Monday, March 23, 2020

China's Bat Woman

Really interesting article:BEIJING—The mysterious patient samples arrived at Wuhan Institute of Virology at 7 P.M. on December 30, 2019. Moments later, Shi Zhengli’s cell phone rang. It was her boss, the institute’s director. The Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention had detected a novel coronavirus in two hospital patients with atypical pneumonia, and it wanted Shi’s renowned laboratory to investigate. If the finding was confirmed, the new pathogen could pose a serious public health threat—because it belonged to the same family of bat-borne viruses as the one that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a disease that plagued 8,100 people and killed nearly 800 of them between 2002 and 2003. “Drop whatever you are doing and deal with it now,” she recalls the director saying.

Shi—a virologist who is often called China’s “bat woman” by her colleagues because of her virus-hunting expeditions in bat caves over the past 16 years—walked out of the conference she was attending in Shanghai and hopped on the next train back to Wuhan. “I wondered if [the municipal health authority] got it wrong,” she says. “I had never expected this kind of thing to happen in Wuhan, in central China.” Her studies had shown that the southern, subtropical areas of Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan have the greatest risk of coronaviruses jumping to humans from animals—particularly bats, a known reservoir for many viruses. If coronaviruses were the culprit, she remembers thinking, “could they have come from our lab?”

...In many bat dwellings Shi has sampled, including Shitou Cave, “constant mixing of different viruses creates a great opportunity for dangerous new pathogens to emerge,” says Ralph Baric, a virologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And in the vicinity of such viral melting pots, Shi says, “you don’t need to be a wildlife trader to be infected.”

...On the train back to Wuhan on December 30 last year, Shi and her colleagues discussed ways to immediately start testing the patient samples. In the following weeks—the most intense and the most stressful time of her life—China’s bat woman felt she was fighting a battle in her worst nightmare, even though it was one she had been preparing for over the past 16 years. Using a technique called polymerase chain reaction, which can detect a virus by amplifying its genetic material, the first round of tests showed that samples from five of seven patients contained genetic sequences known to be present in all coronaviruses.

...By January 7 the Wuhan team determined that the new virus had indeed caused the disease those patients suffered—a conclusion based on results from polymerase chain reaction analysis, full genome sequencing, antibody tests of blood samples and the virus’s ability to infect human lung cells in a petri dish. The genomic sequence of the virus—now officially called SARS-CoV-2 because it is related to the SARS pathogen—was 96 percent identical to that of a coronavirus the researchers had identified in horseshoe bats in Yunnan, they reported in a paper published last month in Nature. “It’s crystal clear that bats, once again, are the natural reservoir,” says Daszak, who was not involved in the study.
In 2004, an international team of scientists takes blood and swab samples from bats at night in order to discover potential bat-borne pathogens.

...Many scientists say the world should move beyond merely responding to deadly pathogens when they arise. “The best way forward is prevention,” Daszak says. Because 70 percent of animal-borne emerging infectious diseases come from wild creatures, “where we should start is to find all those viruses in wildlife globally and develop better diagnostic tests,” he adds. Doing so would essentially mean rolling out what researchers such as Daszak and Shi have been doing on a much bigger scale.

Such efforts should focus on high-risk viral groups in certain mammals prone to coronavirus infections, such as bats, rodents, badgers, civets, pangolins, and nonhuman primates, Daszak says. He adds that developing countries in the tropics, where wildlife diversity is greatest, should be the front line of this battle against viruses.

...Back in Wuhan, China’s bat woman has decided to retire from the front line of virus-hunting expeditions. “But the mission must go on,” says Shi, who will continue to lead research programs. “What we have uncovered is just the tip of an iceberg.” Daszak’s team has estimated that there are as many as 5,000 coronavirus strains waiting to be discovered in bats globally. Shi is planning a national project to systematically sample viruses in bat caves—with much greater scope and intensity than her team’s previous attempts.

“Bat-borne coronaviruses will cause more outbreaks,” she says with a tone of brooding certainty. “We must find them before they find us.”

