Category Archives: history

Delta Blues, or how I spent my summer not being able to take a vacation

We still need all of these layers.

When I started writing this post, I was planning on a straightforward update on the current situation with the delta variant (sorry, I couldn’t resist the obvious title). And then a 13-year-old killed a classmate at a local middle school for no discernible reason. And then the Taliban took back Afghanistan.

The murdered boy was trying to talk his killer out of continuing to bully his friends. He stood up to him with words, doing exactly what most of us would teach our kids to do, what my daughter would do, what I would do. The right thing.

Going into Afghanistan was never the right thing. I remember writing “Can you say ‘quagmire’?” back then. Three quarters of Americans thought this war was a great idea. I was part of the other quarter. I take no pleasure in being right in this case. Afghanistan continues its reputation as the “graveyard of empires.”

In order to avenge the deaths of 3000 Americans, we killed or maimed tens of thousands more, plus tens of thousands of Afghans and then Iraqis, naturally including myriad children. We spent 20 years and a couple of trillion dollars and we accomplished what looks right now to be little or nothing.

And to begin with, the perpetrators of 9/11 were Saudis, and we never gave Saudi Arabia the slightest grief over that. We always fought the wrong battles for the wrong reasons. For so many years we, that is, our leaders knew we were failing and we just kept on going, perhaps in the belief that whenever we left things would be exactly as bad as they are now. And things were always worse than we realized.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/2021/08/10/afghanistan-papers-book-dick-cheney-attack/

I suppose I should not be surprised that instead of effectively fighting this pandemic and its wide-ranging ills, we spend so much of our energy fighting each other.

Pulling the Fangs Back

Anger at the unvaccinated and the irresponsible among us is real. While a more-transmissible strain like delta was bound to come along, wider uptake of vaccines and more stringent adherence to public health common sense would have helped limit the damage, and would still damp down the development of newer variants. Our US deniers and anti-vaxxers are only one aspect of this; many governments have been too poor or too inefficient to get vaccines out to the majority of their people. But seeing Americans die or cause others to get sick because they haven’t taken the most obvious steps to avoid it is maddening.

Dr. John Lapook said, on the Stephen Colbert show on 8/16, “We come into these conversations coiled.” He suggested “pulling the fangs back” when trying to convince someone that getting vaccinated would be a good idea. I didn’t realize how “coiled” I was until I ran into a certain friend at an outdoor event in July. She announced that she wasn’t hugging anyone because she wasn’t vaccinated, which she said was because of her health condition. She really does have a condition in which it’s reasonable to be extremely cautious about medications, but it could just as easily be said that she needs the vaccine all the more because of it— her situation is honestly a bit fuzzy and it’s not crazy that she has hesitated. She has also fallen for a lot of the misinformation, though, and that has been frustrating to deal with. Anyway, I lit into her. Without knowing I was going to do it, I snapped at her. That is, I snapped. She reacted just as badly. Not a productive exchange.

A doctor in Alabama has even refused to see patients who are not vaccinated. ‘“If they asked why, I told them covid is a miserable way to die and I can’t watch them die like that,” wrote Valentine, who has specialized in family medicine with Diagnostic and Medical Clinic since 2008.’ Alabama has the lowest vaccination rate in the US and a high number of residents hospitalized with COVID.


Summer Non-Vacation— Why Is This Happening?

What did you want to do this summer? I wanted to have the party I didn’t get for my 60th birthday last year. (Oh, well— at least I was alive to have another birthday!) It’s very unclear what to do now. Nothing involving a large group of people, certainly. Is it OK to have a small outdoor gathering with vaccinated family and friends? And should we stop attending any non-crucial indoor events of any kind, even with masks and good ventilation? How much have things changed now that delta has taken over?

Amanda Mull wrote a compassionate piece about where we stand with these questions, “Delta Has Changed the Pandemic Risk Calculus.”
‘Assessing risk pre-vaccination was often bleak, but at least the variables at play were somewhat limited: ventilation, masks, crowds, local spread. Now the number of additional, usually hyper-specific questions that people must ask themselves is itself a barrier to good decision making, says Jennifer Taber, a psychologist at Kent State University who studies health risk assessment. “When people feel like things are uncertain, they engage in avoidance,” Taber told me. That can manifest in disparate ways. An unwillingness to acknowledge that many new things are safe for the average vaccinated person is avoidance. So is a refusal to continue taking even minor precautions for the benefit of others.’
https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2021/08/delta-variant-pandemic-risk-safety/619798/

A big part of my job as a clinician is helping patients to sort through all the available information to answer health questions like this, and it’s not easy these days. Just as we’ve been through the entire pandemic, we’re still flying by the seat of our pants, trying to keep up with ever-changing conditions and advice. The rise of delta has been a predictable but chaotic and confusing development that hit us with a bait and switch just when we thought we were getting our lives back. It’s still new and we’re still figuring it out.

What I mean by predictable is that this is normal virus behavior. A more transmissible variant will obviously outcompete others, and it would have been a surprise had we not seen a variant like this eventually. Viruses “want” to produce as many copies of themselves as possible, and any mutation that leads to more chances to replicate is great for them.

In general, causing less illness and death is also good for viruses, because having hosts walking around spreading viral particles results in far more replication than having hosts lying isolated in hospital beds, or in graves. So over time a viral species is likely to become more transmissible but less deadly. Sadly, delta seems to cause at least as much and as severe disease as earlier forms of COVID, maybe more.
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/delta-variant.html

We had some small hope of getting enough people vaccinated quickly enough, as a planet, to limit the possibility of worse new variants popping up. We didn’t make it, and that too was predictable. Viruses can adapt much faster than we can. We can still hope to escape without a far more dangerous variant coming along, but time is not on our side. The more humans there are who cannot access or will not accept vaccines, and the more who refuse to take other precautions, the more opportunities the virus has to mutate.

Here’s a good way of putting it:
‘You might think of viral replication as buying lottery tickets, in which the virus accumulates random mutations that very occasionally help it spread. And the fewer lottery tickets the virus has, the less likely it is to hit the mutation jackpot. The appearance of troubling new variants may slow down.’*

The now-famous Provincetown outbreak around the 4th of July has taught us a great deal.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/08/05/provincetown-covid-outbreak/
The area population was so highly vaccinated that the tens of thousands of visitors who descended on the place didn’t worry about getting sick. They even packed cheek by jowl into indoor venues, without a mask in sight. No one expected to need them. Here you can get a sense of just how packed together the revelers got:
https://theboatslip.com/tea-dance
Then some folks noticed they were feeling unwell or had lost their sense of smell. By that time it was dawning on us all that delta was different and that we had been wrenched into a yet another new reality where we had to learn the rules all over again.

