Anima Veneziana

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader sees that an organization, Anima Veneziana is crowdfunding a film about Venice, by Venetians. Any reader of this space knows of your Maximum Leader’s unrequited love of Venice. If he could only go one place in the world before he dies, Venice would be that place.

Your Maximum Leader learned of this project via a piece in Forbes, Venice Is More Than Flooding and Overtourism. The piece opens thusly:

Blighted, decadent, doomed, Venice is often spoken of only in terms of its turbulent relationship with the sea and its museumification by overtourism. A new film, made by Venetians about Venetians, is hoping to change Venice’s international image by bringing to the fore the city’s residents and their lives.

“It was a project born from the dark days under lockdown,” says Monica Cesarato, a local food blogger who developed the idea for the Anima Veneziana film. The short film will follow a day in the life of Venice, “where all categories of its citizens will appear,” she says.

“It stems from the desire to change the narrative of the city, plagued by the stories of its umpteenth death after high water and the closure during COVID-19,” explains Cesarato. One of the worst periods of flooding in Venice’s history hit the city in November, prompting a stream of dramatic images in the international media.

Your Maximum Leader loves that. Blighted, decadent, and doomed. Perhaps those words do best to summarize why your Maximum Leader loves the idea of Venice so much. If he can spare a few bucks (Euros) he might help fund this film.

Carry on.

More on Nile Waters

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader sees that now the situation along the Nile river is growing more tense. In a piece on Legal Insurrection, Leslie Eastman writes an interesting piece on the recent escalation of tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia over the latter’s move to start filling the reservoir behind the GERD dam. The Ethiopian Foreign Minister has apparently tweeted that the Nile belongs to Ethiopia. Egypt has not taken this statement well. There is an interesting bit in this piece about the financing of the dam by China. This dam, like so many other projects across Africa, has been financed by China to improve China’s position on the continent. It is worth your time to take a gander at this piece.

Carry on.

Water

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader fondly remembers a class he took in college. It was back in 1989. The class was called “American National Security Issues, 1989-2000.” The class was taught by LTG Samuel V. Wilson (US Army, Ret). By the way, you really ought to click on that link and read General Wilson’s Wiki page. General Wilson was one of the most interesting and thoughtful persons your Maximum Leader has ever had the pleasure of knowing. He considered himself lucky to be able to spend 90 minutes with General Wilson twice a week for a semester. Not too long ago your Maximum Leader found some class notes from this class. As he read over them, he started to remember how much he remembered. He also noted to himself just how many of the subjects that General Wilson covered in a class 31 years ago (yes THIRTY-ONE years ago) are still relevant today. One of the subjects that stuck with your Maximum Leader was water.

In the days before global warming, water was already an issue. There isn’t enough of it in many places. And as populations grow and become more wealthy they like to use more water. If this is happening where there isn’t enough water to begin with, that can be a problem. In fact, your Maximum Leader has observed for many decades now the various gulf states and how they try to deal with the question of water. It is a fascinating subject.

Water can also be a terrifying subject to think about. Take for example the Nile river. Way back in 1989 we talked about the Nile river. How it is the primary potable water source for 4 nations, chief among them Egypt. We spoke about the politics of the Aswan Dam and why the dam was so important in the first place. Well… Guess what? There is nothing new under the sun. If Egypt can dam the Nile, surely other nations can too.

And that is just what Ethiopia has done. If you missed it (and your Maximum Leader did until last year when he read a news article mentioning the dam), Ethiopia has been building a dam on the Blue Nile since 2011. Guess what else? That dam is finished. And Ethiopia is doing what is done when a dam is built. You fill a reservoir and start using the dam. Here is a piece on that: River Nile dam: Reservoir filling up, Ethiopia confirms. Here is the opening of the linked article:

A reservoir behind Ethiopia’s disputed Grand Renaissance dam on the River Nile has started filling with water - a day after talks with Egypt and Sudan ended without agreement, officials say.

Ethiopian Water Minister Seleshi Bekele confirmed the latest satellite images showing water levels rising.

Ethiopia sees the hydroelectric project as crucial for its economic growth.

But Egypt and Sudan, which are downstream, fear the large dam will greatly reduce their access to water.

Years of fraught negotiations have failed to reach a consensus on how and when to fill the reservoir, and how much water it should release.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has previously warned that filling and operating the dam without an agreement “that protects the downstream communities… would heighten tensions and could provoke crises and conflicts that further destabilise an already troubled region”.

A conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia, which are both US allies, would put millions of civilians at risk.

Going to war over water. Could that really happen? Do nations war over water?