"Hey, I Didn't Even Eat the Mousse!"

The GOP Embraces Death

A breathtaking new leap by the Republicans, to literally sacrifice the nation's elderly to disease, in order to preserve a good economy, family values be damned.

As long as the GOP runs on this death platform in November!
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Monday night that he's "not living in fear" of the novel coronavirus pandemic and is "all in" on lifting social distancing guidelines recommended by public health experts in order to help the economy.

Patrick, who said he turns 70 next week, would be among the high-risk population that is most affected by the coronavirus. But he said people like him have to weigh the hazards to their personal health that the virus poses with the challenges to health of the American economy brought on by social distancing guidelines.

"No one reached out to me and said, 'As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?' And if that is the exchange, I'm all in," Patrick told Fox News.

He added, "My messages is that let's get back to work, let's get back to living. Let's be smart about it and those of us who are 70+, we'll take care of ourselves. But don't sacrifice the country."

Answer to Question No One Asked

Sunday, March 22, 2020


Harvey Weinstein has been exposed to coronavirus:
According to the Niagara-Gazette, the ailing and aging Weinstein is being housed in the notorious Rikers Island jail, where there are reports of two cases of the virus. It’s unclear if Weinstein was the first case or if he contracted it from that case.
Rand Paul too:
Paul’s Twitter account announced “Senator Rand Paul has tested positive for COVID-19. He is feeling fine and is in quarantine. He is asymptomatic and was tested out of an abundance of caution due to his extensive travel and events. He was not aware of any direct contact with any infected person,” making him the first senator to be afflicted.

Social Distance

Better Air Quality

I was curious how far air pollution levels had fallen in the South Coast due to coronavirus, so I plotted up 24-hour average PM2.5 levels (Particulate Matter less than 2.5 micron diameter) for a normally fairly-polluted site (Long Beach) for the last month.

It looks like typical levels have fallen about half, from 14 to 7 ug/m3.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Had Just Laid Down on the Couch. Sat Up.

Felt this quake yesterday evening. Entertainment center made a noise.

M 4.5 - 6km N of Johnson Lane, Nevada
2020-03-21 01:33:35 (UTC)
39.111°N 119.736°W 8.4 km depth

Friday, March 20, 2020

Went to the DMV Today

Hardly anybody in the parking lot! Still, I was greeted by people who said do everything online. Basically, the message was the same as that voiced here near the start:

World of Hurt for the Non-Profits

Survival mode:
Nonprofit leaders and boards: Be tough-minded. Nonprofits must go into cash-conservation mode. It is hard to stiff vendors, lay people off, furlough or reduce pay or take advantage of eviction-stays to simply not pay the rent. But a tough restructuring allowing for survival and the continuation of the mission (which is a nonprofit's sole reason for being) is far better than hitting the wall and closing up shop altogether.

Sleeping Under The Kitchen Table

V.K. is an actress friend from Utah who did several shows at DMTC a few years ago, notably 2015's "Sweeney Todd," which I stage-managed.

V.K. got rattled by the earthquakes near Salt Lake City, and responded to my Facebook post about it:

V.K.: I've been in it. The first earthquake woke me up and the aftershocks have been almost non stop.

M.V.: Hi! Hope you are well. You're down around Midvale, right? Theater was cancelled at lightning speed around here due to coronavirus. Same with you?

V.K.: I'm in West Jordan. Theater has been cancelled too and Evermore where I worked shut down temporarily.

M.V.: So sad! Could do a plague primer there, but reality is a little too close.

V.K.: Yeah, I'm just hoping all this crazy stuff calms down soon. I'm honestly okay being quarantined for a bit because its been giving me more time to spend with my family and to write, but the earthquakes are not that cool haha.

M.V.: Nature isn't cooperating. Could self-isolate outside in the cold.