The misinformation mill has seized on Provincetown’s experience as an example of vaccines not working. That’s not remotely the case. Yes, 74% of the infections were in vaccinated people, but with over 900 infections, there were only 7 hospitalizations and zero deaths. An unvaccinated population would have a very, very different outcome. This article explains everything you need to know about the outbreak and what it means for the rest of us:
https://www.factcheck.org/2021/08/scicheck-posts-misinterpret-cdcs-provincetown-covid-19-outbreak-report/

You could just read the article, and you should, but I’m going to summarize some key points:

— Imagine a population that was 100% vaccinated. Vaccines are not perfect, so there would be some infections, and 100% of them would occur in vaccinated people.
— Infections in vaccinated people are rare, but since the vaccinated population consists of hundreds of millions of people, a significant number of people do get infected.
— The most important thing: With current strains of the virus, even if one does become infected, vaccination means essentially no chance of dying and very little chance of becoming severely ill.
— It looks like vaccinated people may harbor as much viral material in their noses as unvaccinated ones if they get infected, but infection doesn’t get as far into the body and the viral load goes down quickly as the immune system responds.

Research is ongoing to try to determine how likely an infected vaccinated person is to transmit the virus. That may be less than some studies suggest. From the same article:
‘For one, these sorts of PCR tests are good at identifying viral RNA, but they can’t tell whether that genetic material is in an intact, infectious virus particle or not. That becomes especially relevant for vaccinated people, Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, said.
‘“Antibodies from a vaccinated person can coat the released virus and keep it from infecting other cells,” he told us. “And T cells can kill infected cells, releasing viral genetic material but not infectious particles.”
‘Second, the tests are only looking for RNA present in the nose and throat, not the lungs — even though vaccines are likely to have more of an impact there, according to previous research.
‘“Though it isn’t entirely clear how much of transmission comes from the lungs vs. the nose and throat,” Bhattacharya said in an email, “it is almost certainly some.” That would also suggest a vaccinated person with a similar cycle threshold as an unvaccinated person would be less infectious.
‘Vaccinated people also likely aren’t infected as long, since their immune systems are quicker to respond to the virus, which would also make them less likely to infect as many people as an unimmunized person.’

Here is a similar explainer, with data from the UK, where delta has run rampant:
https://theconversation.com/covid-the-reason-cases-are-rising-among-the-double-vaccinated-its-not-because-vaccines-arent-working-164797

Another highly vaccinated place that’s weathered a recent surge is Iceland.
‘Iceland, the experts say, is providing valuable information about breakthrough infections in the fully inoculated. Yet it also remains a vaccine success story.’
https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/iceland-has-been-a-vaccination-success-why-is-it-seeing-a-coronavirus-surge/ar-AANl2dx +

As with the surge in England, soccer was involved. ‘The country’s top health officials linked most of the cases to nightclubs and to residents who traveled to London to attend Euro 2020 soccer matches that some warned would be “a recipe for disaster.”’

Epidemiologist Brandon Guthrie gave some perspective in the Iceland article:
‘“We’ve handicapped ourselves in what the definition of success is,” he said. Scientists originally hoped for vaccines that were 50 percent effective, he said, and the goal was to prevent death and severe disease — not to provide blanket protection against any chance of infection.’
That is, the current reduced effectiveness of the vaccines is about as good as we hoped vaccines would be in the first place. Keep that in mind whenever you feel like despairing.

Even if it’s been quite a while since you were vaccinated, and you don’t have a lot of antibodies circulating in your blood, your T and B cells still remember how to recognize and fight SARS-CoV-2. Infection won’t get into your lungs because it will have been fought off by that time. It may take as much as 5-6 days for the body to marshal a good crop of antibodies, but generally it would take 10 or more days for a COVID infection to get as far as the lungs.

But meanwhile, kids are getting sick and being hospitalized, and some of them are dying of this disease that too many adults insist is no big deal for them. Vaccines for the under-12 cohort are on the way, but at this point the behavior of adults is the only real protection younger kids have, and in too many places adults are doing a crappy job.

“This new variant is a major contributor, but a major issue is that people’s behavior has changed,” said Gigi Gronvall, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “I don’t think we can absolve people and leaders of responsibility for this because it gives them a pass. The reason kids are getting infected is because we don’t have those precautions and parents and households are getting infected.”
https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/kids-sick-covid-are-filling-children-s-hospitals-areas-seeing-n1276238

‘Kline said it is unclear what kind of long-term effects babies and children will face.
‘Specifically, Kline referenced the brain fog adults see after contracting the virus.
‘”How does that affect a baby who is still having a developing brain? We just don’t know.”
‘Kline said another concern is cardiac issues in children.
‘”It worries me a lot that people say sure, kids can get COVID-19 but most of them recover uneventfully,” said Kline. “We know almost nothing about what those infections could produce down the line. I think there is a real risk that a proportion of these kids will have some long-term effects.”’
https://www.wdsu.com/article/new-orleans-louisiana-children-sick-covid-19-unvaccianted-adults-responsible/37259391

And all this is before school starts in a lot of the country.

Conspiracy Theory Roundup

For the sake of readers who live in a bright future where this craziness is forgotten: Droves of parents are currently following right-wing leaders and fighting requirements to wear masks in schools, sometimes with physical violence against teachers, principles, health care providers, and other parents.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no excuse for willful failure to protect children; I suppose it relates to that tendency toward avoidance when things feel uncertain. Yet, even the parents who give the most insane reasons for refusing to let their kids wear masks believe they are doing their best for them. Some may have thought things through and come up with vaguely rational justifications, but most have surely spent too much time in the conspiracy-verse, where they find an endlessly creative cornucopia of crap being produced every day.

The funniest example going around is the claim that vaccinated people will grow tails. My first reaction to that was Cool!  Unlike the claim that we become magnetic, this one cleverly avoids being immediately disproven by saying that the tails will grow at some point in the future. At least that’s how I heard it. I hope it doesn’t take too long….

For a while we were hearing that women would become infertile if they were vaccinated. Now the same scary disinformation is being aimed at men.
https://www.factcheck.org/2021/06/scicheck-research-rebuts-baseless-claims-linking-covid-19-vaccines-to-male-infertility/

Oddly enough, sperm counts have actually been found to increase after vaccination! The reason is unclear, but it’s been a consistent effect.
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2781360
“Sperm Parameters Before and After COVID-19 mRNA Vaccination”

President Former Guy rejected masks and publicly visible vaccinations as making him look less manly, but hey, maybe vaccines make for more manliness. I think we should really hammer on this selling point!

(Stephen Colbert pointed out that the conspiracy theory that vaccines cause a drop in fertility must be true— all those elderly people were vaccinated first, and sure enough none of them have had kids since.)

A more insidious claim is the one that COVID is being brought in by people coming over the border from Mexico; this is in line with centuries of blaming “foreigners” for disease. And of course it neatly deflects blame from the GOP fearmongers and unvaccinated Americans who are actually driving the high case counts. But this too is easily disprovable. We know that the bulk of transmission is coming from people within the US, not those coming from elsewhere, because we can track the genomes of various strains of the virus and see who is carrying which and where those strains are prevalent.

