They Oppose: Because only the elite deserve a life

I’ll admit Biden’s proposal of free community college for everyone is a good one.  It may mean only Associate’s Degrees or Trade Certificates and not Bachelor’s Degrees for all, but an educated populace is better for a country.

Biden’s American Families Plan could make free college a reality

As part of a massive new spending package, President Joe Biden is calling on Congress to enact legislation to allow students to enroll in community college at no cost.

The administration’s American Families Plan calls for $109 billion to make two years of community college free for all students in addition to a roughly $85 billion investment in Pell Grants to decrease the reliance on student loans.

Under Biden’s plan, about 5.5 million students would pay no tuition or fees, the White House said.

The average year’s tuition at US community colleges is less than US$5000, With a two year diploma, people could to earn roughly $500-2000 per month more and pay higher taxes over their lifetime.  The investment in free college will pay for itself over time.

But, of course, rightwingnuts want no part of that. . .or should I say, they want no one but the wealthy to have any part of it.  Fox Nuisance has begun its usual and inevitable propaganda push to make white boomers think they’ll have to pay for everything.  Then again, why shouldn’t they?  College was cheap when they attended in the 1960s, unlike today.

‘Fox & Friends’ Argues Against Free College: ‘There’s Something Called A Scholarship’

“Fox & Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt has some no-cost advice for supporters of free college for all: Go get a scholarship.

Earhardt on Wednesday mocked the White House’s new spending and tax plan as she discussed it with co-hosts Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy ahead of President Joe Biden’s first speech to a joint session of Congress. Biden’s American Families Plan aims to spend $1.8 trillion over the next decade to reverse income inequality, including free prekindergarten and free community college.

“Think about free college,” Earhardt said. “If your family doesn’t make a lot of money, there’s something called a scholarship. You can apply for that right now. We don’t have to give free college to every single person. … If you’ve worked your tail off to get into the college, then they can give you a scholarship. When you deserve it.”

Those “scholarships” that rightwingnuts call a solution?  Academically, they are few and far between.  As for sports “scholarships”, athletes rarely receive degrees because they’re not allowed to attend classes, or the ‘degrees’ they get in basketweaving have no value in the real world.  “Skip class for practice or you lose your scholarship” is a constant threat.

Athletes are getting degrees, but does that actually mean anything?

[The NCAA claims] that it’s doing a great service to all athletes, just because those athletes get degrees. The reality? Simply getting a degree doesn’t necessarily cut it.

The NCAA’s argument ignores the fact that some degrees are worth far more than others. Athletes are routinely clustered into majors that don’t set them up to succeed later in life, mainly because those majors are easy enough for athletes to focus on their sport.

If an athlete majors in interdepartmental studies or general studies, either because that’s all they could handle or the coach tells them to, has the school done that student a service? Is that athlete really going to have a “degree to fall back on” if sports don’t work out, as the NCAA often touts?

The college sports industry will also strongly oppose free education.  If your education is guaranteed and you can play as a walk on, you can tell your coach to get stuffed and attend class instead of practice.  Young people can and may begin to choose not to put their health at risk because they don’t have to.  Sports will become an option, not a requirement.

One person who did get a “scholarship” was football player Geno Hayes.  I say was because he died on Wednesday, and football probably killed him.

Ex-NFL Linebacker Geno Hayes Dead At Age 33

Geno Hayes, a former NFL linebacker who starred at Florida State, has died. He was 33.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers confirmed his death Tuesday. He had liver disease and had been in hospice care at his parents’ home in Valdosta, Georgia.

[. . .]

Hayes told ESPN he believes his use of over-the-counter pain medications while in the NFL, as well as his family’s history of liver disease, led to his condition.

He is survived by his parents and two children, ages 8 and 13.

That is what rightwingnuts call an “education solution”?

Called Out: For what it really is, othering

Jules Gill-Peterson, writer for Jewish Currents, has published an essay on the far right obsession with and attempts to legislate against Transgender and Non-Binary people.  I have already thought the same ideas, but she put them into a complete thoughts and argument.  And where she accuses the extremists of their worst actions, she goes where you think she’s going, accurately and aptly compares them to the worst regimes of human history.

All the emphases in the text are mine.  The entire item is worth reading.

