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.

Advocacy in Favour of Our Client, Belial.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader wishes that it were possible in the current political climate, and frankly the general societal climate overall, to have a serious discussion. He means this just as broadly as he plainly stated it. No one, at least in the West, is capable of having a serious discussion. Certainly those with opposite political views can discourse seriously on whatever topic you like. It doesn’t happen frequently, but it can happen. When it does it is noteworthy. But getting those with opposite views together to seriously and sanely discuss an issue hasn’t happened in a while. Additionally, particularly in the West, we are not fond of analysis after a crisis event to figure out how we can do things better. And thus we start to segue into the point of this virtual epistle.

It would be, at least in your Maximum Leader’s opinion, worth having a serious discussion about how we in the United States should deal with the current Covid-19 pandemic. Of course, it actually seems too late to have this discussion now, in the thick of it. We really should have had a national discussion (or at least a Blue Ribbon Commission that studied and made recommendations) based on the H1N1, or SARS epidemics. It would have been nice to look over what was done, how it was done, what didn’t work, what did, and lay down a framework for future epidemics. But that didn’t happen and honestly is not going to happen after Covid-19 subsides.

In this discourse, your Maximum Leader wishes to just put a few points to ponder out there for you, loyal minion and dear reader, to consider. Thus far our national response to Covid-19 seems to be a patchwork of recommendations about self-isolation, followed by general closures of public institutions (schools, universities, and the like), and then the imposition of mandatory partial quarantines (such as in New York, Pennsylvania, California, and Washington). There is a general clamor for a broader national shutdown of all but essential services. The rationale for these actions is to slow the spread of the virus so as to not overwhelm the health care system. These actions are all about slowing the spread of the virus. If one is listening carefully, the number of people that will catch the virus isn’t changing just the period of time over which the infected will become infected. By limiting the spread, one allows the health care system to prepare for what is coming, better manage the crisis when it is fully upon us, and save as many lives as possible. The societal cost of this the national economy comes to a stand-still.

Some brave souls, and with this post your Maximum Leader supposes he is one of them, have asked us to consider alternatives. He doesn’t believe many are advocating doing nothing, though some are. The general thrust of many of the alternatives is think about the economy. That is the where your Maximum Leader is going to go. If we shut down the economy, as we are doing, the repercussions are great and worthy of consideration. Many small businesses will close permanently. It seems as though people are happy to believe that the Federal government sending checks to taxpayers and providing loans at low (or zero) interest will magically allow a small business to weather all this and reopen as though we had all taken a long vacation from everything. This is magical thinking. The trillions of dollars circulating through the US economy are not going to be replicated by gifts or loans from the Federal government. Restaurants, small shops, many of the self-employed, are not going to be able to reopen. If these businesses do not reopen, then their employees as well as the business owners will suffer. No one knows how the economy will restart or how much will restart. There is much talk of a bailout of the airline industry. But these bailouts will come with strings. Don’t buy-back stock. No executive bonuses. Companies must retain their work force. Your Maximum Leader asks, how exactly does this work out? If the government bails out Boeing, is the bailout coming with the certification that the 737-MAX is also safe to fly and start producing? Is United going to have to maintain, and fly jets on routes that are mostly empty due to a recession or depression? How does this work out? Heavy-handed government intervention in these areas often has unintended and disastrous consequences. The shocks will come at some point. If the bailouts come with conditions, as seems likely, the shock will be delayed. But they will come.

So why are we proceeding with an economic shutdown? To prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed and thus saving more lives. If the virus spreads unchecked, or even weakly checked, the health care system will be unable to keep up with the care of those infected with the virus as well as those who would have needed services without the virus. We are talking about potentially millions of people dying due to the virus or due to being unable to received needed care. On the other hand, by stopping the economy we are creating a crisis of unemployment, contraction, and medium/long-term dependency on public funds. We all should probably ask if it is worth it. If in fact those most at risk for death from Covid-19 are the elderly and those with immunodeficiencies, are these people fully-participating members of the economy? Where are our people who clamor for wealth redistribution here? We know that retirees have a fair amount of saved wealth which is supplemented by programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. If a substantial portion of this population were to die due to the Covid-19 epidemic, wouldn’t that wealth be freed up? Wouldn’t the pressure on the Federal budget be lessened because the number of transfer payments would be greatly reduced? Isn’t that an overall positive societal benefit?