The lieutenant governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, added further venom to this trope by disgustingly blaming Black Texans for the state’s horrific rise in COVID illness and deaths. Patrick is the same guy who last year said people over 70, like him, should be willing to sacrifice their lives in order to keep the economy going. And he’s only doubled down in the face of criticism of his racist statements, which again are easily disproven.
‘Patrick acknowledged Texas’ public-health crisis — rising cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities — and said he’s aware of the criticisms of the state’s Republican leadership. But the lieutenant governor insisted the blame be directed at unvaccinated African Americans, not the GOP officials who remain passive toward the pandemic.
‘”The Democrats like to blame Republicans,” Patrick said. “Well, the biggest groups in most states is African Americans who are not vaccinated. Last time I checked, over 90 percent of them vote for Democrats in their major cities and major counties.”’
‘…In fact, the latest data suggests unvaccinated White Texans outnumber unvaccinated Black Texans by a roughly three-to-one margin.’
https://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/dan-patrick-falsely-blames-covid-surge-unvaccinated-black-texans-n1277307

Meanwhile, Patrick’s cohort Governor Greg Abbott continues to interfere with requirements for masks around the state in the name of “freedom.” He’s getting plenty of pushback, but why should anyone have to use up their energy— or money— fighting for the right to protect their or their children’s health? Meanwhile taxpayers’ funds are drained away in court battles the state need never have started, instead of meeting real human needs. If only we could immunize against stupidity and self-serving political posturing.

One way out of the mess is to make masking voluntary, but as pediatrician Dr. Danny Benjamin said, a voluntary masking policy is “like having a no-peeing section in a pool.”

Onward with Delta Force

A major development just occurred: the FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine, so it is no longer being given under an Emergency Use Authorization. Moderna was later to submit data but its approval will be coming along soon. Many of the vaccine-hesitant have said this would make a difference in their acceptance of the shots.

The biggest question among my patients right now is when and where boosters will be available. I’m in the camp that wonders whether large numbers of us privileged sorts should be getting a third dose when so much of the world hasn’t even had a first one. We’re told that there are plenty of doses to go around in the US and that we can both give extra protection to Americans and send vaccines to poorer countries, but I personally don’t feel great about using a dose someone else may desperately need, and I recognize that the only way to protect everyone is to protect everyone.**

Giving a third dose to organ transplant recipients on immunosuppressants and others who have not been able to mount a strong response to their original vaccination is a different matter and a clear benefit as far as we know. For the rest of us, we’re told that we should probably get a booster about 8 months after our second shot. For me and a lot of health care workers, that’s early October, so we’ll need to decide pretty soon.

Surprisingly, it appears that flu shots give some protective effect against a range of severe symptoms of COVID. I was figuring that since I would likely stay masked this winter, and that if pandemic limitations continued we might have little or no flu season last year, a flu shot would be pretty worthless. The risk/benefit calculation has changed again. The authors suggest that for populations that have not had access to COVID vaccines, flu vaccine might be better than nothing.
https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0255541
“Examining the potential benefits of the influenza vaccine against SARS-CoV-2: A retrospective cohort analysis of 74,754 patients”

What about those who have already had COVID? Aren’t they immune? They do have some protection, though we aren’t sure how long it lasts. However, since the virus has ways to evade the immune system as part of its normal strategy, natural infection doesn’t confer immunity as well as the vaccine. If you have both a history of natural infection and the vaccine, you have the highest possible level of immune response. For you, a vaccine is essentially a booster. (Similarly, if you become infected despite being vaccinated, the disease has a booster effect.)
https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2021/03/covid-19-survivors-may-be-able-skip-2nd-vaccine-dose

Last year when vaccines were being developed, there were breezy assurances that we would be able to tweak them to take new variants into account. Can’t we do that for delta? Well, yes, but no. The practical problem with creating vaccines against specific variants is that by the time studies are done and the product approved, that variant may be gone and another may be ascendant. If a variant comes along that completely evades current vaccines, though, we will need to meet that challenge.

Intranasal vaccines are being developed. Injecting a vaccine into the arm doesn’t teach the body to be on the lookout specifically for a respiratory virus. That is, giving a vaccine in the nose tells the body that the virus involved is going to enter through the nose and that’s where defenses need to be placed, so it’s a more efficient strategy. It should also be a bit easier on the needle-squeamish.

‘Charneau and a group of scientists in Paris have shown that natural SARS-CoV-2 infections trigger both systemic and mucosal immunity. But our current crop of COVID-19 vaccines offer only systemic protection. Developing vaccines that are sprayed up the nose, rather than injected into the arm, could change that, Charneau says. Mucosal immunity in our noses could be like a guard at the door, potentially helping stop even small infections of SARS-CoV-2 right where they start.’
https://cen.acs.org/pharmaceuticals/vaccines/Intranasal-nose-vaccines-stop-COVID/99/i21

I’ll leave you with another hopeful note, a story about former pastor Curtis Chang, who has been working within the vaccine-resistant evangelical community to dispel common myths.
https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2021/08/this-former-pastor-is-changing-evangelicals-minds-on-covid-vaccines/

‘Historically, the evangelical movement has baked into it a certain wariness of dominant secular institutions. And this can be captured in the saying that Jesus called us to be in the world, not of the world. We’re not of the world in the sense of just conforming automatically to the assumptions and beliefs the world. But what’s happened is that this orientation of being wary has gotten weaponized.

‘‘There’s been three main forces that I think have done that. One is that you can actually gain a lot of ratings by playing up those fears of what Washington is doing or what the left is doing. Christians are being bombarded by so much conservative media that they automatically just assume they’re out to get us. Another one is that conservative politicians have realized that you can gain a lot of votes by playing up these fears. And then the third is sort of outside conspiracy movements. QAnon, the anti-vaxxer movement—they have realized that evangelicals are fertile hunting grounds for their theories, because they are already primed to be distrustful of institutions, and so they can be easily kind of recruited into their deep conspiracies of distrust.’

Pastors, Chang says, are in a difficult position. Most of them are in favor of vaccination, but they risk backlash from their congregations if they speak too strongly about it— same problem GOP politicians have. (I would argue that both have helped create this problem.)

‘I understand that people are frustrated, that they’re losing patience, that they just want to make things via mandate, and give up trying to persuade these people. I think that’s short-sighted, for a couple of reasons. One, if you just resort to sheer coercion, it just confirms the narrative that they’re out to get us, that they are shoving things down our throat. You’re just laying the groundwork for a deepening divide. The second reason is that you have to realize that we’re still in the first or second inning of vaccine outreach, globally. You have to realize that parts of Africa and Asia are heavily influenced by Christian culture. A country like Uganda is like 90 percent Christian. Those churches, those places in Africa, they actually take their cultural cues to a great extent from American evangelicals, especially leading white evangelical voices. So America is—unfortunately, through evangelical culture—exporting its vaccine hesitancy. A lot of the same conspiracy theories and doubts and fears that we’ve been battling here, we are definitely seeing emerge and being replicated in the rest of the world. Changing American culture is not just about getting more American evangelicals to take the vaccine, it’s going to be critical to getting the rest of the world vaccinated. And ultimately, for all of us, if we don’t get the entire world vaccinated, we’re all at risk. ’

‘…What’s going to be really important is for Christians to convey to other Christians is that it’s okay to change your mind. The Christian virtues of grace and acceptance are going to be paramount here because people are going to be even more resistant if they think that in changing their mind they are going to be shamed.’