The Anti-Trans Lobby’s Real Agenda

THIS YEAR, over 100 anti-transgender bills have been introduced in more than 25 state legislatures, the vast majority of them banning trans kids, especially girls, from participating in organized sports in school, as well as prohibiting or even criminalizing the delivery of gender-affirming healthcare. One of these bills was North Dakota’s HB 1476, which sought, in its own words, to “prohibit the state from creating or enforcing policies that directly or symbolically respect nonsecular self-asserted sex-based identity narratives or sexual orientation orthodoxy.” This long, wordy proposal categorized trans people, transition-related healthcare for minors, same-sex marriage, drag queens, and any sexual orientation other than hetero as expressions of a “religion” called “secular humanism.”

Introduced on January 18th by a group of five conservative House members, and withdrawn from further consideration only three days later, HB 1476 generated no debate or commentary on the record, and triggered only a limited response from journalists and progressive groups. […]

The logic of HB 1476, however evidently forced, tells us much about how to understand the larger flood of anti-trans bills. Liberals have tended to see these bills as promoting a straightforward form of irrational discrimination toward trans youth that flouts the expert opinion of major medical organizations. Some more astute critics, meanwhile, have contended that the bills are in a sense not really about trans people at all, but are instead a cruel though also somewhat arbitrary effort to raise funds and appeal to the evangelical base of the Republican party in the run-up to the 2022 midterm elections. In fact, the right-wing proponents of this legislative avalanche have greater ambitions than mere electoral dominance. As HB 1476 shows, this legislative tactic is an attempt to use trans people as a pretext for a broader reformation of civil life and citizenship to advance an authoritarian, Christian state policy on sex and gender. From this vantage point, it shares its strongest affinities with antisemitic, Islamophobic, and New Jim Crow-era anti-Black politics; it is also an example of settler colonial logic, since the state’s indigenous population would find its Two-Spirit cultures and practices disestablished under the law. 

On first read, many observers were struck by the apparently flagrant contradiction between Republican efforts to pass “religious liberty” laws to codify private discrimination against gay, lesbian, and transgender people, and HB 1476’s tactic of labeling trans people “a nonsecular sham,” framing them as adherents to a religion that the state cannot endorse. Rather than a fatal contradiction, however, this incongruity in fact points to a skillful manipulation of the ambiguous concept of state secularism. By promoting implicitly Christian policy in the name of religious neutrality, and advancing a notion of universalism that is in fact based in Christian particularism, the bill’s authors in effect characterize a range of non-Christian identities—transness, but also Muslim and Jewish identities—as incompatible with the mores of the public sphere. The apparent contradiction is not one that these laws aim to resolve, but to exploit.

What looks like legal amateurism is in fact the most open expression to date of the larger political strategy of anti-trans legislation, which trans activists have speculated is presently undergoing an authoritarian and evangelically-driven escalation. While a first wave of bills, which were signed into law in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas in March, ban both pediatric trans healthcare and participation in sports, the most recent slate of bills—advanced in the past month by right-wing groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Heritage Foundation, and the Family Research Council—proposes much harsher interventions. These new bills conform with the logic of HB 1476 whereby the state must aggressively attack, not merely prohibit support for, trans youth. A Texas bill would label supporting trans children child abuse, allowing the state to forcibly remove children from their homes and place them in foster care (where, presumably, they could be adopted by a Christian family). A North Carolina bill would force teachers to out any children who display what they perceive to be gender non-conforming behavior to school officials and their parents. And a recently passed bill in Florida opens the door to requiring physical, genital inspections of young children to assign them a sex for school sports under the law. While these bills are commonly cloaked in secularized language about countering allegedly unnatural “gender ideology,” they also importantly enlarge the authoritarian scope of the state to subject trans youth to forms of cultural conversion based in an evangelical understanding of the gender binary. Seeing these bills in the context of their larger political strategy, it becomes clear that simply insisting on trans kids’ right to inclusion and individual liberty does not constitute an adequate defense against the agenda of the Christian right.

Labelling health care and acceptance as “abuse”.

Removing children from their homes and placing them in abusive environments, exactly what was done to First Nations and Indigenous people in Canada, the US, Australia and elsewhere.

Othering and criminalizing people’s very existence.