What about other potential upsides for the economy? Your Maximum Leader will not argue that history repeats itself. He will, however, argue that history has leitmotifs. A leitmotif we might look to is Europe after the Black Death. The plague had pretty much run its course by the early 1400s. The (greatly reduced) population of Europe experienced a tremendous period of economic and cultural growth. A period that later became known as the Renaissance. You may have heard of the Renaissance. It wasn’t just a lot of painting going on. The manorial system of the middle ages had been literally destroyed by the plague and peasants (due to their scarcity) realized that they didn’t have to be tethered to the land of a single lord. It was the beginning of what we might call social mobility. The Renaissance saw the growth of cities, trades, art, music, and that crazy group known as the middle class. Your Maximum Leader will not argue that this would definitely happen in a post-Covid-19 world. But perhaps it is worth considering. Economic historians might also look to the periods of economic growth after the epidemics (plague, smallpox, and others) that occurred in the early 1600s and 1700s. Your Maximum Leader isn’t sure that there is a serious analogue to the Roaring 20s and the end of the Spanish Flu of 1919, but there might be some small connection there as well.

What your Maximum Leader is stating here is that we all ought to consider the trade-offs between shutting down our economy and saving (potentially millions) of lives, and not shutting down our economy and potentially saving ourselves from economic catastrophe.

That is all.

Carry on.

(Don’t forget the tweety-box @maximumleader.)

Carbon Emissions Question

Greetings, loyal minions. So here is a real question for you to noodle over some. If the US and Western Europe (plus Canada, Japan, and Australia) were to achieve zero net carbon emissions in the next 20 years, but the other major emitters of carbon (China, India, Russia, et. al.) did nothing to reduce their carbon emissions, what would be the net impact on global climate change?

Seriously, that is the question.

I have been googling for about an hour looking for a model, or a description of a model, or a summary of a model that might show someone reading it “This is the net impact of these countries going to zero carbon emissions.”

I can’t find one. I found a neat chart showing which nations are the top emitters of carbon. Here is that chart. But I really want to see a model. Gawd knows that there seem to be plenty of models that (with varying degrees of inaccuracy) show how everything is going to hell if no nation does anything (or very little). Why is there no model that says, “here is the impact you can have if you do something major.”

I don’t want to go down the old path of “Well why should the US do anything because China and India aren’t doing anything?” I actually want that question anticipated (not that it should be now because the question has been asked plenty). Once anticipated I’d like to see a scientist develop a model that shows what might happen.

I think such a model might be useful. Useful only for those people who are sceptical, and open-minded; and admittedly small group. This issue, like so many others in what passes for “discourse” in these times, has had opinions ossify. People have made up their minds (in large part) and aren’t going to change. Not for any reason related to assessing the facts, theories, and models at hand, but just because they have made up their mind and have chosen to be obstinate about it.

Anyway… If there is a model out there… I’d like to take a look at it.

Carry on.

Thoughts on Japan

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader, like so many others around the world, has been thinking about Japan quite a bit since the 9.0 earthquake that occured last week. The images of the tsunami were gripping. Your Maximum Leader remembers looking repeatedly at the images of the black wave rolling across the Japanese countryside and trying to get his mind around what he was seeing. It was both exactly like and nothing like what he thought the tsunami would be like. He realized that the images were real, but in a way they seemed so… calm. It was nothing like a hollywood production would have it. In his mind he thought he’d see sparking electric lines, explosions, people running in front of the wave… He thought that it would be something like a Michael Bay movie.

But the reality was much worse. He’s glad he hasn’t seen the images with sound. He imagines the sound of the wave would be terrible.