Grace and acceptance… those sure sound good right now.

***************************************************************
TAKEAWAYS for the Delta Era:
— You can still get infected even if you’re vaccinated, though most likely you won’t.
— Remember the Swiss cheese layer concept and take multiple precautions as reasonable and available.
— Be good to yourself and others and acknowledge the effects of the unrelenting pain and uncertainty of our time.
— WEAR THE DAMN MASK!

************************************************************

Original source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/iceland-covid-surge-vaccines/2021/08/14/bdd88d04-fabd-11eb-911c-524bc8b68f17_story.html

Data from the UK, May to July 2021: 
https://spiral.imperial.ac.uk/bitstream/10044/1/90800/2/react1_r13_final_preprint_final.pdf

*https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2021/08/how-we-live-coronavirus-forever/619783/
“The Coronavirus Is Here Forever. This Is How We Live With It.”

***https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2021/08/04/1019780576/why-who-is-calling-for-a-moratorium-on-covid-vaccine-boosters
Meanwhile, Israel is not waiting and has already given third doses to around 600,000 of their citizens— while Palestinians next door in Gaza and the West Bank have had so much trouble even getting a first dose. Here’s part of that sad tale, in which they were offered nearly-expired doses, for which Israel would have received fresh replacements:
 https://mondoweiss.net/2021/06/we-returned-them-palestinians-axe-1-million-pfizer-dose-deal-with-israel/

A new examination of the possible origins of COVID-19:
https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2021/08/16/science.abh0117
“The animal origin of SARS-CoV-2”

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Filed under health and healing, history, nature, psychology, science

Sorting Medical Fact from Fiction, Part III: Give Me Liberty AND Give Me Death

Patients have been asking me about “herd mentality,” which they then quickly correct to “herd immunity.” Herd mentality we’ve got plenty of. Herd immunity, not so much. In fact, it’s unclear whether widespread, lasting natural immunity to COVID-19 is even a biological possibility. It may turn out to be only a mirage.

But as the pandemic drags on and we are all getting weary, some of us are worn down enough to entertain some pretty crazy notions– or to take cynical advantage of our weariness.

The Great Barrington Declaration came out on October 4, made a splash, and is still being talked about. This is a letter which calls for letting the virus essentially run wild among the younger and healthier members of the population, in order to bring about a theoretical herd immunity, while in some way protecting those who are at high risk. It’s named for Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where it was written, not because it is actually great in any way.

This declaration amounts to magical thinking. It has irresponsibly injected more confusion into an already uncertain situation. It has made the already impossible jobs of public health workers and health care providers that much harder. And yet, some people have been taken in, even some in my own profession.

Although I wouldn’t usually use Wikipedia as a reference, in this case they have an excellent overview of the document, the responses to it, and the issues involved.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Barrington_Declaration

If that’s TL;DR, here’s a simpler summary:
https://news.yahoo.com/white-house-backed-great-barrington-142700156.html?guccounter=1

The declaration is such utter balderdash (insert less polite term here) in so many ways that it’s amazing it’s gotten as far as it has. You can read all about the objections to it if you wish. I’ll give you a sketch to save you some time:
— Many younger people are immune-compromised or have conditions like asthma, diabetes or obesity, putting them at higher risk of severe COVID-19. With moderate overweight now added to the list of underlying conditions that matter, it’s been estimated that about 72% of Americans fall into the high-risk category!

— It is unrealistic at best, and likely impossible, to try to separate younger and older people. Even in nursing homes, the staff is largely composed of younger workers, and obviously they must go home to their families and come back. More generally, a great many people live in multigenerational extended families. The latest figures I’ve found, from 2018, put the number at over 20% of the US population, and growing.

— Even if we have sufficient hospital beds to manage out-of-control numbers of cases, we don’t have enough skilled staff to provide care. The avalanche of cases that would be likely to result from the Great Barrington non-strategy would be impossible to care for.

If these points haven’t convinced you, listen to a group of virologists, starting here at about 50 minutes in:

https://www.microbe.tv/twiv/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IjXzadiNaA&feature=emb_logo

As I write this, New Mexico is reeling from an unprecedented surge in cases, bigger than anything seen last spring at what we thought was the height of the pandemic. Much of the world is in far worse shape than a month ago. No one is sure why this has happened, when only a few short weeks before we seemed well on the way toward beating this thing.

The doctor who was interviewed in the TWiV segment above expressed the theory that having schools open encouraged a premature feeling that everything could go back to normal. He described an 80-year-old woman in his hospital who had caught the virus at her grandson’s birthday party. It was bad enough that 20 kids and their parents got together at all, but then it rained heavily and everyone crowded inside. Without masks.

To the Great Barrington people, that birthday party would have been fine. They wouldn’t have invited Grandma, I suppose, but they would have let the kids and parents infect each other freely. One might wonder what the motivation would be for such shortsighted idiocy. It turns out that the declaration came from a libertarian think tank funded by the Koch brothers. But even if one sympathizes with the libertarian objection to any kind of government control, ending current restrictions makes no practical sense. The longer people go around spreading infection, the longer it will be till the virus is damped down and we can get back to our lives and livelihoods. Which is what libertarians and everyone else would seem to want.

But political philosophies will be moot if it turns out that lasting natural immunity doesn’t happen, and it’s looking like that is the case. Back in the spring, I was thinking more like the libertarians, that it might be ideal to catch a mild case, become immune, and move on. That was before anyone realized the potential for long-term damage— and before we started getting reports of reinfections.

While there are not many known cases so far, there are definitely people who have had COVID-19, recovered, and later been infected with a different strain. We know this because the genomes of various strains have been sequenced, so they can easily be distinguished from each other. Worse, some of the patients became more severely ill the second time, and one died. The previous infection appeared to offer no protection. We don’t know what factors influenced any of this. We aren’t yet sure of the role of innate immunity (not mediated by antibodies). We can’t yet predict how long antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 last. We’re pretty sure it’s not more than a matter of months, though.

This is terrible, vexing news, but it’s not unexpected. The common cold coronaviruses can return to torment us again and again. The same goes for flu. And those are diseases that our bodies already know how to recognize, not a new one that’s hit us out of the blue.

That leaves us in need of a vaccine.

I’m not thrilled to say that, since all vaccines entail some level of risk, and not all are very effective— and a vaccine, even if it’s an especially good one, is not going to solve all our pandemic problems. But I would like to ask you to think clearly about where we are in terms of a potential vaccine and what we are likely to get.

