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Daily Archives: January 21, 2022

Chuckles of the Day




Some Grandkid Humor

A nursery school teacher was delivering a station wagon full of kids home one day when a fire truck zoomed past. Sitting in the front seat of the fire truck was a Dalmatian dog. The children started discussing the dog’s duties.

“They use him to keep crowds back,” said one youngster.

“No,” said another, “he’s just for good luck.”

A third child brought the argument to a close. “They use the dogs,” she said firmly, “to find the fire hydrants.”

—————-

I didn’t know if my granddaughter had learned her colors yet, so I decided to test her.

I would point out something and ask what color it was. She would tell me, and always she was correct.

But it was fun for me, so I continued.

At last she headed for the door, saying sagely, “Grandma, I think you should try to figure out some of these yourself!”

—————-

When my grandson Billy and I entered our vacation cabin, we kept the lights off until we were inside to keep from attracting pesky insects. Still, a few fireflies followed us in.

Noticing them before I did, Billy whispered, “It’s no use, Grandpa. The mosquitoes are coming after us with flashlights.”

—————-

When my grandson asked me how old I was, I teasingly replied, “I’m not sure.”

“Look in your underwear, Grandma,” he advised. “Mine says I’m four to six.”

* * * * * * *

The Flasher

Three little old ladies named Gertrude, Maude and Tilly were sitting on a park bench having a quiet conversation when a flasher approached from across the park.

The flasher came up to the ladies, stood right in front of them and opened his trench coat.

Gertrude immediately had a stroke. Then Maude also had a stroke. But Tilly, bless her heart, being older and more feeble, couldn’t reach that far.




5 Theories on the Origin of Omicron, the Variant That Might End the Pandemic

Josh Mitteldorf wrote . . . . . . . . .

The genome of Omicron has taken the community of public health scientists by surprise.

Not only are there a large number of mutations, but some of these mutations have not been observed in the many previous genome analyses, thousands of which are being conducted in labs around the world.

Among scientists, there are five competing explanations for this situation.

  1. Maybe the virus has been mutating toward Omicron for a long while, but it has happened “under the radar” in a region of the world where there are few scientific labs that might have reported its genome in intermediate states. In other words, it appeared someplace where genomic testing was unavailable and intermediate strains remained undetected.
  2. A single immune-compromised patient might have harbored the virus for an extended period of “long COVID,” during which the virus mutated while replicating within that individual.
  3. The virus might have jumped to a mouse host and spread from mouse to mouse, in an environment where different mutations would be favored. The heavily mutated virus must then have jumped back to humans.
  4. The virus leaked from, or was released from, a laboratory in Durban, South Africa, where experimenters were genetically manipulating the virus.
  5. Vaccinated populations have put intense selection pressure on the virus to evade the vaccine by mutating its spike protein, which is the only part of the virus to which vaccinated individuals have immunity.

As with everything COVID, we’ve seen significant censorship around the origins of Omicron, both in the mainstream press and the medical journals.

Three of the above theories were discussed out in the open. But No. 4 was relegated to the fringes because scientists are still gunshy about discussing engineered bioweapons, and No. 5 has similarly been sidelined because it is politically incorrect to say anything bad about vaccines.

The irony here is that evolution in vaccinated populations may have led to the emergence of a version of COVID that everyone can live with.

Let’s take a closer look at each theory.

Theory #1: Omicron was hiding out in darkest Africa

Christian Drosten, a virologist at Charité University Hospital in Berlin, proposed Omicron evolved its prodigious ability to spread rapidly while hiding out in regions of Botswana and Southwest Africa.

“I assume this evolved not in South Africa, where a lot of sequencing is going on, but somewhere else in southern Africa during the winter wave,” Drosten said.

This region of the world has few virology laboratories that would have reported intermediate versions of the virus.

In both Botswana and South Africa, just under half the population has been vaccinated, according to Reuters. This might explain the many mutations in the spike protein and Omicron’s ability to infect the vaccinated.