Your Maximum Leader wishes there was something he could do directly to help the people of Japan (or just one Japanese person) beyond just sending aid money… But there really isn’t…

Of course, your Maximum Leader has been following the goings-on at the Daiichi nuclear plant. Your Maximum Leader has long been a proponent of nuclear power. In light of this crisis, he remains a proponent of nuclear power. He became enraged when he read a tweet that appeared in his timeline that read something to the effect of “Nuclear power is billed as reliable, safe and green. It is none of these.” That pushed some of your Maximum Leader’s buttons. He’s challenge just about anyone to find any technology (of any sort) that is safe and reliable during a 9.0 level earthquake and its immediate after effects. That Toyota Prius might be safe, reliable and green - until it falls into a crevasse opened by an earthquake and is then tossed into a house by a resultant tsunami. (And don’t get your Maximum Leader started on the long-term disposal problems associated with the batteries that power hybrid cars… That is another subject all together.)

Your Maximum Leader, and any sensible person, realizes that there is risk involved with nuclear power. The Japanese (and the French) have more experience than anyone in mitigating that risk. Indeed, the fact that the Daiichi plant has not exploded in Chernobyl fashion should be a testament to the risk mitigation success that has already been occuring. Radioactive steam being released into the atmosphere is a bad thing by any accounting, but a massive radioactive explosion with an exposed plant core is a much worse situation. Again, your Maximum Leader challenges anyone to find anything made by man that will stand up - unscathed - from a 9.0 earthquake.

(NB: What do you think San Francisco or Oakland or San Jose would look like after a 9.0 earthquake? Just askin…)

Your Maximum Leader thinks it is also important to note, what has hardly been noted in the news reporting, that the Daiichi plant was scheduled to be shut down later this year as it is 40 years old and at the end of its useful life. People who are clamoring to stop construction of new reactors seem to be thinking that plant design hasn’t advanced in 40 years. The new plants are going to be safer and more efficent than the old. This is not to say that they are completely without risk, they are not; but they are better than they were in the past.

Your Maximum Leader hopes for rapid containment of the problems at Daiichi. He hopes that the men (and women) who are fighting the fires in Daiichi will survive this ordeal. He remembers the stories of the firefighters at Chernobyl (a much worse disaster) who volunteered to fight the fires and stop the disaster knowing full well they would surely die as a result. (Your Maximum Leader also knows that some at Chernobyl were ordered to death to fight the fires, their story is no less poignant.)

Your Maximum Leader prays for the people of Japan.

Carry on.

Harshing your zombie mellow

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader probably spends 5.2 hours a month contemplating the zombie apocalypse. (To choose a round number…) He will occasionally drive somewhere out in the country and see a nice house and think to himself, “Self, you know you could hole up in that house against a horde of zombies for quite a while.” He will, from time to time, even take some target practice against paper targets with the image of Illinois Nazi zombies just to stay sharp.

So, imagine his interest when he saw a link over at Agent Bedhead’s site entitled: 7 scientific reasons a Zombie Outbreak would fail (quickly). He knew he’d have to click on the link. But at the same time he felt some trepidation. Why apply science to a problem best left exclusively to shotguns, rifles, molotov cocktails and chainsaws (as a last line of defence)?

Well, your Maximum Leader clicked and read. You should click and read the piece here: 7 Scientific Reasons a Zombie Outbreak Would Fail (Quickly).

After reading the piece your Maximum Leader sat, deflated, in his chair and realized that unless he was right at the epicenter of the outbreak; he’d never get to fulfill his dream of driving down a street full of zombies blasting away with automatic weapons.

Damn you Cracked.com!

Carry on.

UPDATED: Further review of the Cracked.com site turned up this piece: 5 Scientific Reasons a Zombie Acpocalypse Could Actually Happen. All reasons are very scary.

X-Files: WWII Edition

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader doesn’t have many people he’d consider his personal heros. There are a few however. At the top of that list is Winston Churchill. (Also on that list are George Washington and Elvis. You can see others over on the right side nav bar under the “Pantheon” heading.

So… Your Maximum Leader likes Churchill…

Imagine his surprise when he saw a headline on his Yahoo homepage this morning about a Churchill UFO cover up. Wha? Well here is the juicy part of the peice (which can be found in its entirety here: Did Churchill order a UFO cover up?):

It’s a conspiracy theory worthy of the “X-Files,” and it goes like this: Churchill, then the prime minister, apparently ordered a cover-up of an encounter between a Royal Air Force bomber and an unidentified flying object during World War II. The reason: Churchill feared that news of the incident would create public panic and a loss of faith in religion.