In our current low-trust environment, it’s understandable that a lot of people are leery of accepting a new vaccine that may have God knows what side effects. I don’t want to be among the first to try any kind of medication, myself; I’d rather let some time go by and see if problems crop up. But some people in my profession have been insisting that they aren’t going to take any COVID vaccine, no way no how. Although I’m not gung-ho about vaccines, I don’t see the logic in deciding for or against taking something before one has any information about it. A great many vaccines are in development. They have different characteristics. Some will no doubt prove to be safer than others, and some more effective than others.

More on that next time.

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Sorting Medical Fact from Fiction, Part I: The Two Earths

No, not the Silurians.

A couple of decades ago, a friend introduced me to the work of a person who was then known as Anna Hayes. Supposedly her teachings were “downloaded” (not channeled, she said) from a galactic council of aliens who were trying to be helpful to humanity and fight other aliens, including that perennial mainstay the reptilians, who were working to keep us confused and divided. Following her and doing the practices she taught was supposed to raise people’s vibratory states and allow them to rise above these malevolent influences and create a better reality.

Some of her practices appeared to be worthwhile for one’s health. Some of the very, very dense verbiage involved was obviously crap. And a lot was so hard to understand that one might not be quite sure. There was one contention she had that keeps coming up in my mind, though: a prediction that in the not too distant future, the earth would split into two planets— not physically, but energetically— and the two would go their separate ways, with no communication between them.

And metaphorically speaking, that is exactly what has happened. Strikingly, stunningly so.

This teaching was not meant to be taken metaphorically, though. The idea was that the people of higher vibrations would go one way, and those who hadn’t bothered to enlighten and advance themselves would go the other. The unenlightened ones would be under the tyranny of forces that wanted to use them for their own purposes.

Again, bingo. (Not that I’m being judgmental….)

Anna Hayes— not her original name— became Ashayana Deane, and now is known as E-Ashayana, which certainly sounds more exotic. Her writings are full of what appear to be made-up words, along with a sprinkling of terms that have been used in esoteric contexts for centuries. Her “alien” language makes her stories far more difficult to decipher, let alone analyze, criticize or argue against.

Sometimes, though, you can be sure you’re being given a load of sh*t. For example, the claims of another “spiritual teacher,” Teal Swan, are earth-based and relatively easy to debunk. She claims to have been horribly abused as a child by satanist— Mormon satanist!— cult members. One of her assertions is that at the age of 8 she was sewn inside the dead body of an adult. This is not physically possible.  Such deceptions unfortunately contaminate whatever may be of real value in her teachings.

I have compassion for people who are having trouble sorting everything out (all of us), because it usually isn’t so simple. To muddle matters further, I personally know people who perceive entities rather like the ones E-Ashayana postulates, and their understanding is that these beings are indeed attempting to manipulate us for their own ends. I don’t perceive such beings myself, so I’m agnostic. However, most entities I’ve encountered appear to be trying to help, and my psychic friends see those too.  I prefer to think that most beings, human or otherwise, want to work for good.  Even the farthest-out conspiracy theorists appear to have altruistic motives and believe they are battling evil, no matter how twisted their efforts may become.

But human brains are easily confused.  I suspect that for many people, the languages of science and medicine may seem nearly as unintelligible as E-Ashayana’s “alien” vocabulary. When the true story is complex and unfamiliar, it’s easy to swallow a competing story that sounds plausible on the surface. And of course if the story reinforces our preconceived notions, we’re sitting ducks for it.  Add the constant, overwhelming bombardment of messages from all sources, and how is a person supposed to keep their head on straight?

The meta-story of how a powerful They are constantly suppressing The Truth in order to control downtrodden Us never seems to get old. Of course it’s not a big stretch to believe in it. Heaven knows we’ve heard enough proven examples of deceit from large corporations, such as Exxon insisting climate change was bunk when they knew very well what a problem it was. We know of government agencies exposing citizens to nuclear tests or injecting soldiers with LSD. It’s not hard to accept the notion that powerful forces or beings, human or otherwise, might be trying to keep us in the dark. We have little reason to trust the good intentions of our corporate overlords, who appear to worship profit above all, nor certain politicians who have made it very clear that power is their sole motivation.

The two ladies I’ve mentioned also turn huge profits at the expense of their followers, and whatever they may claim about their motives, they have certainly gained power over them as well.  Since I am not personally acquainted with either one, I will say no more.  You can probably find examples of similar business models without much trouble.

Here’s where pop-culture gurus and more mainstream sources are in general agreement: We’re often told that if we stay centered and calm, keep our minds on our spiritual values and on love rather than fear, and consume a solid information diet instead of mental junk food, we are a lot harder to manipulate. That seems like an objective truth to me.

I would also like to submit that science and scholarship are real.  Science too can go astray, and can be manipulated for the sake of money or power, but the scientific process tends to right itself eventually.  Forces who want to manipulate us typically work to limit education and defund and muzzle science.  That’s one way you can recognize them. Isaac Asimov, who was very much concerned with finding truth and explaining it in a way people could understand, had this to say: ‘There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”’

No, ignorance isn’t good, ever.

Next: Ways to think clearly about touted treatments for COVID-19.

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Filed under history, mythology and metaphor, politics, psychology

“White wealth surges; black wealth stagnates”

While working on this post, I found myself struggling to explain to an elderly white friend that a certain young black right-wing icon is either an idiot or a con artist, and that she really did say that systemic racism doesn’t exist, and that it actually does. (She also says that global warming doesn’t exist.) He wasn’t having any of the facts I put in front of him. The conversation was quite a shock, as he is educated and intelligent, and I had not heard this sort of thing from him before. I wonder if he is consuming questionable news sources that he didn’t in the past.

Old white people, and everyone else, systemic racism is just not in question. It’s not abstract and it’s not theoretical. It’s right there in front of your face if you would only dare to look. And if you think only the South is the problem, I have two words for you: sundown towns.*

Americans are tragically ignorant about history. And if it’s history that makes us uncomfortable or asks us to do something differently, forget it. I mean we literally forget it.

I am asking you to remember a few things.

A very daunting recent article explained that the wealth disparity between white and black American families has not gotten any better over the course of more than 40 years. Not any better. We all know that economic inequality has gotten worse in our country, but we white folks may not realize how much harder our black neighbors have been hit. I hope the paywall doesn’t make it impossible for you to see it, because its 14 charts will hit you square between the eyes.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/06/04/economic-divide-black-households/

Here is what I particularly want you to look at:
 “In 1968, a typical middle-class black household had $6,674 in wealth compared with $70,786 for the typical middle-class white household, according to data from the historical Survey of Consumer Finances that has been adjusted for inflation. In 2016, the typical middle-class black household had $13,024 in wealth versus $149,703 for the median white household, an even larger gap in percentage terms.”