Theory #2: Omicron gestated in the slow cooker of a single patient with long COVID

According to a Dec. 1, 2021 article in Science, Omicron clearly did not develop out of one of the earlier variants of concern, such as Alpha or Delta.

Instead, it appears to have evolved “in parallel — and in the dark.”

Emma Hodcroft, a virologist at the University of Bern, told Science:

“Omicron is so different from the millions of SARS-CoV-2 genomes that have been shared publicly that pinpointing its closest relative is difficult. It likely diverged early from other strains. I would say it goes back to mid-2020.”

That raises the question of where Omicron’s predecessors lurked for more than a year.

Andrew Rambaut of the University of Edinburgh told Science he can’t see how the virus could have stayed hidden in a group of people for so long.

“I’m not sure there’s really anywhere in the world that is isolated enough for this sort of virus to transmit for that length of time without it emerging in various places,” Rambaut said.

Rambaut and others propose the virus most likely developed in a chronically infected COVID-19 patient, likely someone whose immune response was impaired by another illness or a drug.

According to Science, when Alpha was first discovered in late 2020, that variant also appeared to have acquired numerous mutations all at once, leading researchers to postulate a chronic infection.

That theory is bolstered by sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 samples from some chronically infected patients.

Theory #3: Omicron jumped to a mouse, then back to humans

This study from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, cites genetic evidence from the Omicron genome to support the thesis that the virus jumped to mice, then back to humans.

The frequency of different kinds of mutations (different amino acid substitutions) is different within the mouse physiology compared to the human physiology.

These authors determined the types of mutations found in Omicron are more characteristic of mouse than human physiology.

A creative idea! But perhaps that is its main weakness, because:

  • There are a huge number of mutations of every kind when the virus replicates, either in a mouse or a human. The ones that stick are the ones that are adaptive, i.e., the ones that help the virus replicate or spread more effectively to another host. The Chinese study does not address this.
  • A great many adaptations would be needed for a virus to effectively infect a mouse population. These would have to be established to accomplish the jump into the mouse population, then undone for the virus to jump back to humans. Still, there is some precedent in the known ability of SARS-CoV-2 to infect a herd of white-tailed deer.
  • Both these objections could be obviated if the virus were deliberately passaged through humanized mice in a laboratory.

Theory #4: Omicron escaped from a gain-of-function laboratory

In April 2021, a laboratory in Durban, South Africa, published this paper, describing the genetic modification of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

In November 2021, the Omicron variant was first discovered in the area of Johannesburg / Pretoria, about 600 km away from Durban.

Were the two events related?

The 501Y mutation which is the subject of the Durban study is present in the Omicron variant, but many of the other mutations listed in the Durban manuscript are missing from the Omicron genome.

Many scientists are convinced, based on its genetic signature, that the original Alpha strain of COVID was engineered in a bioweapons laboratory.

Normally, the spike protein of a virus is just evolved to latch firmly onto a host cell. But in the case of the COVID virus, the spike protein does a lot of nasty things as well, including blood clots and damage to nerves and arteries.

The spike protein seems on its face to be designed for toxicity.

The early Nature Medicine article that tried to put the lab-origin theory to rest claimed only that the spike protein was not fully optimized to bind to human cells, That was the sole basis of the authors’ certainty that “SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.”

However, when Dr. Anthony Fauci’s emails were FOIAed, we learned Fauci himself commissioned this article, whose authors included suspects for channeling bioweapons research to China through the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, of which Fauci is the director.

So now it appears the spike protein was designed as a compromise between optimal infectivity and optimal toxicity.

If Omicron was engineered for unsavory purposes, it seems to be serving more as an antidote rather than a weapon.

Omicron appears to spread so fast that it has rapidly displaced Delta in the population where it originated, yet it is causing remarkably mild illness and few if any deaths.