The Daily Telegraph explains that Churchill is reported to “have made the orders during a secret war meeting with U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower, the then commander of the Allied Forces, at an undisclosed location in America during the latter part of the conflict.” He ordered that the information remain secret for a period of 50 years.
[…]
Apparently, Churchill’s order was overheard by one of his bodyguards. The man, also a member of the Royal Air Force, kept the secret to himself for years, but told his daughter at some point, and told his wife on his deathbed in 1973. The man’s daughter later told her son (the bodyguard’s grandson, for those of you keeping score), and he inquired about the incident with the Ministry of Defense in 1999. That inquiry made it into the files that were made public on Thursday.

According to the report, the crew of the plane did manage to take photographs of the UFO, which “hovered noiselessly” near their plane before zooming away. Alas, the photos, if they do indeed exist, were not released.

So there it is. In case you are wondering about it, here is the link to the article in the Telegraph that is the basis of the article on Yahoo.

Now let your Maximum Leader say that he thinks that the odds of there being extraterrestrial life (in some form) somewhere out in the universe somewhere are statistically rather high. He also thinks that the odds of that life being able to travel the vast distances across space (and time) to come to Earth and stop by without saying hi are pretty much zero. So he doesn’t believe in UFOs - to be clear.

So your Maximum Leader doesn’t know what that RAF bomber crew might have seen, or what story might have made its way to Churchill… But in time all UFO stories have been debunked by careful examination. To much time may have passed for this UFO story to be debunked as well. But if we were able to get the all the facts your Maximum Leader is sure that we could sensibly explain whatever it was that those RAF flyers saw.

The more interesting question to this story that doesn’t seem to be asked is what exactly Churchill’s advisors might have thought the UFO was and what theories they presented to WSC to make him classify the incident.

Where are Agents Muller and Scully when you need them?

Carry on.

We’re doomed and it is getting worse, Part the First

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader has been following the whole gulf oil leak with growing feelings of dread and gloom. He was hopeful that the first capping device was going to work. Then it froze up and got clogged. Since then it has been one failure after another.

Are you ready for a prediction?

This gusher will be still be gushing on Election Day.

Yes. Election Day.

Your Maximum Leader has no confidence that anything is going to stop this in the near term. He also doubts that the “relief wells” that “should” be active in August will do the trick.

This is the worst ecological disaster since Chernobyl. And in some respects it might turn out being worse.

Just wait until hurricane season gets fully underway. Your Maximum Leader foresees oil everywhere along the gulf coast from Guatemala to the Florida Keys. At this stage he would not be surprised to find oil from this gusher wind up on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Your Maximum Leader will wait to get a full and final report on what happened before he starts placing blame on any entity. It seems as though BP will come out holding the short straw in all this. But you can’t tell that right now with certainty. If BP is culpable, then we can all hope that they remain very profitable. Because if they go tits-up due to this the US taxpayer will be stuck with a clean-up bill. (Okay… Let’s be honest… The US taxpayer is going to be stuck with a big bill on this anyway. Lucky for us health care reform will save us so much money!)

Your Maximum Leader hopes you’ve seen the white-sand beaches of the Florida panhandle, because they aren’t going to be white for much longer.

Carry on.

UPDATE: Your Maximum Leader was recently reminded that Chernobyl is still worse in so many ways. Not the least of which is that the containment dome is collapsing and another will have to be built. This cycle will continue for centuries.

Tech Bleg

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader has a problem. One of the computers he uses got infected with some malware. The ms-antivirus.net malware to be exact. He found a number of web sites that recommened the same process for eliminating the malware. Here is one representative sample. He followed these steps. He also uninstalled and re-installed Internet Explorer. He also installed Opera.

Most of the affects seem to be gone, but there is one nagging problem that makes him thing he’s not gotten the whole program out. He keeps getting these pop-up ads in both IE and Opera. And he has checked and double checked to make sure that the pop-up blockers are active.

The computer was still running a virus scan last time he looked at it (it had been running for 6 hours and wasn’t finished).

If anyone out there is familiar with getting rid of this malware and confirming it is gone, please contact me.

Carry on.