My own family’s economic path

You can skip this next section and all its details if you like. I’m going to outline how things have gone for my own family’s finances over the past century. My point is that we have had the benefit of some built-in advantages as well as a good deal of dumb luck and a few smart decisions. Many of these advantages have been denied to black families.

My mother was born in 1924. Her parents were both immigrants from Slovakia with little education. My grandfather worked in a Pennsylvania coal mine. After his death, during the Depression, my grandmother worked as a live-in domestic, leaving her eldest daughter to take care of the other children. They didn’t have much. Most people didn’t.

My mother was the valedictorian of her high school class. To the best of my knowledge, her siblings did not finish high school. Her brother, like many teenage boys at the time, left home to wander and find work, so that he would not be a burden on the family. He ended up as a Navy pilot.

During WWII, my mother got a job at US Steel in the Youngstown, Ohio area. Due to a severe allergic reaction to the tiny bits of steel that flew around in the air in the mill, she was moved into an office job. This was a lucky fluke that let her keep her job when the men returned from the war and most of the women were laid off.

At that time, it was common to find a good middle-class job with benefits with no more than a high school education. My mother became an accountant, training on the job, and worked in that capacity at US Steel for 37 years, until the mid-1970s when the plant closed. She had enough years in to retire early with a pension, something that is no longer common. It wasn’t very much, but it made a huge difference to the rest of her life.

For many years, US Steel routinely paid women less than men for similar jobs, but the union negotiated equal pay, which as the sole breadwinner my mother needed badly.  The union also provided a scholarship which covered almost all of my bachelor’s degree.

As a single mother, she needed child care. My grandmother moved in with us, which was another crucial factor for our survival. Gram was not particularly warm and fuzzy, but she did take her job of caring for me seriously, and I was kept safe and well fed. Working a reasonable schedule and having this help, my mother was able to pay attention to reading to me and taking me on outings and trips.

In 1962 or thereabouts, my mother bought a house for about $10,000. That house went for only $13,000 when she sold it in 1987, the area was so depressed, but that gave her a little something to work with when she moved to Albuquerque to be near my husband and me and our soon-to-be-born daughter. She eventually bought a house here. Through some rather complex circumstances, I inherited it, and the tenant who lived there at the time of her death is still there. He can’t pay the full market rate, but the house is paid off and it works out.

You see where I’m going with this— the sums of money are small, but they accumulate and build financial stability and family wealth.

My husband’s parents were also second-generation Americans whose parents had a similar background to my mother’s. My father-in-law worked in the mill, and my mother-in-law had worked at a china factory for a while. Most people we knew were like that, working in manufacturing, usually at the same company for decades, ending up with decent pensions.

Now, to the next generation. Despite two degrees, I never had a reasonable income till I was in my 40s and had established my acupuncture practice; before that, I was a starving teacher of private music lessons. My husband taught school most of his working life. At first he was a band director, but the music programs kept being cut, and he ended up doing special ed. We were lower middle class for the majority of that time, I would say.

We left the extremely depressed Youngstown area, where my husband first band director job had been destroyed by cuts to school budgets, and moved to Albuquerque in 1984. We had almost nothing, but we were both able to get low-paid jobs in a music store and that got us started. That company went out of business due to extremely poor investment decisions on the part of the owner, again leaving us bereft. By that time we had enough private students and gigs to tide us over. Eventually my husband was able to get another job as a band director.

These jobs remained shaky. When our daughter was born in 1988, my husband had only a half-time position. We were trying to buy the house we had been renting, and the owners were willing, but the bank that held the underlying mortgage wouldn’t even return our phone calls, and loans were not easy to come by. Parents to the rescue! My in-laws, who had long since paid off their own modest house, gave us the $18,000 needed to pay off that mortgage so that the owners could then take back a real-estate contract and sell the house to us. That $18,000 doesn’t sound like much today, but back then it was a fortune equal to a year of our gross income. And it was another absolutely crucial step.

We lived in that house till 2002, at which time we moved into our present house, with my mother following a few months later. We rented our old house out, and she sold hers to a friend, also on an REC. That deal came to a bad end, and as I said, I inherited the house.

Late last year the tenants at our old house had to move— the same tenants all that time, who we were so fortunate to have— and we sold the house this spring. We put a lot into it over the years, but still came out well ahead.

Another stroke of good fortune was that my mother never needed to go into a long-term care facility. My husband was retired by the time she began to need serious care, and he was a wonderful help to her until she passed in early 2017. She had told us that she didn’t have much in the way of assets, but somehow, amazingly, she had managed to save about 4 times the annual sum of her meager pension and Social Security. (She had done some part-time accounting work into her late 70s, so had a bit of extra income, but even so, this was quite impressive.) I think she expected to need that money for medical costs and/or a nursing home, so she didn’t count it as disposable and was careful not to touch it. Between Medicare and the health insurance she still had after all those years from her US Steel job, most everything was covered, and we had no financial worries in wrapping up her estate.

The result of all this, thus far, is that although none of us ever had high incomes, we are living in a state of relative wealth and financial stability and are able to help others a bit. A major illness or other disaster could change all that, but we do have a cushion. 

In contrast, we’re all told that the majority of American families could not cover a $400 emergency expense. There are all sorts of factors that could be involved, but let’s think about some specific things that might have happened to a black family over time that would prevent them from accumulating wealth.

Social Security

Did you know that the Social Security program left out huge swaths of the population when it was originally designed? Social Security was not extended to some of the people who needed it the most, domestic and agricultural workers. It has often been written that this was intentionally done to exclude people of color.
https://openscholarship.wustl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1409&context=csd_research

https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v70n4/v70n4p49.html
This second article argues that the decision to exclude such workers was not racially motivated, since self-employed and government workers, as well as employees of churches and nonprofits, were also excluded. Perhaps, but whatever was in the minds of the designers, the effect was still to deny this income to a great many black and brown families, while most white families could receive it.

Domestic and agricultural workers are now covered, at least in theory, but for decades their families were further impoverished by the exclusion, over and above the fact that their incomes were low to begin with.

Home ownership

Home ownership is the main way families in the US build wealth. Black families have been consistently and systematically hampered in their ability to buy and keep houses and to choose where they want to live.

In case you are not convinced of that, here is a quick summary of the history of redlining, predatory loans and other ways African-Americans have been prevented from getting in on that vaunted American Dream:
https://www.zillow.com/blog/zillow-group-report/african-americans-homeownership/
The report states, “If white wealth remained stagnant, it would still take black families 228 years and Latino families 84 years to gain parity.”

https://www.epi.org/press/50-years-after-the-kerner-commission-black-americans-are-not-economically-equal/
“‘Black Americans have clearly put a tremendous amount of personal effort into improving their social and economic standing, but that effort only goes so far when you’re working within structures that were never intended to give equal outcomes,’ said economist Valerie Rawlston Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy.”