Gill-Peterson goes on to make the direct link between their actions and motivations.  “The second axis“, what apt language for the far right’s intent:

The current wave of bills attacking trans children follow this playbook. A close look at HB 1476 suggests that there are two steps to this process. The first is to declare trans people uncivil, aberrations from the desired norms of the state and the law, and therefore unworthy of the status and privileges accorded to citizens. (In this case, trans people are accused of adhering to the religion of “secular humanism” in violation of the political contract for participating publicly in the secular state.) This would effectively mean the state deeming trans people incapable of belonging to national life, leaving them without access to the public sphere, state benefits, or the ability to challenge discrimination and violence. The second axis of the bill’s logic justifies the state’s withdrawal of public welfare in arenas like healthcare, education, and civil rights for all but the Christian ethnostate’s privileged ruling class. In this light, Republican religious liberty bills do not contradict legislation like HB 1476, but complement it. While the state imagines emancipating itself from trans people by defining them as unfit for citizenship, religious liberty bills enshrine Christianity as the de facto state religion. In doing so, they reframe the openly eugenic policy of banning trans children’s healthcare as a positive claim about whose lives are being selected by the state as most valuable.

Trans children are particularly useful props in this argument, as the figure of the child has long been the sentimental stand-in for the nation and—by extension, in its most extremist manifestations—the “race.” Since at least the antebellum period, as historians have detailed, the racial innocence invested in the figure of the white child has served as an anchor of proper American political feeling. Statecraft and governance often invoke the hypothetical child’s welfare and protection as a justification for dismissing real people’s political demands. The politics of “protecting” the innocent white child have rationalized the disposability of entire populations, like immigrants, the descendants of enslaved people, criminals, people with disabilities, and so-called deviants. Today we are witnessing trans children’s addition to this list. The resulting eugenic arithmetic is far from hidden: Trans children, according to this ideology, are not innocent due to their supposed corruption by “gender ideology” and medicalization, which are in reality indictments of their self-knowledge and active trans desire; they therefore must be ejected from the boundaries of the nation in order that “women and girls” be protected from them, or protected from transness. This is how a bill that claims to promote safety or ensure fairness can save itself from the obvious objection that in fact it does the very opposite.

This time it’s not racial purity, it’s cisgender heterosexual purity.  The target may be different, but the tactics, intent, hate, and violence are exactly the same.

White people can’t become a minority of the voting population soon enough.

Reality Check: And balances the budget

Joe Biden is still a massive failure in many respects (re: the child abuse of the concentration camps).  And I don’t share others’ positive response to his dictum that shelters must provide access to Transgender people.  Where was that change in January when Trans people were left homeless on the street in a viciously cold winter?

What did impress me this week was his aim to fund the IRS with $80 billion dollars.  When the IRS budget was cut, it couldn’t afford to chase the big fish, the billionaire tax cheats, so it focused on average people because it cost a lot less to investigate.  With money to spend and cheats to catch, it’s estimated that as much as US$700 million to US$1 trillion could be recouped in unpaid taxes – on top of the tax increases on the ultra-rich.  That is something which will make a difference.

Biden seeks $80 billion to boost IRS enforcement

President Joe Biden will seek $80 billion to fund enhanced Internal Revenue Service enforcement of high-earners to help pay for his American Families Plan, which he is set to unveil later this week, two sources briefed on the proposal told CNN.

The administration believes the enhanced measures to crack down on tax evasion will increase revenue for the government by $700 billion, although some outside experts are skeptical and the Congressional Budget Office — the accepted scorekeeper — is unlikely to project that much revenue.

As CNN has reported, this is a component of how Biden plans to finance his proposal, with the tax increases on the individual side for the wealthy making up a more significant and tangible chunk.
Previous administrations have touted beefing up IRS enforcement to raise money, and while there are definitely large sums that can be pulled in, it remains to be seen whether it will be as much as Biden’s team thinks.

The naysayers sound like propagandists for the rich.  Even if the IRS recouped only US$100 billion in unpaid taxes, it’s still worth the investment and the effort.

It was the Reagan mis-administration which invented the racist term and farcically false notion of “voodoo economics”, the lie that lowering taxes on the wealthy would increase tax revenues because “people would be more honest and pay their taxes”.  Reagan and his financial fraudster Dick Darman didn’t actually say “on the wealthy”, but that’s who benefitted from it, not the average citizen.  It was a lie because cheats would cheat anyway, even if they were taxed less.