Drugs in agriculture

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader saw a particularly long, and particularly interesting, article on the AP news wire a moment ago. The piece is: Pressure rises to stop antibiotics in agriculture.

Your Maximum Leader happens to agree with the thrust of the piece, which is that drugs fed to pigs, chickens and cows are leading to super-bacteria that do not respond to antibiotic drugs. These super-bacteria can, and do, move to humans and pose a tremendous threat to human health. What surprised your Maximum Leader about the AP piece is that they attempted to show the other side of the argument, namely that antibiotics keep healthier herds promote quick growth and reduced feed costs.

Now the peice doesn’t attempt a full-blow economic analysis of the costs of giving antibiotics to herd animals on farms vs not giving them antibiotics; but your Maximum Leader wouldn’t expect that type of analysis from the AP. He hopes that some Ag school somewhere in the US is working with the economics department to do such an analysis…

Yet another reason that your Maximum Leader relies on the Smallholder for the great majority of his beef and pork… Smallholder doesn’t dope his animals.

Carry on.

New Poll: Americans superstitious idiots

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader sees on the Reuters news wire that a new poll by the Pew Center for Religious and Public Life shows that a suprising number of Americans are superstitious idiots. The article doesn’t put it that way and is actually entitled: Many Americans Haunted by ghosts; look to astrology.

Here is a juicy bit:

The poll released on Wednesday showed that three-in-ten Americans say they have felt in touch with a dead person and 18 percent say they have seen or been in the presence of a ghost.

Other Pew surveys have shown that relatively few Americans would identify an Eastern religion or New Age spirituality as their core faith. But about a quarter of those surveyed say they believe in aspects of Eastern religions.

Nearly 25 percent said they believed in reincarnation and 23 percent said yoga was a spiritual practice. Twenty six percent said they believed “spiritual energy” could be found in objects such as trees.

A quarter said they believed in astrology, while 16 percent of U.S. adults think that an “evil eye” exists or that some people can cast curses or spells on others. Among black Protestants the evil eye figure is 32 percent.

What can your Maximum Leader say about this except that he weeps for the future.

Until he read this piece he thought that the worst thing he’s read/see/hear today was the drivel that President Obama was spewing out to a room of unfortunate Norsemen (and Norsewomen) and other dignitaries while accepting his Nobel Prize.

The “evil eye!” Really now! People actually believe that people with “powers” can use the “evil eye” to cast spells and curses… Other than the eyes that Elin Nordegen Woods is using on Tiger now, your Maximum Leader is unaware of a curse laden “evil eye.”

Sad. Just sad.

Carry on.

Geeks of the world rejoice!

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader is always on the lookout for science he can use. Although in this case since he is already married with kids, this next story is not of much use to him. It may be of use for some of the single geeky guys out there that read this site…

According to scientists at the University of Sheffield (as reported in Canada’s Globe & Mail) , women who take the pill are more likely to fall for “good providers” (read: geeks) than “aggresive specimens” (read: jocks). Here is the meat of the science in the piece:

During ovulation, women prefer men with symmetrical, masculine features. These men are aggressive, compete with other men, and in some cases exhibit “creative intelligence,” write the authors. More importantly, their major histocompatibility complex genes – the ones that build our immune systems – are considerably unlike the individual woman’s. According to earlier research, being attracted to a person with a different immune system is advantageous because the baby will inherit a larger arsenal to combat disease.

But during the infertile phase, women appear to prefer men who are more genetically similar to their relatives. Others opt for men who exhibit more “feminine” characteristics and have the means to invest in child rearing, Dr. Alvergne said.

Well… That could be useful news for those of you out there looking for a girl or guy with whom to mate. Of course your Maximum Leader didn’t quote the best part of the piece. The one that mentioned how lap dancing strippers figured into this research. Your Maximum Leader will leave that as a tease for you to click through.

Your Maximum Leader wonders if this news is one layer of a giant plot revealed… Afterall, it is more probable that geeks were the ones that invented the contreceptive pill to begin with. Did they know that by reducing the “dual sexuality” (mentioned in the piece) tendencies in women they increased their own chances of scoring? Hummm…. Something to think on…

Carry on.

Into space for $150

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader, while geeky, is not a geek. Sad but true.

