waterhouse. "When we want to sink a convoy, we send out an observation plane first... Of course, to observe is not its real duty—we already know exactly where the convoy is. Its real duty is to be observed...

Then, when we come round and sink them, the Germans will not find it suspicious."
All of this secrecy resonates in the present-day story line, in which the grandchildren of the WWII heroes—inimitable programming geek Randy Waterhouse and the lovely and powerful Amy Shaftoe—team up to help create an offshore data haven in Southeast Asia and maybe uncover some gold once destined for Nazi coffers. To top off the paranoiac tone of the book, the mysterious Enoch Root, key member of Detachment 2702 and the Societas Eruditorum, pops up with an unbreakable encryption scheme left over from WWII to befuddle the 1990s protagonists with conspiratorial ties.”


Crime of the Century by @alexgibneyfilm from HBO

“A two-part documentary directed by Emmy and Academy Award winner Alex Gibney (HBO’s The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley and Going Clear: Scientology & the Prison of Belief), The Crime of the Century is a searing indictment of Big Pharma and the political operatives and government regulations that enable over-production, reckless distribution, and mass abuse of synthetic opiates.

Exploring the origins, extent, and fallout of one of the most devastating public health tragedies of our time, with half a million deaths from overdoses this century alone, the film reveals that America’s opioid epidemic is not a public health crisis that came out of nowhere.

With the help of whistleblowers, newly leaked documents, exclusive interviews, sobering testimony from victims of opioid addiction, and access to behind-the-scenes investigations, Gibney’s exposé posits that drug companies are in fact largely responsible for manufacturing the very crisis they profit from, to the tune of billions of dollars -- and thousands of lives.”

The Healthcare Divide (full documentary) | @frontlinepbs

“How pressure to increase profits and uneven government support are widening the divide between rich and poor hospitals, endangering care for low-income populations. With NPR and the Investigative Reporting Workshop.COVID has put a spotlight on disparities in American healthcare and the large urban hospitals hit hard by the pandemic. But many of these “safety net” hospitals, whose primary mission is to serve low-income, working-class communities, have been in crisis for years.”

From FRONTLINE producers Rick Young, Emma Schwartz & Fritz Kramer and NPR correspondent Laura Sullivan, “The Healthcare Divide” explores the growing inequities in American healthcare exposed by COVID-19 — and their consequences.

Related: Health care: America vs. the World

Can viruses be beneficial? | DW Documentary

“Viruses can be fatal, but some viruses can in fact be life-sustaining. The SARS-CoV-2 virus has killed large numbers of people during the current pandemic. But humans wouldn’t exist without viruses. How can they benefit us?

Viruses aren’t living beings, yet they have had a great influence on evolution. Some viral elements have embedded themselves into the human genome and reproduce along with us - so-called endogenous retroviruses. One type of virus helps form the placenta, for example, while other viruses attack harmful bacteria.

Viruses also maintain balance in marine ecosystems, curbing the growth of algae and attacking bacteria that are harmful to sea animals. Soon, viruses may even replace antibiotics in fish farming.

Thousands of viruses have already been sequenced, including Ebola, Zika and bird flu. Ebola is one of the deadliest viruses in the world, with a mortality rate of up to 90%. But experts see greater danger in the less deadly diseases like Spanish flu and COVID-19: Because they spread much further, they kill more people overall.

Viruses can also be used to create vaccines. In Rome, the shell of a virus found in gorilla feces has been used as a vector for the COVID-19 vaccine, turning a pathogen into a life-saving drug.”


On Contact: Pandemic! Via @ChrisLynnHedges

"On the show this week, the first of a two-part interview, Chris Hedges discuss the social, political, cultural economic ramifications of the pandemic with the philosopher Slavoj Zizek.

"Driven by demand to persevere and not to fail, as well as by the ambition of efficiency, we become committers and sacrificers at the same time and enter a swirl of demarcation, self-exploitation and collapse. When production is immaterial, everyone already owns the means of production him - or herself. The neoliberal system is no longer a class system in the proper sense. It does not consist of classes that display mutual antagonism. This is what accounts for the system's stability,"" Byung-Chul Han, argues in The Burnout Society, that subjects become self-exploiters. ""Today, everyone is an auto-exploiting laborer in his or her own enterprise. People are now master and slave in one. Even class struggle has transformed into an inner struggle against oneself."

@Wikipedia Founder @jimmy_wales on Facts, Knowledge and Governance - @interintellect_ SuperSalon

“On May 13, Wikipedia’s legendary founder Jimmy Wales joined us to discuss the contended nature of facts in the internet era, how this uncertainty affects our politics, relationships, identity and mindset, and what we can do about it.

The founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, seems to have single-handedly changed how we relate to information: an ironic statement for the boss of a crowdsourced platform of course, but for most generations alive today it is impossible to imagine – or even remember – a time without immediate, free, all-encompassing access to the world’s greatest online encyclopaedia, his invention.

A frequent target of authoritarian regimes intent on blocking access to a source of truth as well as trolls out to loosen people’s grasp on reality, and the everyday saviour or college students and friends who can’t settle a bet, it is no wonder if Jimmy today is engaged in multiple projects defending not just the crowdsourced building of verified content, but the due process of verification itself.

At this very special Interintellect salon, we explored the structures of human knowledge, how facts work, how they can be checked (if at all), what role social media plays in all this, and what you, the individual, can do amidst all this madness.”

Earth and Humanity: Myth and Reality via @NJHagens

“This synthesis is based on 15+ years of collaboration with a network of scientists and systems thinkers.  It highlights dozens of the core myths and stories prevalent in modern culture and contrasts them to our underlying biophysical (biological and physical) realities. There will be a web portal in near future going deeper on these topics for use in education and outreach as well as providing direction on societal interventions. Here is the chronological myth order and time stamp. They can be watched in any order, but this order makes the most sense (so we decided).”


Viral Visualizations: How Coronavirus Skeptics Use OrthodoxData Practices to Promote Unorthodox Science Online via (H/T: @commieleejones)

“Abstract: Controversial understandings of the coronavirus pandemic have turned data visualizations into a battleground. Defying public health officials, coronavirus skeptics on US social media spent much of2020 creating data visualizations showing that the government’s pandemic response was excessive and that the crisis was over. Thispaper investigates how pandemic visualizations circulated on social media, and shows that people who mistrust the scientific estab-lishment often deploy the same rhetorics of data-driven decision-making used by experts, but to advocate for radical policy changes.Using a quantitative analysis of how visualizations spread on Twit-ter and an ethnographic approach to analyzing conversations aboutCOVID data on Facebook, we document an epistemological gap that leads pro- and anti-mask groups to draw drastically different inferences from similar data. Ultimately, we argue that the deploy-ment of COVID data visualizations reflect a deeper sociopolitical rift regarding the place of science in public life.”

Investigate the origins of COVID-19 via @jbloom_lab, @Ayjchan, @Baric_lab, @bjorkmanlab, @sarahcobey, @DevermanLab, @DFisman, @GuptaR_lab, @VirusesImmunity, @mlipsitch, @RMedzhitov, @richardneher, @ras_nielsen, N.Patterson @StearnsLab, @NimwegenLab, @MichaelWorobey, @DavidRelman

“On 30 December 2019, the Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases notified the world about a pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan, China (1). Since then, scientists have made remarkable progress in understanding the causative agent, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), its transmission, pathogenesis, and mitigation by vaccines, therapeutics, and non-pharmaceutical interventions. Yet more investigation is still needed to determine the origin of the pandemic. Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable. Knowing how COVID-19 emerged is critical for informing global strategies to mitigate the risk of future outbreaks.

In May 2020, the World Health Assembly requested that the World Health Organization (WHO) director-general work closely with partners to determine the origins of SARS-CoV-2 (2). In November, the Terms of Reference for a China–WHO joint study were released (3). The information, data, and samples for the study's first phase were collected and summarized by the Chinese half of the team; the rest of the team built on this analysis. Although there were no findings in clear support of either a natural spillover or a lab accident, the team assessed a zoonotic spillover from an intermediate host as “likely to very likely,” and a laboratory incident as “extremely unlikely” [(4), p. 9]. Furthermore, the two theories were not given balanced consideration. Only 4 of the 313 pages of the report and its annexes addressed the possibility of a laboratory accident (4). Notably, WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus commented that the report's consideration of evidence supporting a laboratory accident was insufficient and offered to provide additional resources to fully evaluate the possibility (5).

As scientists with relevant expertise, we agree with the WHO director-general (5), the United States and 13 other countries (6), and the European Union (7) that greater clarity about the origins of this pandemic is necessary and feasible to achieve. We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data. A proper investigation should be transparent, objective, data-driven, inclusive of broad expertise, subject to independent oversight, and responsibly managed to minimize the impact of conflicts of interest. Public health agencies and research laboratories alike need to open their records to the public. Investigators should document the veracity and provenance of data from which analyses are conducted and conclusions drawn, so that analyses are reproducible by independent experts.

