Waiting For the Next Variant to Drop

Tuesday, November 30: “So today we learn: 1) Omicron was circulating in The Netherlands at least a week before the travel bans; 2) Omicron was found in Germany in someone with no travel history and no contact with travelers. Travel bans are pointless; the variant is already in community transmission.” – Geoffrey York, Africa correspondent for The Globe and Mail (Canada).

The Delta variant was bad enough. After banging around Britain for a while, it inevitably showed up here in New Hampshire, where, were it not for Michigan, we’d have the highest 7-day rolling average of new cases in the nation. Thank you, business-friendly Governor Chris “No Mandate” Sununu.

Any day now the new, improved Omicron—with extra added mutations—will be here.

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel gave the bad news to the Financial Times Tuesday morning. [We have this from Pam Martens’ Wall Street On Parade. The original is behind a paywall.]

“There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness of the current vaccines] is the same level…we had with [the] Delta [variant]…I think it’s going to be a material drop. I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data. But all the scientists I’ve talked to…are like, ‘This is not going to be good.’ ”

Mission accomplished, all you knuckleheads.

To be clear, we do not mean to imply that the personality cult which has crustalized* around the former main attraction of a televised freak show intentionally created the conditions which fostered a “highly mutated” coronavirus variant that’s spreading faster than ever. That would be giving it too much credit.

If its ringleaders were honest—a stretch, we know—they’d put on Joker makeup and quote the line: “Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it! You know, I just…do things.”

Culpability for unleashing an escalating viral catastrophe is not mitigated by the absence of a plan. As a prior Figure of Veneration of this cult, fond of assuming an air of Solomonic wisdom and virtue, once intoned, “actions have consequences.” In a functioning legal system—if we had such a thing—most national and state leaders of the party in question would be facing charges under the RICO statue. They have been conspiring in plain sight to jeopardize public health for political gain, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives. The book that should be thrown at them would be too big to lift.

We regret that we are unable to cover this likely pending catastrophe in our traditionally light-hearted manner. In the immortal words of the late R.B. Fowle, “It all depends on whose ox is gored.” This time it may be our ox—again.

During the first go-’round we went 32 fortnights without being able to properly put out a paper. We’re not saying we plan to suspend printing and distribution again, but we must acknowledge that that could happen. Hence our urgency to issue this indictment.

* We had intended to write “crystalized,” but the typo version seems more fitting.

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We generally try to avoid nostalgia. With a past as long as ours, it would be easy to get lost. A glimpse of this old postcard though, had us pining for pre-war days. Pre-Great War, that is. Here we see Pa at the wheel, Uncle Eli sporting a snappy boater, and Eliza, Marge, and Cousin Vivie in the back, all wearing flowery bonnets. They’re gallivanting around, probably in Newburyport, touting Vineland Grape Juice: “The best is none too good, and costs no more.”

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“It Was Entirely Avoidable”

Rich Countries Blamed as Omicron Sparks Global Alarm

by Jake Johnson, Common Dreams

The detection of a new, heavily mutated, and potentially vaccine-resistant coronavirus variant in Botswana and other nations is sending shockwaves worldwide as public health officials rush to understand the strain and its possible impact on the global pandemic response.

For vaccine equity campaigners and epidemiologists, the emergence of another highly contagious coronavirus mutation is far from surprising given the massive inoculation gap between rich and poor countries, which has left billions of people across the globe without access to lifesaving shots—and kept the door open to variants.

Botswana, where the new strain was first identified earlier this month, has fully vaccinated just 20 percent of its population.

Tim Bierley of the U.K.-based advocacy group Global Justice Now said in a statement that the B.1.1.529 mutation is an “entirely avoidable” consequence of deliberate policy decisions by rich countries, which have hoarded vaccine doses and refused to force pharmaceutical giants to share technology with developing nations.

“The U.K. has actively prevented low and middle-income countries from having equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines. We have created the conditions for this variant to emerge,” Bierley said, referring to the British government’s opposition to a proposed patent waiver for coronavirus vaccines.

“For more than a year, South Africa, Botswana, and most countries have been calling for world leaders to waive intellectual property on coronavirus vaccines, tests, and treatments so they can produce their own jabs,” Bierley noted. “It’s a vital measure that will be discussed at next week’s World Trade Organization conference. But, so far, the U.K. and E.U. have recklessly blocked it from making progress.”

“There have been countless warnings that super-variants could emerge if we do not remove artificial barriers to global vaccination,” he continued. “If and when this new variant starts to tear through the world, remember that the British government has led opposition to the plan that could have stopped it.”

Srinivas Murthy, an infectious disease expert, echoed that sentiment.

“Allowing new variants to emerge and spread, 13 months into the vaccine era, is a policy choice by the rich world,” he argued.

In marked contrast to their slow-walking of the proposed patent waiver, European countries sprang into action in response to the new variant, moving to impose fresh travel restrictions on visitors from southern Africa as global markets tumbled.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said Friday that the body will “propose, in close coordination with member states, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529.”

“Rich nations are very quick to ban travel but very slow to share vaccines and know-how,” said Madhu Pai, Canada Research Chair in Epidemiology and Global Health at McGill University.

Dr. Ayoade Alakija, co-chair of the Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance, tweeted that the renewed push to cut off travel “was our greatest fear, and [we] were almost prophetic in predicting that the world would eventually shut Africa out having denied us access to vaccines.”

At a press conference on Thursday, South African Health Minister Dr. Joe Phaahla said the B.1.1.529 variant—which has thus far been detected in Botswana, South Africa, and Hong Kong—may have been behind recent coronavirus outbreaks in the small South African province of Gauteng. (Update: The first case of the B.1.1.529 variant in Europe was identified in Belgium on Friday.)