When he reads stories of real geeks having cool ideas and carrying them through he feels stupid. Or at least unimaginative and uninspired. (Damn… He must still be funkified…)

So when your Maximum Leader read of how two MIT students spent $150 and got cool photos on a digital camera from space he was feeling particularly uninspired (himself) but proud of their accomplishment. The cool bits:

The two students (from MIT, of course) put together a low-budget rig to fly a camera high enough to photograph the curvature of the Earth. Instead of rockets, boosters and expensive control systems, they filled a weather balloon with helium and hung a styrofoam beer cooler underneath to carry a cheap Canon A470 compact camera. Instant hand warmers kept things from freezing up and made sure the batteries stayed warm enough to work.

Of course, all this would be pointless if the guys couldn’t find the rig when it landed, so they dropped a prepaid GPS-equipped cellphone inside the box for tracking. Total cost, including duct tape? $148.

The balloon and camera made it up high enough to see the black sky curling around our blue planet. The Canon was hacked with the CHDK (Canon Hacker’s Development Kit) open-source firmware, which adds many features to Canon’s cameras. The intervalometer (interval timer) was set to shoot a picture every five seconds, and the 8GB memory card was enough to hold pictures for the five-hour duration of the flight.

The picture you see above [ed: not reproduced here] was shot from around 93,000 feet, just shy of 18 miles high. To give you an idea of how high that is, when the balloon burst, the beer-cooler took forty minutes to come back to Earth.

Justin Lee and Oliver Yeh… Your Maximum Leader doffs his bejeweled floppy cap in your direction. He will toast your ingenuity and know-how tonight. Color him impressed.

Carry on.

Ugh.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader was hoping to have some picture blogging to share with you all (especially Robbo) today. Alas, he’s having a little problem at the Villainschloss. Apparently the washing machine has malfunctioned and partially flooded part of the dungeon. So… That is the pressing problem…

In the meanwhile…

According to the wonders of science… If you are a man and you want to keep your “boys” free from DNA defects or damage (and by “boys” your Maximum Leader means “your swimmers.” Okay… He means sperm.); then you need to have sex every day.

Scientists say so. It is reported on the interwebs so it must be true.

While the context of this piece deals with men getting women pregnant… Your Maximum Leader figures he doesn’t want to have any of his “swimmers” suffering from DNA defects. He’ll have to tell Mrs Villain that more “conjugation” is in order for health reasons.

Also… It would stand to reason that if a man wants to get a woman pregnant he should have sex with her frequently…

Your Maximum Leader should be a scientist…

Carry on.

Gonna die in a fiery collision…

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader sees on the news wire that scientists are predicting that the Earth and Venus (or possibly the Earth and Mars - depending on the model you use) will collide with each other. If they don’t actually collide there is a possibility that the planets will pass so close to one another that they might as well collide.

Yup. That is a nasty firey collision in which all humanity will perish.

Lucky for us it looks like this might not happen for 3.5 billion years.

By that point your Maximum Leader is sure that we would have left our homeworld and settled twelve new colonies. We should also have managed to produce hawt Cylons to serve us

Carry on.

Genes and being “so-called”

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader’s interwebs connection appears to be working intermittently. He has a call in to his service provider - but no ETA on a technician yet. This little situation annoys your Maximum Leader because yesterday he had a few different items about which he wanted to blog. Alas, he didn’t actually type them out and save them - and now that moment has passed and he doesn’t want to go back and re-think those ideas.

He did, on the other hand, decide to write a little something that seemed to spring from an interesting serendipity of items about Spain. Yesterday night, before the interwebs started acting up, your Maximum Leader read this peice about Sephardic Jews leaving their genetic imprint on Spanish men. According to the AP piece:

From the 15th century on, Spain’s Jews were mostly expelled or forced to convert, but today some 20 percent of Spanish men tested have Sephardic Jewish ancestry, and 11 percent can be traced to North Africa, a study has found.

“These values are surprisingly high,” the researchers wrote in their report, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Along with researchers from Britain’s University of Leicester and Wellcome Trust, the scientists analyzed DNA samples from 1,140 men in Spain, Portugal and the Balearic Islands and compared them to Moroccans, Algerians, and Sephardic Jews in Istanbul and Israel.