V.K.: Utah has been over do for a huge earthquake for awhile. This was was big and did some damage but wasn't too big. I'm hoping the aftershocks are keeping a bigger earthquake at bay for the future. It's very unlikely that one greater than the 5.6 hits very soon, but my family is all sleeping upstairs and we've got our jackets and shoes right by the door. I'm currently held up in a fort underneath my kitchen table and sleeping with my dog. Aftershocks have been somewhat tame for the most part, we had a couple 4.0's and one 4.6 I believe and they've been pretty constant up until a couple hours ago. I believe we've had more than a hundred by now.

V.K.: There was a big power outage for some people. Airport started flooding and we had a chemical spill in one of the mines as well. Today has been a very interesting day.

M.V.: I wonder why the airport started flooding? I'm glad you are keeping your dog company, and have a shield over you both. Still, uncomfortable. I have a friend in New Zealand who had a major quake nearly under his house. He said the ground trembled nearly constantly for a couple of months. Hope things calm down for you.

V.K.: I'm hoping they do too. The first earthquake was the scariest. I have major anxiety so when I woke up my brain wasn't processing what was happening. I just remember the whole room shaking and things beginning to fall off the walls and bookshelves. It felt like our house was just a toy being shaken by a little kid. I always slept through the earthquakes in California. This one was loud though. Mother earth sounded very angry.

M.V.: That experience of waking up in confusion. I once had that. I woke up to a big boom. I jumped up and ran outside. I saw a glow on the horizon and thought it was a huge fire in the distance. Then, suddenly, I was wet. I slowly realized the glow was from distant city lights and the boom was from thunder. There was a little thundercloud right above the house.

V.K.: Yeah my first thought was that someone dropped a bomb. It was a lot like that dream I feel a lot of people have, where you're falling and as soon as you hit the ground you wake up. It felt like that, except I was awake. I'm having a hard time falling asleep because I don't want to wake up to that again. Luckily I'm under the table so I don't have as much of a fear that the ceiling is going to crush me.

M.V.: Right! Take care, and keep your dog from getting overly-anxious too.

V.K.: I've got three haha. They've actually been really good through out all of this and they listen to me when I tell them to get under the table. They can sense it a little before each one happens. I can see their ears perking up and I know its time to get under the table again

M.V.: Wow! Good to have those dogs with you!

V.K.: Yes! I was worried that they would try to run when the aftershocks hit, but they're starting to get into the routine of going under the table now. Nala, my rottie has been extremely sweet too. She's usually very puppy like, but today she's been sleeping at my feet or sitting calmly by my side. I'm not sure if she's scared or if she's trying to be protective, but its good to know she's got my back.

M.V.: Are you in school these days, or has it been cancelled?

V.K.: I've just been working, but most schools have been cancelled because of the virus

M.V.: Is Evermore fun?

V.K.: Yes, very. They have a wonderful group of actors and a great community.

M.V.: Well, time to walk my dog (I'm a night owl, and prowl the streets at night). The very best to you!

V.K.: You as well! Stay safe!

More Coronavirus

Remember, this guy flunked out of Yuba Community College:
Rep. Don Young (R-AK) poked fun at the fatal COVID-19 outbreak and dismissed the notion of taking cautionary measures to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.

Young made the comments during a meeting on Friday with senior citizens and members of the state’s Chamber of Commerce in Palmer, Alaska, according to the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman. The comments were first reported this week.

“This ‘beer virus’ I call it – they call it a coronavirus, I call it a beer virus, how do you like that? – it attacks our senior citizens,” he said. “Now I’m one of you. I still say we have to as a nation, as a state to go forth with our everyday activities.”

I love Randy Rainbow!

Missed this, but love it!

The U.S. May Lead On This

Neighborhood Watch

On last night's walk, Jasper and I rounded the corner where Jasper's girlfriend, a mini-dachshund named Ladybug, lives in an upstairs apartment with her two owners, J. & M. At the corner across the street, a man was straining to reach high up a telephone pole - and also humping the telephone pole. Jasper and I walked past, and crossed the street. The strange man stopped humping the telephone pole and started striding towards us.