Instead of “voodoo economics”, Biden’s attempted policy of “spend taxes to collect taxes” could be called Overdue Economics.  This level of taxation has been overdue for decades, and the billionairs who are overdue should pay hefty fines.

If Biden really wants to impress people and increase revenues, subject ALL income over $50 million to that increased tax rate, including low-tax and no-tax stuff like share dividends.  Trust me, the rich won’t miss it.

Now how about rescinding all those tax cuts Bush approved and Obama and Trump kept alive.  There’s another US$3-5 trillion in tax revenue that was lost.

Go On And Blow: The harmonica at (roughly) 200

The harmonica is versatile musical instrument, found in many genres of music: blues, rock, country, jazz, folk, and many others.  In the hands of an amateur, it sounds terrible, but a skilled player can make even the cheapest dime store mouth organ sound like a professional instrument.


The history of the instrument can be traced back to the Sheng from China in the 11th century.  Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein created a reeded instrument in the 18th century to help people to speak, and Christian Friedrich Buschmann created a musical instrument in 1821 (hence saying 200) that was later improved by Matthias Hohner in the 1850s.  It was first exported from Germany to Japan in the 1890s, then later to other countries.  They were orignally intended as piano tuning instruments.

German-Americans first brought the harmonica to the US until after the civil war, where it quickly became popular because of its price and ease of learning.  It was quickly adopted into popular song of the day.  Hohner went from a small company selling tens of thousands to selling millions within the span of a few years.

It was World War I (and other later wars) that popularized the instrument primarily for its portability and size.  During the US wars of independence and civil war, people transported drums, flutes, trumpets, violins, etc.   They were the most portable instruments of their day, but they were still bulky.  A typical harmonica, however, is small (most are 4″ x 1″ x 1.5″), very light (85-110g or 3-4 oz.), and easily fits into a pocket.  They are made of durable metal (even now), and can withstand some amount of dirt, mud and water.  For bored soldiers needing portable entertainment, it held great appeal.  There are many stories and pictures of soldiers using them across Europe during WWI, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and elsewhere.

More below the fold.

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Movie Screen: Chariots Of Fire turns forty

“Chariots Of Fire” was released on March 30, 1981.  It is a period piece, based on the 1924 UK olympic team.  It is not historically accurate, many details changed both for plot and other reasons (e.g. two 1924 athletes still alive in 1980 did not want their names mentioned in the movie) so the film makers chose to make it a film about overcoming adversity, rather than a historical piece.  And while it contains too much religious mumbo jumbo, the characters remain likable and relatable.

The film was nominated for seven oscars, winning four including best picture.  The filmmakers intentionally sought out unknowns for the four key roles.  They wanted to find actors in their early 20s who could look the part of olympic athletes, and trained them for months in preparation for the movie.  It certainly shows, as it is (arguably) one of the best sports movies ever made.

“Chariots” is well remembered for its soundtrack.  Normally, period pieces are scored by orchestras playing classical-styled music.  But the producers selected electronic musician Vangelis (real name: Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou) to score the film.  Produced mostly with synthesizers, it is highly anachronistic, but the stirring melodies of the theme song (named “Titles”) among many other parts of the film are memorable to this day.  Even people who don’t know the film know the song.  And who isn’t moved by the opening scene of the sprinters running across the sand?

It’s definitely one of my favourite films.

One interesting side note for “Chariots” was one of its producers: Dodi Fayed, the boyfriend of Diana Spencer the night her car crashed in a Paris tunnel, pursued by paparazzi.  Fayed produced several successful films including “Hook”, “F/X” and “The Scarlet Letter”, but “Chariots” was his pet project above all others.  Fayed was also first cousin to Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist murdered by assassins working for the Saudi regime.

Addendum on Vangelis: His other major release of 1981 was the second Jon And Vangelis album, “The Friends Of Mr. Cairo”.  The title track is one of the few twelve minute songs that was played regularly on the radio.

Patience Helps: Vaccines will soon be widely available in Taiwan

Vaccinations began in Taiwan during April when the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines arrived.  However, the limited number meant first priority was medical personnel.  The remainder is available for those willing to pay to be vaccinated early.  Normally I would object to “rich first, poor later”, but with no mass spread and only the twelfth domestic death in April, it’s not a race against time.