Theory #5: Omicron evolved to evade the vaccine

All four of the above theories have adherents and all four can be supported with logic. Any one of them may turn out to be correct.

But there is a simpler hypothesis, theory No. 5, which involves no extra assumptions, relying instead only on the principles of natural selection.

The main weakness of this hypothesis is that the number of mutations in Omicron, and the rate of evolution of those mutations, seem to be anomalously high — but perhaps that fact is being ignored because of publishing taboos.

Viruses eventually evolve toward higher transmission rates and lower fatality rates. The higher transmission rate is what allows the virus to out-compete other variants and spread through the population.

The lower fatality rate is less obvious — viruses can spread better if the host is feeling well and circulating in the population. If the host dies, the virus dies with it.

The Omicron variant seems to take an unusually large step in both directions. This is why most epidemiologists are looking for a specialized explanation for its origin.

A more mundane explanation points to the possibility that vaccinated populations put pressure on the virus to adapt. Communities with high vaccination rates have created an ideal environment for the coronavirus to mutate.

All parts of the virus are mutating all the time, but not all help the virus to be successful.

If the spike protein mutates, this can throw the vaccinated immune system off the scent because vaccination produces a highly focused immune response to the (Wuhan original) spike protein.

Dr. Geert vanden Bossche prominently predicted this would happen early in the distribution of the COVID vaccines.

The Omicron variant demonstrates that vanden Bossche got this exactly right. It includes 37 new mutations in the area of the spike protein, and Omicron has largely evaded the vaccines.

Vaccinated people are as likely or more likely to get Omicron compared to unvaccinated.

Vanden Bossche anticipated tragic consequences for all of humanity, but this does not seem to be what is happening. Rather, this cloud appears to have a silver lining.

As stated above, the spike protein is the toxic payload of the COVID virus, responsible for most of the damage the virus does to blood vessels and neurons. (It appears that the spike protein was engineered for this purpose in a gain-of-function experiment.)

As the spike protein has mutated, it has become less toxic. As a result, the Omicron variant is far milder than the original Wuhan COVID.

The Omicron mortality rate, according to UK figures, is only 1/10 as high as the Wuhan rate. (The UK has had 10,866 Omicron cases and 14 deaths for a mortality rate of 0.0013. For comparison, the two-year total of COVID deaths and cases in the UK was 148,000/11,800,000 = 0.013, almost exactly 10 times higher.)

Unknowns and what lies ahead?

We know historically that the natural immunity of a recovered patient provides the best immunity we know. People (mostly Chinese) who recovered from SARS 18 years ago seem to have full immunity to COVID, though the two viruses are substantially different.

This should mean that Omicron will sweep through the population, and many, many people will recover after a mild and abbreviated illness, with permanent immunity to all forms of COVID.

This would be the dawn of herd immunity and the end of COVID. The question is whether recovering from Omicron will provide full immunity to future variants.

We see that recovery from past variants does not provide sufficient immunity to protect against Omicron.

Is this because Omicron is an exception to the general rule about robust immunity in recovered patients?

Or is it an artifact of faulty testing, people who have been told they recovered from COVID when they really had the flu?

Or is it an artifact of vaccination after recovery, which seems to be counter-productive, narrowing some of nature’s robust, acquired immunity?

Meanwhile, press releases from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and mainstream reports are using Omicron as a booster for the fear-porn industry, citing exploding “case” statistics while ignoring the simultaneous drop in “death” statistics.

Pfizer is developing a new mRNA vaccine for Omicron, which it plans to release in March. Will the vaccine maker double down on its tragic mistake in basing the vaccine on the toxic spike protein?

Or will the new vaccine be derived from a less dangerous part of the virus?

We have reason to hope Omicron will spell the end of COVID, but only time will tell.


Source : The Defender

The Excruciatingly Long, Slow ‘Death’ of Coal

Dave Levitan wrote . . . . . . . . .