“Rest assured that as people move in the next coming weeks, this (variant) will be all over,” he warned.

Professor Tulio de Oliveira, a renowned bioinformatician, told the media that in the B.1.1.529 variant, “what we see is this very unusual constellation of mutations.”

“This is concerning,” he said, “for predicted immune evasion and transmissibility.”

As Nature reported, “The variant stood out because it contains more than 30 changes to the spike protein—the SARS-CoV-2 protein that recognizes host cells and is the main target of the body’s immune responses.”

“Many of the changes have been found in variants such as Delta and Alpha and are linked to heightened infectivity and the ability to evade infection-blocking antibodies,” the outlet noted.

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

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Oh, dear. We were afraid this might happen. Just went for a little spin in the Fowle’s News staff car, and that was all it took. Now here we are, back in 1877, eyeballing Raynes’ shipyard from General Fitz John Porter’s old hot air balloon, which we picked up cheap as Army surplus. Hard to believe that this whole neighborhood will someday end up covered in indistinguishable hotels. No wonder we like it here…er, now.

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RIP Bob Lawton

New Hampshire lost a state treasure last month. Bob Lawton parlayed a $750 loan and his own relentless industry into Laconia’s famous Funspot—recognized by Guiness in 2008 as the world’s largest arcade. He may have been born in Ohio, but you can’t get any more New Hampshire than that.

Lawton died November 11th at the age of 90. Remembrances have appeared on New Hampshire Public Radio, in most of the state’s remaining, functional dailies, and the Boston Globe. In all of them, Lawton comes across as an amiable, wicked hard-working, yet fun-loving kind of a guy.

Several stories give Lawson credit, during his freshman term as a state legislator in 1969, for replacing “Scenic” on our license plates with the more pugnacious motto, “Live Free or Die.” Controversial at first, the motto has since become just another part of the scenery. In interviews, he had spoken of the license plate not so much as a political call to arms, but more as a successful marketing scheme for the state.

Lawton’s weekly paper, The Weirs Times, gets fewer mentions in these encomiums. A look inside may explain why. By all appearances, Lawton the man was an endearing old gent. The newspaper he started in 1992…well, that’s different.

At first glance it seems like an ordinary shopper—a 40-page short tabloid, in full-color, plenty of local advertising, some comics, a fishing column, puff pieces on local events, house ads for Funspot…all the sorts of things you would expect.

Reading the content, though, is like Thanksgiving in Hell: a chorus of cranky old uncles lecturing about how the world really works. Apparently Bob Welch, founder of the John Birch Society, was a modern day Nostradamus: liberals are all Communists, and the country is in imminent danger of becoming a tyrannical dictatorship.

At the Weirs Times, Michelle Malkin, Ben Shapiro, and John Stossel—considered far right in most other contexts—represent the squishy middle. For some real red meat, read Hal Shurtleff. In his November 18th piece, “The Communist Manifesto and the U.S. Constitution,” he writes that in the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx “wrote ten planks which is [sic] a total contradiction of our nation’s founding principles.” After enumerating them, he draws this conclusion: “If these ten planks look familiar, it is because most of them have been implemented to some extent in the United States.” Uh, right….

If we’re going to rank the contributors to Lawton’s paper, though, there can be no question as to who gets top billing: God.

Yes, the Creator Himself has a column in the Weirs Times. It’s called “Letters from God.” After all, why gild the lily with anything fancier?

At the risk of offending the Almighty, we’ll quote His latest lede:

“Question: Is History Repeating Itself?

“It is astounding that you continue to follow the foolish path of those who have gone before you and failed miserably as a result. From the time that I created the first man and woman, the desire to rebel against me [sic, passim] and to attempt to experience life without me and in opposition to me, has never succeeded.”

It seems God has a control problem. Who’d a thunk it? The good news is, he’s also got a sense of humor. A little sadistic, perhaps….

“I reminded [those who challenged His leadership] that their feeble attempts to overthrow me, their God and Creator, was laughable. Not that I took pleasure in the suffering that would follow, but it is comical that pride would so blind people, that they would think they can overthrow me and my will.”

Although the piece ends with the signature, “God,” it’s followed by a disclaimer: “These letters are written by a New Hampshire pastor.” Thanksgiving at his house must be a lot of fun.

The contrast between Lawton’s unquestioned genality and his paper’s fire-breathing politics is more than a little perplexing. We don’t know what to make of it, but, as Paul Harvey—another avuncular old paleoconservative—used to say, “Now you know [dramatic pause] the rest of the story.”

We will say this: it proves that when it comes to getting value for your money, you can’t beat a free newspaper.

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NEC Achieves New Distinction

New England College in Henniker—“The Only Henniker on Earth”—was founded in 1946 to educate veterans just back from World War Two—or to soak up some of that GI Bill money. A matter of perspective, we suppose. During the Vietnam War years its role was reversed. Mediocre students from well-off families attended not for an education, but to avoid becoming a veteran. NEC, it’s been said by locals, stands for “Not Exactly College,” or “Never Ending Circus,” or even “Never Enough Cocaine.”

Now a new distinction has allegedly been achieved. NEC may have helped educate (details remain murky) one of the most successful fugitives in U.S. history.

An obituary posted in May noted that Thomas Randele of Lynnfield, Mass. had attended New England College. The U.S. Marshals Service says that that detail helped them establish “Randele’s” real identity: Theodore “Ted” Conrad.

In 1969, Conrad, a teller in a Cleveland bank, walked out with $215,000 in a paper bag and never went back. Apparently he went on to live a fairly normal, rewarding life—and he never got caught this side of the grave.

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