Finally, in this time of unfortunate anti-Asian sentiment in some countries, we note that at the beginning of the pandemic, it was Chinese doctors, scientists, journalists, and citizens who shared with the world crucial information about the spread of the virus—often at great personal cost (8,9). We should show the same determination in promoting a dispassionate science-based discourse on this difficult but important issue.”

Twitter thread:

The Numbers: Encountering Casualties in the Era of Covid-19* - @marydudziak

“But the numbers have become a concrete wall. Their opacity makes them numbing. The numbness is paralyzing.

I found this paralysis to be puzzling. After all, death has become an academic interest of mine. I have been writing about war and death: about the way American war’s persistence, and its geographic distance from the U.S. polity, renders war an abstraction, undermining political engagement with armed conflict. In the words of World War II reporter Ernie Pyle, quoted in my SHAFR Presidential Lecture: “You didn’t see him lying so grotesque and pasty beside the gravel road in France.” Those on the battlefield “saw him by the multiple thousands. That’s the difference.”5 Geographic distance is a central component of my analysis. It distinguishes the Civil War, fought on U.S. soil, from the contemporary experience of war for U.S. civilians. Historian Drew Gilpin Faust shows the profound impact of Civil War death on U.S. society and culture, generating a “republic of suffering.”6 Contemporary distant wars are instead met with widespread apathy…

Covid-19 is a close-up daily experience for many. People defined as “essential workers”—from healthcare providers to postal carriers to meatpacking workers—navigate the danger. Prisoners are incarcerated within it. It has had a pronounced impact on communities of color.30 The very idea of “social distancing” as protection against illness assumes a liberty that is defied by inequality.31

In many U.S. neighborhoods, however, the sound of the pandemic has been silence. As I write, ambulance sirens rarely break the quiet, even though I am less than a mile from a major hospital. As of today, August 7, 2020, overcrowding at the Emory University Hospital is “severe,” with Emergency and Intensive Care Unit patients diverted to other hospitals.32 In other words, the situation very near my home is dire. Yet my street is quiet. I hear birds and occasional vehicles. I do not hear the sound of hospital machinery working to keep Covid-19 patients alive. I do not hear when it shuts down. I do not know when an exhausted medical worker makes the call to report that a dear one has died. I do not see the body, or the body bag, or the transport vehicle. The experience of catastrophe is fueled by and reconfigures politics, but knowing this does not cast off a blanket of grief. I am left with the stories I stumble upon, like the loss of Cosmas Magaya. And I am left with cold tables of numbers.”


Breath via @RadioLab

“We’ve just barely made it to the other side of a year that took our collective breaths away. So more than ever we felt that this was the time to go deep on life’s rhythmic dance partner. Today we huff and we puff through a whole stack of stories about breath. We talk to scientists, musicians, activists, and breath mint experts, and try to climb into the very center of this thing we all do, are all doing right now, and now, and now.”

How It Started, How It's Going via @onthemedia

“A year and a half into the pandemic, we still don’t know how it began. This week, a look at how investigating COVID-19’s origins became a political and scientific minefield. Plus, how a mistake of microns caused so much confusion about how COVID spreads. And, making sense of the "metaverse."

1. Alina Chan [@Ayjchan], postdoctoral researcher at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, on the lack of investigation into COVID's origins. Listen.

2. Megan Molteni [@MeganMolteni], science writer at Stat News, on the 60-year-old mix-up that helped COVID-10 kill. Listen.

3. Gene Park [@GenePark], gaming reporter for The Washington Post, on what the "metaverse" really means. Listen.

4. Margaret Atwood [@MargaretAtwood], novelist, on submitting a manuscript to a library of the future.”

Bad Idea Machine via @onthemedia

“With Delta Variant cases surging, public health officials are pleading with Americans to get vaccinated ASAP. This week, we examine at how some journalists are turning anti-vaxxer deaths into COVID-19 fables. Plus, we hear from the reporter who tracked down Jeffrey Epstein’s victims.

1. Rebecca Onion [@rebeccaonion], historian and staff writer at Slate, on her latest article "The Fable of the Sick Anti-Vaxxer," and how stories of remorse may only appeal to the vaccinated. Plus, NBC senior reporter and OTM guest host Brandy Zadrozny [@BrandyZadrozny] traces the roots of anti-vaxx propaganda, from the 1980s to today. Listen.

3. Lois Beckett [@loisbeckett], senior reporter at the Guardian, on how a viral anti-trans Instagram video led to a street brawl, and Julia Serano [@JuliaSerano], author of "Whipping Girl, A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity," on where the anti-trans movement gets its playbook. Listen.