Rumors of coal’s death have been greatly exaggerated. As evidence placing 2021 among the hottest years ever recorded rolled in last week, new data demonstrated just how difficult it is to relegate the burning of dirty black rocks to the slag heap of history.

In one study, the independent research center Rhodium Group estimated that 2021 greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. experienced a surge of 6.2 percent compared with 2020′s pandemic lows, thanks in large part to a 17 percent bump in coal-fired electricity generation. A second study, by the International Energy Agency, reports that the global demand for coal hit an all-time high in 2021, and that it will rise further in 2022 and remain steady at record levels through 2024, largely thanks to China and India.

Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the goal set in the Paris Agreement that scientists say would help stave off the worst effects of climate change, necessitates leaving almost all remaining coal in the ground. However, the world’s biggest coal consumer, China, has committed only to start curbing its use by the end of the decade, and it faces some serious political and economic hurdles. On the domestic side, the picture is slightly brighter: Experts say the 2021 U.S. numbers don’t do anything to alter coal’s long-term outlook, and its decline should continue apace — if slower than some might prefer.

“The long-term trends are unchanged, that you have a lot of coal retirements ongoing now and planned in the coming years,” said Mark Thurber, of Stanford University’s Program on Energy and Sustainable Development and author of the 2019 book “Coal.” Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration bears this out, with almost 14 gigawatts of coal power — almost six percent of the U.S. output — scheduled to close down in 2022 alone; a recent report said that 85 percent of all power plant retirements this year will be coal plants.

The surge in coal power use in 2021 does show that even in the U.S., where economics makes it is essentially impossible to build new coal power infrastructure, easing off the fossil fuel is hard.

“It’s a blip that also shows our vulnerability … if we continue to rely on this kind of bygone-era energy system, where we take black stuff out of the ground and we burn it,” said Claire Fyson, of the international nonprofit research organization Climate Analytics, “it just doesn’t work anymore.”

The Rhodium Group’s analysis found that coal’s 17 percent surge was largely a response to spiking natural gas prices. With 2021 gas prices more than double the average price seen in 2020, power companies saved money by decreasing gas use and relying more on coal. As long as the coal plants are standing by, natural gas price volatility could lead to similar such coal surges in the future.

Just 28 percent of U.S. coal power plants are slated to shut down by 2035. “There has been a lot of spare capacity among the existing coal-fired fleet and, as we have seen this [past] year, those plants are willing and able to ramp up during these high-gas-price periods,” said Harrison Fell, a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy. “Absent any federal or regional policies that mandate some decarbonization or otherwise increase the cost of generation from coal plants, if these recent high gas prices persist, the long tail of coal’s demise could get seriously elongated.”

Some states have instituted policies that would hasten coal’s death, such as aggressive emissions reduction targets and renewable energy incentives, Fell said. But by and large, they are not the states where coal plants are concentrated. About 30 states have enacted renewable portfolio standards, which require some proportion of a state’s energy come from clean sources — but Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky and other coal powerhouses aren’t among them.

At the federal level, there is one very uncomfortable elephant in the room: The sprawling social-program spending bill backed by President Joe Biden. It’s now stalled in the Senate.

“The Build Back Better Act, at least as it was written in 2021, provides tremendous support for renewables” and other cleaner alternatives, Fell said. “Massively expanding these generation sources undermines the economics of existing coal and would certainly speed up their retirements.”

The legislation, which includes significant climate funding, has been stymied by the objections of Senate Republicans and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who is severely entangled with the coal industry. Manchin has suggested he opposes coal-unfriendly policies because the “market” is already tamping down coal use — an idea belied by last year’s surge and the too-slow pace of plant retirements.

The bill’s fate remains nebulous. Fell said that the Biden administration could take other actions to hasten coal plant retirements through the Environmental Protection Agency, but the Supreme Court would likely rip the teeth out of any such approach.