Taiwan’s two major pharmaceutical companies Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corp. (高端疫苗) and United Biomedical (聯亞生技) each has vaccine candidates.  Medigen has two each of which is reportedly effective against the UK and South African variants, but neither does both.  Both companies began phase two testing in March; approval should be given by June, and rollout for local vaccination starts in July.

When the domestically produced vaccines are available, they will be free for anyone registered with the national health care system (hand raised).  I intend on getting it as soon as I’m eligible and get a place in line.

Taiwan’s government has announced that excess vaccines made here will be available to allies for free, to countries which maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan and don’t kowtow to Beijing.  (That’s supposed to be “soft” foreign policy?)  Other countries may want Taiwan’s vaccine when it’s available.

Japan is failing to meet its target of acquiring 100 million doses and vaccinating the bulk of its population before the 2021 olympics.  (WHY has that not yet been cancelled?)  There’s no indication whether Taiwan would waive patents and let India produce their own, but after 2020’s “Milk Tea Alliance” (both countries collectively thumbing their noses at Beijing), it’s a possibility.

When The Water Runs Dry: Expect worldwide consequences from Taiwan’s drought

There’s the old saying, “when america sneezes, the world catches a cold.”  One could now say that when Taiwan suffers a drought, the world runs dry.

Taiwan is currently undergoing its worse drought in decadesDaily rainfall in 2021 is only a fraction of the normal amount.  Soon, it’s going to have worldwide consequences.  Most of the world’s microchip manufacturing takes place here, and it consumes large amounts of fresh water.

Why the world should pay attention to Taiwan’s drought

Taiwan is supposed to be one of the rainiest places in the world – its climate is subtropical in the northern and central regions, and tropical in the south. Typhoons are common in summer and autumn, and it also gets monsoons. It rains so often here that umbrellas are placed at subway stations and businesses for anyone to borrow.

But something unusual happened last year – no typhoon hit the island. And there has been little rain in the past year.

That has plunged Taiwan into its worst drought in 56 years. Many of its reservoirs are at less than 20% capacity, with water levels at some falling below 10%.

At the Baoshan No. 2 Reservoir in Hsinchu County, one of the primary water sources for Taiwan’s $100bn semiconductor industry, the water level is at the lowest it’s ever been – only 7% full.

If this and other reservoirs in Taiwan dry up, it could be detrimental for the global electronics sector, because so many of the products people use are powered by semiconductors – computer chips – made by Taiwanese companies.

Around 90% of the most advanced microchips are manufactured in Taiwan.

Emphasis mine.  Chip manufacturers are recycling water, but that only goes so far.

In 2016, one reservoir was as low as 19%.  Currently, four are at or below 10% and water rationing is happening in many cities.  Sun Moon Lake, one of the major tourist attractions within the country, is now a mudflat, the lake bed is bare.  I find nothing “amusing” in the news story about man’s cell phone found years after falling into the lake.

Typhoon Surigae passed Taiwan this past weekend, the first typhoon to hit the island in a year.  While it did bring some needed rain, it was nowhere near enough.  Taiwan’s annual “plum rains” are nowhere to be seen, another needed source of rainwater.

Penghu (Pescadore Islands) is a county in the west, a small set of islands roughly 40km west of the main island.  It is so small that it doesn’t have enough ground water for its population, so most consumed water is produced by a desalination plant.

After the 2016 drought and other weather extremes of recent years, why didn’t the government begin construction of other desalination plants on the main island?  We are surrounded by ocean.  Things are now so dire that the government has ordered the digging of new wells.  The Taiwan government’s water management plan is looking as inept as Texas’s cold weather plan.

Forget arms sales that Biden is talking about, the US and other countries should be sending desalination machines.  They are direly needed, and this affects every country.  With Taiwan’s economic growth of the past year and an expected 4.7% economic growth for 2021, it’s not as if the country can’t afford to buy them.


How Could He Just Stand There And Watch?

A horrifying news story from this week in Taiwan is a seven year old boy lying comatose in hospital with an intercranial hematoma. He will likely die once taken off life support.

The little boy was in a judo school, and the bully of a “coach” knocked him down repeatedly and forced the boy to get up, even after the boy said his head and body hurt.

What galls me the most is that the cowardly “father” stood there, watching.

Judo coach investigated after student hospitalized with brain damage

Taichung, April 24 (CNA) A judo coach in Taichung was questioned a second time by prosecutors Saturday over his alleged negligence, following an incident in which one of his students fell into a coma and was rushed to hospital after been repeatedly thrown to the ground during practice earlier in the week.