But what if, against the odds, you did build up some wealth? Say you’ve managed to put together a nice place to live, along with your family and friends. Then someone comes and simply tears it all down.
https://timeline.com/black-village-destroyed-central-park-6356723113fa

Or, as happened in the Tulsa massacre we’ve been reminded of this week, white people who resent your success can come and kill you and burn everything.

This is long enough already, so for now I’ll leave out other factors like health disparities, mass incarceration, and the effects of the so-called War on Drugs, which has been more like a war on poor people.

In many ways the ladder to success in this country has gotten slipperier and tougher to scale, and some of the rungs that used to exist have been broken. Insane health care costs, unaffordable higher education, the gig economy, and jobs without benefits, predictable schedules or sufficient hours to get by— all that hurts everyone except those at the very top (and if they thought more about it they’d realize it’s not great for them either). It’s not like any racial or ethnic group has it easy these days. It’s just that anything that whacks the population as a whole, like COVID-19, tends to whack black Americans harder.

We’re so used to this that it all seems normal and inevitable. It’s not, and it never was. If you can step outside your unconscious expectations for a moment, maybe you can begin to see the craziness. Imagine that you are visiting from Alpha Centauri, planning to have a look at the Grand Canyon. Someone tells you that an Earth person’s chances of living a decent life in many parts of the planet depend on the amount of pigment in the outer covering of their body. You say, “Get outta here! You’re kidding, right?” You can’t imagine that happening on your own planet (where everything sensibly depends on the number of tentacles on one’s head). You make a mental note to avoid this bizarre place for future vacations.

Humans take any excuse to look down on other humans. It seems to be ingrained. I suppose that at some time very, very long ago it was good for our survival and so the trait stuck. It is exceedingly bad for our survival now. We’ve got to stop it, and we’ve got to do that first within ourselves. But even while we’re struggling with that challenge, we can create systems that are more equitable and increase opportunity.

 

*And one more word: Levittown.
 “As well as a symbol of the American Dream, Levittown would also become a symbol of racial segregation in the United States, due to Clause 25 of the standard lease agreement signed by the first residents of Levittown, who had an option to buy their homes. This “restrictive covenant” stated in capital letters and bold type that the house could not “be used or occupied by any person other than members of the Caucasian race.”[10]

“Such discriminatory housing standards were consistent with government policies of the time.[11] The Federal Housing Administration allowed developers to justify segregation within public housing. The FHA only offered mortgages to non-mixed developments which discouraged developers from creating racially integrated housing.[12] Before the sale of Levittown homes began, the sales agents were aware that no applications from black families would be accepted. As a result, American veterans who wished to purchase a home in Levittown were unable to do so if they were black.”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levittown,_New_York

 

More resources:

2017: https://www.zillow.com/blog/millennials-diversity-housing-209688/

2018: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/get-there/wp/2018/04/05/black-homeownership-is-as-low-as-it-was-when-housing-discrimination-was-legal/

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Filed under history, human rights, politics

What Are Viruses? In a Way They Are Us

Coronavirus structure. An artistic response to the last SARS epidemic, in glass. https://www.lukejerram.com/glass/gallery/sars-corona-virus

At the beginning of the year, I wrote about the goddess Kali, having no idea how soon she’d be coming after us.

I also wrote about the interconnectedness of everything on the planet and everywhere, and how the dichotomy of humans vs. nature is false.

It turns out that even the dichotomy of viruses vs. us is false. We all learned in school that viruses are tiny beings that exist in a strange twilight zone between the living and the nonliving, and that they can’t reproduce without using the machinery of plant or animal cells. I hadn’t followed that thought to its conclusion, which is that since viruses must build themselves out of the materials of our own cells, they are in a sense made out of us. They, too, are inextricably entwined with ourselves.

This came up when I was looking for layperson-friendly articles to explain viral structures and functions to my readers and patients. Here is a source:
“Conserved and host-specific features of influenza virion architecture.”
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25226414

“Abstract: Viruses use virions to spread between hosts, and virion composition is therefore the primary determinant of viral transmissibility and immunogenicity. However, the virions of many viruses are complex and pleomorphic, making them difficult to analyse in detail. Here we address this by identifying and quantifying virion proteins with mass spectrometry, producing a complete and quantified model of the hundreds of host-encoded and viral proteins that make up the pleomorphic virions of influenza viruses. We show that a conserved influenza virion architecture is maintained across diverse combinations of virus and host. This ‘core’ architecture, which includes substantial quantities of host proteins as well as the viral protein NS1, is elaborated with abundant host-dependent features. As a result, influenza virions produced by mammalian and avian hosts have distinct protein compositions. Finally, we note that influenza virions share an underlying protein composition with exosomes, suggesting that influenza virions form by subverting microvesicle production.”

OK, that was not a particularly layperson-friendly paragraph, so let’s unpack it. First, what is a virus? It is simply a chain of RNA or DNA, which normally is covered by a coating or envelope of protein. A virion is the whole package of genetic material plus the coating that allows it to get into cells, that is, the infective form of the virus. Note that virions are pleomorphic— they can exist in different forms. We’ll come back to that.

 Virions contain “substantial quantities of host proteins.” That’s the part where they’re made out of us. That’s also how we know what sort of host the virus developed in originally, and can tell that the current SARS-CoV-2 came from bats.*

But there is a deeper answer to the question “what is a virus?” and it is that a virus is information. That information is constantly transmitted between species, just as similar particles are generated and used by organisms within themselves. From the same paper as above:
“Spherical influenza virions are a similar size to exosomes, membrane-bound structures which also transfer protein and RNA between cells. By comparing separately-purified exosomes and virions we show here that they also have a strikingly similar protein profile – by many measures, an influenza virion is simply an exosome that has been enriched with additional components. Similarities have been noted between exosomes and a number of other enveloped viruses, most notably HIV, for which the ‘Trojan exosome hypothesis’ was proposed to explain virion budding as a subversion of cellular pathways for exosome biogenesis.”

I’m embarrassed to tell you that in decades of reading in medicine and biology, I had never learned of the existence of exosomes. It turns out that cells are constantly releasing exosomes, which are little packets of information in the form of microRNAs with coatings, very similar to viruses, and which can turn genes on or off and affect the functions of other cells that encounter them. This includes exosomes we ingest in our food!  This is one of the mechanisms by which substances in foods create benefits to our health.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4851829/
“Interspecies communication between plant and mouse gut host cells through edible plant derived exosome-like nanoparticles”
“It has been known for decades that people eating a variety of edible plants daily are the recipients of many beneficial health effects when compared to subjects that ingest fewer types of edible plants. Ingesting EPDENs from a variety of fruits and vegetables daily would be expected to provide greater beneficial effects for maintaining gut homeostasis than ingesting EPDENs from a single edible plant.”

Exosomes are even present in breast milk, providing a way to convey the mother’s immunity to the baby.