“If, for existing coal plants, the economic conditions remain positive (e.g., gas prices remain high) and the regulatory hurdles remain low, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for these plants to continue generating for another 10 to 15 years and possibly longer,” Fell said.

That may sound disappointingly slow, but it’s still a rosy scenario when compared with coal’s trajectory among the world’s biggest consumers.

China isn’t quite ready to let coal go

Zooming out, China — which accounts for more than half the world’s annual coal consumption — will be a major player in deciding how long coal’s death throes last.

Like the U.S., China saw a surge in coal consumption last year. But it was a record high after several years of climbing consumption, not just a blip.

In many ways, coal is an indicator of China’s overarching economic transition. Chinese leadership has been attempting to steer China away from a GDP-centric growth model that relies on heavy industry toward a higher-quality, and lower-carbon, economy.

It has been a jagged transition. In 2020 and 2021, the Chinese government unleashed huge stimulus spending on infrastructure to boost the economy in the wake of the initial covid outbreak in Wuhan. That drove a spike in coal consumption to produce the cement and steel needed to build everything from airports to roads. At the same time, the pandemic spending spree in the U.S. and other affluent countries increased Chinese exports, raising manufacturers’ electricity use.

Gang He, an energy expert at Stony Brook University, sees it as a short-term trend. “It cannot change the long-term trajectory of coal phasing out or coal phasing down,” he said, pointing to the government’s commitment to peaking emissions before 2030 and reaching carbon neutrality by 2060.

China’s longer-term energy and development priorities did start to reemerge in the second half of 2021. Coal power, steel and cement consumption fell — a byproduct of China trying to rein in excessive real estate development. That’s a long-term priority for the government as it shifts the economy and should help bring about the end of coal’s reign.

But the future of China’s favored fuel is also tied up in other political considerations. In the fall, China will hold its 20th Party Congress, where President Xi Jinping is expected to be anointed for his third term. The government usually approves a short-term stimulus in the run-up to these party congresses to ensure the economy looks good ahead of the political event, according to Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. That could mean more coal-intensive construction projects.

At the same time, after an energy crisis led to skyrocketing coal prices this past fall, the Chinese leadership is also very focused on energy security, He said. During an October visit to one of China’s largest oil fields, Xi compared energy to a rice bowl that “must be held in our own hands.” Because China is rich in coal resources, that could mean an extra boost for coal in the short term.

A final political challenge when it comes to phasing out coal is that local governments hold a lot of power. Provinces have the authority to approve new coal power plants, and many are still interested in doing so to boost GDP and jobs.

In northern China’s Shanxi province, for instance, the coal mining industry employed nearly 1 million people as of 2016, compared with 11,000 in West Virginia, a state roughly half its size by area. For these provinces, getting off coal is a huge social and political predicament. “How we guarantee their jobs and support their families — that is a challenge,” said He.

These political and economic pressures create a highly uncertain path for coal over the next few years. China has committed only to start decreasing coal use between 2025 and 2030.

India, the world’s second-biggest consumer of the fuel, is projected to decrease coal’s share of power generation from 70 percent to 50 percent over the coming decade. But that comes in the context of a rapidly expanding power sector — so overall coal use should continue to increase. The IEA report projects that India will expand its coal consumption by about 4 percent per year through 2024. It’s not clear when the trend will finally start to reverse.

China’s tipping point could come sooner. Myllyvirta said he predicts coal use could start decreasing there as early as 2023, as China backs off of rounds of short-term stimulus and homes in on its long-term priority of creating a less energy-intensive economy.

But he points out that this timeline is still far from ideal climate-wise: “I’m cautiously optimistic — of course it is still far away from what would need to happen to get on the 1.5 degree trajectory.”


Source : GRID

Chart: Major Global Pandemic with at least 100,000 Estimated Deaths

中國LPR罕见“双降息”,房贷月供变少!买房更容易了?

又降息了!一个月的时间里,“央妈”连续两次下调1年期LPR(贷款市场报价利率),共降了15个基点,5年期LPR更是20个月来首次下调,此轮降息将对经济、楼市、股市等带来什么影响?