As a matter of fact, they very well may. From The Independent (UK): Egypt is backed into a corner over the Nile dam – it may have no choice but to go to war. In this piece the commentator, Ahmed Aboudouh, writes:

Egyptian officials accuse the Ethiopian government of following a series of diplomatic one-upmanship ploys since signing the 2015-Declaration of Principles, which indicates that all parties should reach a deal first before filling the reservoir. But Ethiopian negotiators seem to have taken stock of the diplomatic prowess North Korea showed in its contracted negotiations with the US over denuclearisation. Since Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un’s 2018 joint statement in Singapore, the North Koreans have shown prudence in running the clock on their commitments. Now negotiations are frozen, and an agreement is far from complete. By following the same playbook, dragging its feet, Ethiopia seems to have led the Egyptians into a cul-de-sac.

The deadlock means Egypt is now running out of options. During a recent meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss Ethiopia’s hydro-electric plant, Egypt’s foreign minister Sameh Shoukry stirred the pot. He described the dam as “a threat of potentially existential proportions”, and in a chest-thumping moment threatened that “Egypt will uphold and protect the vital interests of its people. Survival is not a question of choice, but an imperative of nature.” Ethiopia’s UN ambassador Taye Atske-Selassie countered, saying that for his nation accessing water resources was an “existential necessity.”

Water is not the only vital interest at stake: Egypt’s president and former general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is fighting for his legitimacy, too. Since taking power in 2014, Sisi has advanced a populist/nationalist narrative based on cultivating too much pride in military strength and raising the people’s expectations over his ability to protect “Egypt’s national security and interests.” Sisi understands that by losing the diplomatic battle over filling up the dam, and succumbing to pressure from Ethiopia’s, he’d risk igniting popular unrest - and possibly a military coup.

Your Maximum Leader would find it amusing that another nation would take a play out of the North Korean playbook, if it weren’t so devastatingly true. Just keep talking and talking until you’ve achieved your goal is a perfectly legitimate (and effective) way of dealing with your neighbors. Then when your goal is achieved, you can stop talking.

As if 2020 hasn’t given us so much up to this point, we may have a Egypt/Ethiopia war to which to look forward to. It may be a short war. Send some fighters in, blow up the dam. Then, one hopes, they can stop shooting and go back to talking.

Carry on.

Vaccines

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader has been limiting his intake of news lately. It really doesn’t seem to be hurting him intellectually, psychologically, or emotionally. In fact, he’d say that he’s generally feeling better for having reduced his news intake. In “reducing his news intake” he doesn’t just mean news from traditional news sources (TV and newspaper) but also that which he consumes via the interwebs (Twitter, Facebook, and other on-line sources). In these times, the news is just jumping from one outrage to another and with few exceptions it is best summarized.

There is an idea. The news should be summarized. Too much of what we consume as “news” is really commentary on news. This is the age-old problem of what constitutes “reporting.” Your Maximum Leader has long held that we should have more “reporters.” Namely those that research and subsequently report the facts of a new story as clearly as possible. We have lots of “journalists” nowadays. The journalist may do some reporting, but they do a fair amount of commentary as well. You don’t need to remind your Maximum Leader that even reporters (in the sense he just described) are providing some “commentary” by choosing what stories deserve to be reported. That is certainly true. But the journalist is really putting their reporting into the “context” that shapes a “story” they want to tell. There is an important, if sometimes subtle distinction.

Anyhoo…

There are some news stories that your Maximum Leader does digest in more detail than others. One of those subjects about which he is reading is work towards an effective COVID-19 vaccine. Your Maximum Leader is interested, as just about everyone else is, about knowing more about a COVID vaccine. But, he’s found his mind turning towards some pretty bleak outlooks. This may be influenced by a book he is reading (Plague Hospitals: Public Health for the City in Early Modern Venice). What bleak outlook you say? Well let him elaborate…

There are, and have been since this past April, a number of news pieces out there that focus on the relatively quick decline in the effectiveness of antibodies to COVID-19 in people that have recovered from COVID-19. This is to say (in case you’ve not seen or read one) that the natural immunity that a human gets from having suffered through a bout of COVID-19 seems to disappear relatively quickly when compared to other viruses. In most circumstances suffering through a virus can give immunity to that same virus for many years, or a lifetime in some cases. It appears as though that “immunity” to COVID-19 may last only a few months at most. This is a real problem if one was hoping to achieve “herd immunity.” That is the state where enough people have developed their immunity to a virus that the spread of the virus is greatly reduced. If one doesn’t have immunity to a virus for very long, it obviously doesn’t help in reducing the spread of a virus.