Then I heard a female voice, unseen, coming from somewhere. I've seen a crazy woman lingering around the corner lately, and figured it might be her. The man stopped, began saying something, and started walking away, towards the railroad. I still couldn't pin down the female voice.

Just then I noticed the voice was coming from Ladybug's owners' apartment. Apparently J. had witnessed the strange man start to approach me. "He was trying to get close to you. No way was I going to let that happen," she said.

It's nice to have neighbors that keep an eye out for you.

Two Hymns

On the occasion of Rachel's Great Aunt's Alice Vaught's funeral.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Bad Year For Rain, But Great Year For Flowers!

This bush by the back yard gate really went nuts!

Woodland Opera House's "Of Mice and Men" - March 7, 2020

John Ewing, Jason Hammond, and the rest of the crew did an amazing job with John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men." Very tense at times. Director Gil Sebastian mentioned how nice it was and how the actors took direction very well (seven of the ten actors were directors as well, so they understood and implemented his instructions).

Sacramento's Tower Bridge

Impressed by the Very Tight Cluster of Earthquakes

Biggest, magnitude M5.7, just east of the Kennecott tailings pond, near the shore of the Great Salt Lake, just west of Salt Lake City.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Census Enumerator

In a world of gig work, I may have found a new niche for summer: as a census enumerator. We'll see what lies ahead.

World of Hurt in the Rainy Season

We finally are getting a little bit of rain after a desiccated two months at the height of the California rainy season. We have only one month left and here in Sacramento we are only at 45% of a normal rainy season. It's hopeless, but we've got to get as much as possible now before the summer heat and the dread fires come.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Rule of Planets in Solar Systems

The pattern I found on that sunny afternoon: planets in the same system tend to be the same size. For example, if one planet is 1.5 times the radius of Earth, the other planets in the system are very likely to be 1.5 times the radius of Earth, plus or minus a little bit.

This is not at all what my colleagues and I expected. In our solar system, planets range from the size of Mercury (less than half the radius of Earth) to Jupiter (more than ten times the radius of Earth). The whole population of exoplanets discovered by Kepler ranges from one quarter the size of Earth to about twenty times the size of Earth. Yet, despite this wide range of possible sizes, planets tend to be about the same sizes as their neighbors. One of my collaborators decided they looked like “peas in a pod,” and that moniker became our shorthand for the pattern.

The Upside: More Republicans Will Die Than Democrats

Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.

Communists Used to be the Enemy of Capitalism. Now, It's Little Viral Bits

And why does his background happen to be that of downtown Albuquerque? Is ABQ the last bastion of reasonableness in America? It would be the first time ever ABQ had that role:

“I am TIRED of all this, “we have to err on the side of caution” BULL SH*T. WE HAVE TO GET BACK TO REASONABLENESS DAMMIT. It’s the DAMN FLU. Stop being afraid and start being SENSIBLE. WASH YOUR FUCK*NG HANDS! STOP BUYING TOILET PAPER. DO YOU FUC*ING HEAR ME????”

A Good Description of Exponential Growth and "Flattening the Curve"

Like the Monte-Carlo-like simulations in this link. We're still in the exponential growth part. The curve won't flatten for some weeks.

Kevin Drum has his charts showing we are following Italy's footsteps.

This chart too.

Too Soon

Ethics Training w/ Kim Wexler: Self-Care - Better Call Saul


Unexpected, but here it is:
The nation's nerds woke up in a utopia this morning, one where everyone stays inside, sporting events are being canceled, and all social interaction is forbidden.

All types of nerds, from social introverts to hardcore PC gamers, welcomed the dawn of this new era, privately from their own homes.

"I have been waiting my whole life for this moment," said Ned Pendleton, 32 -- via text message, of course -- as he fired up League of Legends on his beefy gaming PC. "They told me to take up a sport and that the kids playing basketball and stuff were gonna be way more successful than us nerds who played Counter-Strike at LAN parties every weekend."

"They all laughed at me. Well, who's laughing now?"