The incident occurred on Wednesday, when a seven-year old boy identified by his last name Huang (黃) began a second week of judo classes at a local dojo in Fengyuan District.

A student at Nanyang Elementary School, Huang was allegedly thrown to the ground more than 20 times by his coach surnamed Ho (何) and an older student who took turns to “demonstrate” a judo throw during the lesson.

Speaking at a press event, the boy’s father told reporters that after his son was thrown to the ground a couple of times, Ho ordered him to stand up and be thrown again, despite his son begging him to stop because his feet and head hurt.

The father said when his son failed to get up, the coach dragged him to his feet and threw him another seven times until he became completely unresponsive.

According to the Taichung District Prosecutors Office, Ho insisted the throw was just part of normal training.

There is nothing “normal” about a 80-90 kg adult beating on a 15-20 kg child.  Having experienced that sort of violence myself at home, you don’t just “walk it off”.

This story is hideously reminiscent of the 2012 story that permanently put me off watching football, when coaches, referees and parents stood by and watched their children suffer concussions and other injuries because “the game is important”.

Or they were “afraid of looking overly protective”.  You are parents.  You’re supposed to protect your kids, not worry if a ten year old displays enough toxic masculinity.

One Pop Warner game results in five concussions

In an alarming case of young athletes being put at risk, five children suffered concussions last month in a Pop Warner football game that resulted in disciplinary action against both coaches and association presidents.

The injured children, all 10 to 12 years old, played for the Tantasqua Pee Wees Sept. 15 when they were overrun, 52-0, by a Southbridge team whose website’s banner states, “Are You Tough Enough.’’

The five children missed various numbers of school days because of their injuries, and one has not returned to the field.

The coaches, Southbridge’s Scott Lazo and Tantasqua’s Erik Iller, were suspended for the remainder of the season and placed on probation through the 2013 season after a lengthy hearing Thursday conducted by Central Mass. Pop Warner.

The association presidents, Lazo’s brother, Doug Lazo of Southbridge, and Iller’s wife, Jen Iller of Tantasqua, also were placed on probation through the 2013 season because they attended the game and failed to take action, according to the hearing committee.

In addition, the three officials who worked the game have been permanently banned by Central Mass. Pop Warner.

“Having multiple concussions in one game is something that should never happen, ever,’’ said Patrick Inderwish, president of Central Mass. Pop Warner. “One concussion is too many.’’


Don’t Waver And Don’t Waive: Genocide for profit

As PZ Myers and undoubtedly others have noted, India is in danger of being overrun with COVID-19.  After months of stemming the tide, the country now has hundreds of thousands of cases daily, and has set a new record for deaths each of the last nine days.  At over 400 people per square kilometre, India is one of the most densely populated countries in the world (3rd highest among nations with populations of 50 million or more), and the potential of the disease to spiral out of control is real.  It will make the US and Brazil look like a good memory.

But the most galling and obscene fact is that it was preventable. Wealthy G7 and G20 countries (among others) have adamantly opposed waiving the patents on the existing COVID-19 vaccines.  They are telling the developing world: pay us or die.  It they can’t making a killing, then they’ll make a killing.

Rich countries are refusing to waive the rights on Covid vaccines as global cases hit record levels

LONDON — The U.S., Canada and U.K. are among some of the high-income countries actively blocking a patent-waiver proposal designed to boost the global production of Covid-19 vaccines.

It comes as coronavirus cases worldwide surge to their highest level so far and the World Health Organization has repeatedly admonished a “shocking imbalance” in the distribution of vaccines amid the pandemic.

Members of the World Trade Organization will meet virtually in Geneva, Switzerland on Thursday to hold informal talks on whether to temporarily waive intellectual property and patent rights on Covid vaccines and treatments.

The landmark proposal, which was jointly submitted by India and South Africa in October, has been backed by more than 100 mostly developing countries. It aims to facilitate the manufacture of treatments locally and boost the global vaccination campaign.

Six months on, the proposal continues to be stonewalled by a small number of governments — including the U.S., EU, U.K., Switzerland, Japan, Norway, Canada, Australia and Brazil.