So your Maximum Leader heard on a podcast, or radio interview, some weeks ago a researcher from (he believes) Oxford University who said that there is significant data on COVID-19 that can lend itself to theorizing that not only is herd immunity unlikely, but finding an effective vaccine against COVID-19 is equally unlikely. Your Maximum Leader wishes that he’d noted down the researchers name and institution at the time, but he didn’t. Well… He found a piece in his news feed that struck a chord with him. Here is the piece (which originated at Business Insider): Coronavirus immunity can start to fade away within weeks, according to a new study which puts a ‘nail in the coffin’ in the idea of herd immunity. Here are some salient quotes about herd immunity:

Immunity to the coronavirus may disappear within months for many patients, according to a major new UK study which found that antibodies peaked three weeks after symptoms appeared, before gradually fading away.

For some patients, no antibodies were detected after just a few months, throwing doubt on hopes for a long-lasting vaccine.

[…]

The study, which was carried out by scientists at King’s College London and first reported by The Guardian, “puts another nail in the coffin of the dangerous concept of herd immunity,” one of its authors said.

The study was based on the antibody responses of 90 patients and health workers at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. It showed that 60% of those tested had “potent” antibodies while battling COVID-19, but just 17% had the same level of potency three months later.

The potency of the antibodies fell by as much as 23 times over the three months, the study found, and in some cases were undetectable at the end of that period of time.

[…]

A similar study in Spain, which was published last week, found that just 5% of people tested maintained coronavirus antibodies. Fourteen percent of people who tested positive for the antibodies in the first round of testing did not test positive in subsequent tests carried out weeks later.

Two of the Spanish study’s authors, Isabella Eckerle and Benjamin Meyer, said: “In light of these findings, any proposed approach to achieve herd immunity through natural infection is not only highly unethical, but also unachievable.”

It is important to note that the quoted article does state that the results of these studies have not yet been peer reviewed. The piece continues:

Katie Doores of King’s College London, the UK study’s lead author, said the findings could be a sign that any future vaccine for the coronavirus would need to be provided regularly for people to maintain immunity.

“People are producing a reasonable antibody response to the virus, but it’s waning over a short period of time and depending on how high your peak is, that determines how long the antibodies are staying around,” she said.

“Infection tends to give you the best-case scenario for an antibody response, so if your infection is giving you antibody levels that wane in two to three months, the vaccine will potentially do the same thing,” she added. “People may need boosting and one shot might not be sufficient.”

In an interview with Sky News reported by The Guardian, professor Robin Shattock of Imperial College London said that while reinfection would probably be “less severe” because of people retaining “immune memory,” the risk of them passing on the virus meant they would likely have to receive boosts of the vaccine on a regular basis.

“Ultimately this may require the use of annual boosting immunizations, particularly for the most vulnerable. This could be delivered alongside annual influenza immunizations,” he said.

Your Maximum Leader wonders if the researcher he heard on the radio or podcast was Katie Doores or Robin Shattock. Regardless of that, this caused your Maximum Leader to think a little harder in the vein in which his thoughts about COVID-19 had been progressing. Namely, what if an effective vaccine is not found? Your Maximum Leader isn’t sure about you, but he isn’t sure that a vaccine that only lasts 2-3 months is all that effective. On the one hand, 2-3 months of immunity is about the length of a flu season. But so far we are seeing that COVID-19 doesn’t seem to have a “season.” It appears to like all the times of the year. So it may not a question of getting your “flu shot” annually, but getting it quarterly. That doesn’t seem very good, at least not when you start to wonder about where your Maximum Leader’s mind went next.

Suppose any potential COVID-19 vaccine IS only effective for 2-3 months. And let’s further suppose that it has no side effects. And let’s further suppose that it is cheap and available in sufficient quantities so as to allow anyone who wants one to get one. It this going to be enough to satisfy people that “life” and economic activity can resume and become “normal?” Given how polarizing and hysterical people are right now, he can’t envision a situation where this sort of vaccine is going to be regarded as a significant improvement. What happens then? Do schools continue to be (effectively) closed? Will prisoners be released because jail is too dangerous? Will restaurants, gyms, and sporting events have to operate at minimal levels? What about anti-vaccers?

Your Maximum Leader doesn’t have answers. Further, he is not bothered too much by things out of his control at this point. This is more a mental exercise more than anything. Your Maximum Leader wonders if someone, somewhere is thinking about this and trying to plan… Someone at the CDC? The Department of Health and Human Services? The Pentagon? He doesn’t know.

What he does know is that if the past 4 months have been any indication, the shit-show will get shittier.

Carry on.

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