4. Julie K. Brown [@jkbjournalist], investigative reporter at the Miami Herald, on her new book, "Perversion of Justice: The Jeffrey Epstein Story," detailing what she saw missing in the decade of Epstein coverage before her own investigative series at the Herald which brought his victims' voices on the record for the first time.”

TED Talks

Coronavirus Is Our Future | @alanna_shaikh | TEDxSMU

“Global health expert Alanna Shaikh talks about the current status of the 2019 nCov coronavirus outbreak and what this can teach us about the epidemics yet to come.  

Alanna Shaikh is a global health consultant and executive coach who specializes in individual, organizational and systemic resilience. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and a master’s degree in public health from Boston University. She has lived in seven countries and it the author of What’s Killing Us: A Practical Guide to Understanding Our Biggest Global Health Problems. Recent article publications include an article on global health security in Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper and an essay in the Annual Review of Comparative and International Education. She blogs on coaching and personal resilience at”

Why COVID-19 Will Never End | Kawing (Christina) Hui | TEDxBranksomeHallAsia

"But what if I told you, it won’t. Even if the covid-19 virus vanishes from our planet, we are still at risk. The amount of new infectious diseases emerging will continue to increase and one of the major factors contributing to that issue is the all too familiar crisis - climate change and resource scarcity."

Epistemic insight: engaging with life's Big Questions | Berry Billingsley | TEDxFolkestone

“We all grow up wondering about the so-called Big Questions. Young people these days have the challenge of trying to come up with answers that make sense of what we see, know and do thanks to science and technology. Questions such as: Can robots become persons? Will they one day claim that they own their own thoughts? Why does the Earth exist and is there a purpose to life? What's the best way to keep each other safe and well during a pandemic? Are computers better at making decisions for us and at driving our cars than we are?”


north america is in the midst of a worsening mega drought, increasing the probability that any of a number of events could lead to a black swan-like economic/social crisis... (1/n)


The Worst Pandemics in History - What Do They Teach Us? Via AfterSkool

“Pandemics are disease epidemics that have spread across a large region, for instance, multiple continents, or worldwide. A widespread endemic. Throughout history, there have been a number of pandemics of diseases such as smallpox and tuberculosis. One of the most devastating pandemics was the Black Death, which killed an estimated 100–200 million people in the 14th century. Current pandemics include HIV/AIDS and the 2019 coronavirus disease. Other notable pandemics include the 1918 influenza pandemic (Spanish flu) and the 2009 flu pandemic (H1N1).”

How Social Media Divides Us via @JakeOrthwein for @psych_of_tech

“The Psychology of Technology Institute is excited to present our brand new video essay on Outrage & Polarization. The video describes how social media deranges our politics and what we can do to fix it. It features insights from three amazing scholars: Molly Crockett, PTI Advisor Jonathan Haidt, and PTI Policy Director Kamy Akhavan. We describe how better research can empower individuals to use these platforms more wisely, as well as informing designers and policymakers how to improve them.”

The Overview Effect: Nicholas McCay (Eclectic Spacewalk) via @amurshak for @agora_politics

“Nicholas McCay is a writer, author, and creator of the Eclectic Spacewalk project.

Here he explains the influence of the Overview Effect on his work.”

Watch the full interview:


Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19) via @ourworldindata

“Coronavirus Country Profiles: We built 207 country profiles which allow you to explore the statistics on the coronavirus pandemic for every country in the world.

In a fast-evolving pandemic it is not a simple matter to identify the countries that are most successful in making progress against it. For a comprehensive assessment, we track the impact of the pandemic across our publication and we built country profiles for 207 countries to study in depth the statistics on the coronavirus pandemic for every country in the world.

Each profile includes interactive visualizations, explanations of the presented metrics, and the details on the sources of the data. Every country profile is updated daily.”

Anthropocene Curriculum

“What is the Anthropocene Curriculum? The Anthropocene Curriculum is a long-term initiative that explores frameworks for critical knowledge and education in our ongoing transition into a new, human dominated geological epoch—the Anthropocene. The project draws together heterogeneous knowledge practices, inviting academics, artists, and activists from around the world to co-develop curricular experiments that collectively respond to this crisis of the customary. It does this by producing experimental co-learning situations and research possibilities for transdisciplinary collaboration that are capable of explicitly tackling the epistemic and geo-social dimensions of knowledge that are at stake in this new epoch.

What should a body of “earthbound” knowledge contain that traverses from the global to the local and back? What forms of knowledge transmission are appropriate and lasting in these trans-scalar conditions and mutual interdependencies? Taking into account issues of access and agency, asymmetrical justice, traditional knowledge forms, and ways of inhabiting the Earth, the project accounts for the varied means of experience and seeks to find a common ground for future scholarship and practice.”

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