Last summer, Indian pharmaceutical company Cipla had to negotiate a deal to produce remdesivir, which would cost 5000 rupees (US$66) per dose.  Even in the US, that’s more than many can afford, never mind the $3100 that US companies are asking for.  India’s mass production and high quality labs are part of how the country held out so long.

Cipla’s (and other companies) normal business model is to take medicines with expired copyrights and produce them cheaply for the developing world.  Companies had the capability to produce vaccines a year ago but were prevented by corporate greed and nationalist and racist policies.

Developing nations refused in April 2020 to have COVID-19 vaccine tested on their populations.  From the looks of it, wealthy nations are now telling them, “if you didn’t want to be guinea pigs for us then, you don’t get to have the vaccine now.”

India could have begun production of the vaccine months ago and saved hundreds of thousands of lives.  Those who prevented the companies from making it, who caused the coming 400,000 to 4,000,000 deaths, will never be held accountable.

Genomes Generated: Is this the first synthetic life?

From the “well, that’s interesting” files:

Scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) have created a single cell synthetic organism that divides / reproduces naturally.  Does this open the possibility of creating lifeforms designed to accomplish a specific goal (e.g. decompose plastic, kill cancer cells, etc.)?  Or is it a technology that can’t really be controlled or applied in the real world?  Time will tell.

Scientists Create Simple Synthetic Cell That Grows and Divides Normally

New findings shed light on mechanisms controlling the most basic processes of life.

March 29, 2021

Five years ago, scientists created a single-celled synthetic organism that, with only 473 genes, was the simplest living cell ever known. However, this bacteria-like organism behaved strangely when growing and dividing, producing cells with wildly different shapes and sizes.

Now, scientists have identified seven genes that can be added to tame the cells’ unruly nature, causing them to neatly divide into uniform orbs. This achievement, a collaboration between the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Center for Bits and Atoms, is described in the journal Cell. 

Identifying these genes is an important step toward engineering synthetic cells that do useful things. Such cells could act as small factories that produce drugs, foods and fuels; detect disease and produce drugs to treat it while living inside the body; and function as tiny computers.

But to design and build a cell that does exactly what you want it to do, it helps to have a list of essential parts and know how they fit together. 

“We want to understand the fundamental design rules of life,” said Elizabeth Strychalski, a co-author on the study and leader of NIST’s Cellular Engineering Group. “If this cell can help us to discover and understand those rules, then we’re off to the races.”

I thought someone would have beaten me to the punch on this one, but the only mention of the J. Craig Venter Institute was by PZ Myers in 2007.

Let’s Backtrack: The Osborne 1 Computer turns 40 years old

Adam Osborne’s self-named company released the Osborne 1 on April 4, 1981, forty years ago.

The Osborne 1 was the first transportable business computer, though it certainly wasn’t portable.  At 10kg, it was as heavy as a suitcase and should have had wheels built into the casing.  It did not have a battery, so it could only be used in situ, with the power cord plugged in.

Having said that, the Osborne 1 was a full-fledged computer, as powerful as any desktop PC of the day.  It used the CP/M operating system and could run many powerful applications of the day: CBASIC, dBase II, SuperCalc, and many others that came bundled with the machine.  With a Z80 processor, 64kb of RAM (128 on the later model), two 360kb floppy drives, a 80×25 text screen, and ports for external connections, it wasn’t lacking for power.

What Osborne did lack was good management and an affordable price.  US$1800 was exorbitant, even for IBM.  The company overextended itself which (along with the IBM PC’s dominance of the market) led to the company’s collapse in 1984.  It was a short but wild ride.

More below the fold.

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Easter Sucks: Maybe this is too personal, but what the hey….

Not directly in response to Ashes’ post, but. . . .

Growing up with a sperm and egg donor who were both narcissists and fanatical catholics, the April fools day is one of the worst memories of childhood, up there with post-winter solstice “holiday” in December. The only thing that made April more tolerable was not being a captive audience (i.e. things were open, lack of snow and cold made walking possible).

They were the types who thought “vatican II was a bad idea”, that ‘mass’ should still be in Latin despite them not speaking a word of it.  This also included fish on most Fridays throughout the year, but especially in April.  Mentioning red meat, never mind eating it, meant becoming black and blue.

“Easter” has to be the only religious event I know of with as ridiculous and convoluted a calculation as Lunar New Year.  “The second new moon after the winter solstice” and “first full moon at least a week after spring equinox” are nonsensical.  Pick a fixed date, FFS.  April 1st suits you, as it was a couple of years ago.