“The work shows that religious conversions and subsequent marriages between people of different lines had a significant impact on modern populations both in the Balearic Islands and in Portugal,” Elena Bosch of the University of Leicester said in a statement.

One of the most surprising findings is the percentage of Spanish genes whose origin can be traced to Sephardic Jews, although Spain had a relatively small Jewish population compared to its Moorish population.

Some of these genes may pre-date the Sephardic Jewish culture, the researchers said, noting that the Phoenicians also share some of the genetic characteristics.

Your Maximum Leader thought that this little bit of information was interesting to learn. Indeed, he was reminded of previous studies have found interesting genetic connections between people that one wouldn’t associate as being so close genetically. (To avoid the risk of citing something wrong, he is going to forego a discussion of some of the other studies that he seems to remember…)

The study of human genetics is a fascinating thing. It is amazing (and sometimes upsetting) to think of what we are learning and theorizing about our own nature due to our growing understanding of the human genome.

But, the AP peice started to upset your Maximum Leader… Not because of the genetics, but because of a little something else. Here is what set off your Maximum Leader: “The Moors invaded the Iberian peninsula in 711 and remained until defeated in battle by the so-called Catholic Monarchs in 1492.” “So-called?” That pissed your Maximum Leader off a little bit. Would you refer to Alexander of Macedonia as “the so-called Alexander the Great?” Would Tsar Ivan IV of Russia be “the so-called Ivan the Terrible?”

Anyone who knows anything about Spanish history knows that Ferdinand and Isabella are known to history as “The Catholic Monarchs.” Why would one throw that “so-called” in there? Is it just to be snide or is it to try and educate people? Sadly, it can’t be the educational option because Ferdinand and Isabella are never mentioned in the article. That “so-called” sticks in your Maximum Leader’s craw and he just can’t get past it.

Something else in this confluence of events… Your Maximum Leader, prior to reading the piece on the Sephardic Jewish genes, was thinking about the Catholic Monarchs. You may be asking yourself, “Self, why would my Maximum Leader be thinking about the Catholic Monarchs?” Well… He sat down and watched “Elizabeth the Golden Age” on his Tivo over the weekend. Your Maximum Leader wonders how he actually made it through the 2 hrs running time. Gawd what a waste of time and money. There were no redeming qualities to that film. Avoid it.

While watching the film you Maximum Leader got to thinking about Phillip II of Spain (the Great-Grandson of the Catholic Monarchs). At first he wondered if the actor portraying Phillip in the film had that weird little walk (small bowlegged steps) because Phillip was described to have walked that way - or if the very tight pants required him to walk that way. After a little contemplation, he decided it was likely neither of those choices but rather an attempt to characature Phillip as a sort of weird little religious fanatic with an odd gait.

Then your Maximum Leader started to think about the historical reputation of Phillip II, his father Charles V, and his Great-Grandparents Ferdinand and Isabella. Other than Isabella do any of them have a favorable reputation that isn’t significantly tainted by Protestant historicism? And frankly isn’t Isabella’s favorable reputation based on “financing” Columbus’ voyages?

Your Maximum Leader doesn’t believe that Phillip or Charles deserve their bad repuations if you try and look at them as actors in their times. Perhaps from a few hundred years (and secularized society) on we can scoff at their religious wars in Europe. But if one tries to insinuate your mind into their time their actions seem perfectly explainable.

Your Maximum Leader also didn’t realize, until pulling out a book and checking, that Phillip II was married 4 times. He could recall three wives (Mary I of England, Elizabeth of Valois and Anne of Austria - with Mary Tudor and Anne of Austria immediately coming to mind, Elizabeth took a little digging). But he didn’t know that before Mary I of England came Mary of Portugal. He should have known because he knew about Don Carlos of Spain, but he just thought that Don Carlos’ mother was Elizabeth of Valois.

Anyhoo… Your Maximum Leader was thinking about the Catholic Monarchs when he read that piece on the AP and that little “so-called” line annoyed him.

If you would like to share your thoughts on Phillip II, Charles V, The Catholic Monarchs, or human genetics; please feel free to do so in the comments or emails.

Carry on.

    About Naked Villainy

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