传递稳增长信号

1月20日,全国银行间同业拆借中心公布本月贷款市场报价利率(LPR),1年期LPR为3.7%,比上月下降10个基点;5年期以上LPR为4.6%,比上月下降5个基点。其中,1年期LPR创下连续两个月下行的纪录,5年期以上LPR则是结束了连续20个月的“按兵不动”。

招联金融首席研究员董希淼向中新财经表示,本月LPR非对称下降,基本符合预期。

“第一,中期借贷便利(MLF)中标利率下降推动LPR下降。第二,银行资金成本降低推动银行减少加点。去年以来央行两次实施全面降准,并加大对存款利率监管,优化存款利率自律上限确定方式,有效地降低了银行资金成本,使得银行有空间减少加点。”

董希淼分析称,本月LPR非对称下降,具有三个方面的积极意义。

第一,进一步传递出稳增长的信号。“信心比黄金更重要”,近期货币政策持续调整产生叠加效应,有助于恢复市场主体对未来的预期和信心,激发市场投资需求,推动经济稳步增长。

第二,引导金融机构降低市场主体信贷成本。1年期和5年期以上LPR双双下降,新增的短期和中长期贷款利率都有望进一步下行,直接利好实体企业。

第三,有助于更好地防范金融风险。去年11、12月,银行信贷投放增速有所下降,1月“开门红”情况并不理想,部分银行甚至出现“资产荒”。如果信贷萎缩的局面得不到扭转,银行体系的风险也将加大。

“从时机选择看,在美国加快收紧货币政策之前,本月LPR下行的时间窗口较为适宜,为我国赢得应对发达经济体金融政策外溢风险的主动空间。”董希淼称。

“刚需”购房可省钱

2021年下半年,个别房地产企业风险显性化,受此影响,房地产各类主体避险情绪上升,金融机构出现了短期的应激反应,购房信贷环境相对收紧,部分“刚需”群体申请住房贷款周期拉长。

LPR罕见“双降息”后,易居研究院智库中心研究总监严跃进表示,此次央行降息政策,对于房地产市场将产生积极的影响,总结来说,有助于提振房地产市场的景气度。

“从房企角度看,中长期贷款资金成本将进一步降低,进而鼓励房企愿贷敢贷,较好激活房企2022年的投资和新开工意愿。”严跃进说,“从购房者来说,房贷利率成本进一步下调,将进一步激活合理住房消费需求,活跃交易行情。”

“103个重点城市的平均房贷利率已连续4个月回调且下降空间较上月扩大,放款周期进一步缩短。”据贝壳研究院数据,1月,其监测的103个重点城市主流首套房贷利率为5.56%,二套利率为5.84%,均较上月回落8个基点;本月平均放款周期为50天,较上月缩短7天。

其中,59个城市房贷主流利率环比下调,较上月增加19个,其中广州、深圳、杭州、南京、苏州等重点城市房贷利率均下调。放款周期方面,64个城市放款周期较上个月缩短,4个一线城市银行放款均加快,广州较上月缩短40天以上,北京平均缩短12天至70天以内,合肥、武汉、杭州、南京、厦门、成都等二线城市平均放款周期均缩短20天以上。

严跃进认为,此次央行降息,将进一步传导到房贷市场中,以100万元贷款金额、30年期等额本息还款的按揭贷款为例,在利率调整前,5年期LPR为4.65%,月供为5156元。此次利率调整后,LPR为4.60%,月供额为5126元。如此计算,月供额减少约30元。

“若考虑到商业银行可贷资金后续更加充裕、利率有进一步下调的空间,那么减负效应将更为明显。”


Source : 人民网


Read also at Reuters

China cuts key rates, steps up monetary stimulus to boost economy . . . . .

Chart: Bitcoin Drops Below US$40,000

Source : Trading Economics