As it happens, “easter” this year falls on the same date as “tomb sweeping day” (qingming festival) when ethnic Chinese people go and clean up their ancestors’ graves. Then ignore them the rest of the year.

The ones who love us best are the ones we'll lay to rest
And visit their graves on holidays at best
The ones, love us least are the ones we'll die to please
If it's any consolation, I don't begin to understand them

- The Replacements, "Bastards Of Young"

I have no intention of visiting either’s grave if I ever go back to Canada.


Now We Know: It wasn’t a crash

News media, foreign and domestic, have been erroneously calling Friday’s event in Taiwan a “train crash”.  That’s not what happened.

The train was northbound at 9:30AM local time (UTC+8), on the eastern coastal line near the city of Hualien, along a cliffside.  The west side of Taiwan is mostly flat, more mountainous as you move east.  There is a roadway above the rail line.  A construction crane on the roadway was not parked properly (for lack of a better term) and rolled off the edge, onto the passing train below which then derailed.

This was not a train crash, and those operating the rail line are unlikely to face any backlash.  Several passenger cars were crushed and there are at least fifty dead.  No one I know of planned to take that train, and no one I know is unaccounted for.

This happened Friday morning, the first day of a four day long weekend (Tomb Sweeping Day on 4/3 and Children’s Day on 4/4).  The statutory holidays were moved to Friday and Monday, providing a four day weekend.  It’s likely many families were travelling along the line.

This happened with a TRA train, which travels roughly 80kmh.  This would not happen with the High Speed Rail line not only because the HSR is along the populated west coast, but because the HSR is protected from such events (elevated platforms and tunnels).

The Guardian: Taiwan train crash: dozens dead after express service derails in tunnel

Focus Taiwan: Scene of train crash like ‘living hell:’ Red Cross rescuer

Also from Focus Taiwan:

Crane truck driver questioned by police over fatal train accident

Local police are questioning the driver of a crane truck that is believed to have slid down a hillside and blocked the path of a moving train heading south in Hualien County on Friday, leading to an accident that caused the deaths of at least 48 people.

The driver, surnamed Lee (李), was still being questioned by Chungte police as of 4 p.m. Friday, according to the Xincheng Precinct of the Hualien County Police Department.

Police department commissioner Tsai Ting-hsien (蔡丁賢) said the crane truck was parked on a hillside road close to the construction site of a tunnel for the northbound rail line.

The road hovers above the southbound track, and authorities suspect that the driver parked the vehicle without engaging the emergency brake, Tsai said.

Let’s Backtrack: Gil Scott-Heron’s “Pieces Of A Man” turns 50

Gil Scott-Heron’s second album “Pieces of a Man” was recorded in April 1971.  The released date unknown, so now is as good a time as any to mention it.

The album is most famous for the opening song, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, a Jazz/Rap/Scat poem laid of a funky, bass-heavy and flute-driven background.  This song is a sledgehammer to the face.  “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is more relevant than ever and could deservedly be the theme song of the Black Lives Matter movement.

However, it is not a “one hit plus filler” album, it is a personal and social statement, with one strong song after another, many of them timeless and still relevant today:

“Save The Children”, exactly what the title suggests.

“Lady Day and John Coltrane”, how music can save your sanity.

“Home Is Where the Hatred Is”, the POV of people with addictions.

“When You Are Who You Are”, a beautiful love song.

“I Think I’ll Call It Morning”, I can’t describe well:

     I'm gonna take myself a piece of sunshine
     And paint it all over my sky
     Be no rain
     Be no rain

     I'm gonna take the song from every bird
     And make em sing it just for me
     Cause why should I hang my head
     Why should I let tears fall from my eyes
     When I've seen everything there is to see

“Pieces of a Man”, when a man loses his job and can’t support his family.

     Jagged jigsaw pieces
     Tossed about the room
     I saw my grandma sweeping
     With her old straw broom
     But she didn't know what she was doing
     She could hardly understand
     That she was really sweeping up
     Pieces of a man
And many more.
I’ll admit I was only introduced to the album when it regained popularity thanks to the Acid Jazz movement of the 1980s/1990s.  But it’s such an emotional and powerful album that it makes an impact the first time you hear it.  The entire album is on a youtube playlist.