“With the recent discovery that non-coding microRNA’s in food are capable of directly altering gene expression within human physiology, this new study further concretizes the notion that the age old aphorism ‘you are what you eat’ is now consistent with cutting edge molecular biology.”
— Sayer Ji, https://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/amazing-food-science-discovery-edible-plants-talk-animal-cells-promote-healing

Indeed, you are what you eat, and you are also what you breathe in. Back to viruses. What gobsmacked me when I read all this is that I had seen very similar ideas way back in my youth, in the Seth material! It turns out that decades before these discoveries, the Seth entity (famously channeled by Jane Roberts) had been telling us the same things. And I had been thinking about his ideas when I first considered writing this post; for some reason they had stuck in my mind all these years. I didn’t expect to be able to find specific quotes, but the internet being such a magical place, I was able to come up with some right away:

“Many viruses INHERENTLY capable of causing death, in normal conditions contribute to the overall health of the body, existing side by side as it were with other viruses, each contributing quite necessary activities that maintain bodily equilibrium.”

“All viruses of any kind are important to the stability of your planetary life. They are a part of the planet’s biological heritage and memory. You cannot eradicate a virus, though at any given time you destroy every member alive of any given strain. They exist in the earth’s memory, to be recreated, as they were before, whenever the need arises.”

“Viruses appear to be “the bad guys,” and as a rule you think of them separately, as for example the smallpox virus. There are overall affiliations in which viruses take part, however, in which delicate balances are maintained biologically. Each body contains countless viruses that could be deadly at any given time and under certain conditions. These — and I am putting it as simply as possible — take turns being active or inactive within the body, in accordance with the body’s overall condition. Viruses that are “deadly” in certain stages are not in others, and in those later stages they react biologically in quite beneficial ways, adding to the body’s stability by bringing about necessary changes, say, in cellular activities that are helpful at given rates of action. These in turn trigger other cellular changes, again of a beneficial nature.”

“Now: In the same way that a member of such a society can go [askew], blow his stack, go overboard, commit antisocial acts, so in the same fashion such a person can instead trigger the viruses, wreck their biological social order, so that some of them suddenly become deadly, or run [amok]. So of course the resulting diseases are infectious. To that degree they are social diseases. It is not so much that a virus, say, suddenly turns destructive — though it does — as it is that the entire cooperative structure within which all the viruses are involved becomes insecure and threatened.

“You are not aware of the inner army of viruses within the body that protect it constantly. Host and virus both need each other, and both are part of the same life cycle.”

“Thoughts interact with the body and become part of it as viruses do. Some viruses have great therapeutic value. The physical body will often let down its own barriers to these, knowing they will counteract certain others that are not beneficial at the time.
So-called harmful viruses are ever-present within the body. You are very rarely vulnerable to any but a small percentage, though you carry within you traces of the most deadly of them all of the time. Viruses themselves undergo transformations completely unsuspected by medical men. If one virus disappears and another is found, it is never suspected that the first may have changed into the second; and yet through certain alterations of quite natural character such is the case.” [Remember the pleomorphic nature of flu viruses that we read about above.]

“More is always involved, however, for those viruses that you consider communicable do indeed in one way or another represent communications on a biological level. They are biological statements, literally social communications, biologically made, and they can be of many kinds.”

“There are all kinds of biological reactions between bodies that go unnoticed, and they are all basically of a social nature, dealing with biological communications. In a fashion viruses—in a fashion—again, are a way of dealing with or controlling the environment. These are natural interactions, and since you live in a world where, overall, people are healthy enough to contribute through labor, energy, and ideas, health is the dominating ingredient—but there are biological interactions between all physical bodies that are the basis for that health, and the mechanisms include the interactions of viruses, and even the periods of indisposition, that are not understood.”

“The species is also always in the process of keeping within its genetic bank millions of characteristics that might be needed in various contingencies, and in that regard there is a connection, of course, between, say, viruses of many strains and the health not only of man but of other species.”

“The epidemics then serve many purposes — warning that certain conditions will not be tolerated. There is a biological outrage that will be continually expressed until the conditions are changed.”

Wow. If there was ever a time for biological outrage, surely it is now. 

Sayer Ji elaborates this “open-access” view of the biome in an article connecting it with our non-coding “junk” DNA and the Gaia hypothesis:

“This view also invites a complete re-visioning of the tree of life. Unlike the conventional model, where the DNA is hermetically sealed off within the lockbox of each species, evolving in isolation at a glacial pace, except for extremely rare horizontal gene transfer events (such as retroviral vectors that incorporate into the germline and become endogenized as endogenous retroviruses), the newer, more “open access” model would permit species to alter and affect another’s phenotype in real-time, along with potentially altering its long-term evolutionary trajectory by affecting epigenetic inheritance patterns. This speaks to a co-evolutionary and co-operative model, with all areas of the tree of life, co-developing in a highly complex and seemingly highly intelligent, carefully orchestrated manner.

… So, in the post-Genomic era, it is starting to look like the ‘dark matter’ of the human genome is eclipsing in importance the known, protein-coding sequences, which account for only about 1.5% of the DNA’s 3 billion base pairs. Why? Because it has been recently discovered that most of our genome (estimated 70-90%) is transcribed into non-coding RNAs. And why would this be so, if not for a purpose? Life does not concern itself with producing anything without reason.” [my emphasis]
https://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/genetic-dark-matter-and-return-goddess

Please consider this very carefully. Species can affect each other’s structure and function in the moment, and they can affect each other’s evolutionary path by changing inherited traits, something that until fairly recently was considered laughable. And viruses are part of that web of communication. 

One might wonder why terrible diseases exist. Many explanations could be brought up, but it is important to remember that most viruses, most bacteria, most fungi do not create disease, and some actually prevent it. Among these are the viruses which kill harmful bacteria in our mouths, and of course the crucially needed bacteria that live in our guts. Like it or not, we are not so much individuals as communities in motion, ships carrying innumerable passengers and crew who must all work together to stay afloat.

**************************************************************************

The Seth entity and many others remind us that disease and resistance to it are largely (or entirely) produced by our thoughts, both on an individual and a population level. This does not mean that we should stop our physical-world measures to reduce transmission of COVID-19 or any other illness. Although the physical world is essentially an illusion, if you jump off a cliff, gravity will have something to say about it! We have to live in our shared reality and follow its rules. However, we can also use our thoughts to reduce the trouble we find ourselves in and to create new structures as we recover.

EFT teacher Dawson Church reports: 
“Three years ago, with a wonderful group of research colleagues, I studied the levels of immunoglobulin antibodies in people at a 2 day EcoMeditation workshop (with a lot of tapping) at Esalen (Groesbeck et al., 2018). Plus a weeklong EFT tapping workshop (including EcoMeditation; Bach et al., 2019).

“We found that the weekend retreat was associated with a rise in immunoglobulin levels of 27%! That’s a big increase in your body’s ability to fight off invading viruses!”

“While the coronavirus is a “novel” virus and we don’t know how well our existing antibodies work against it, we do know that it’s very useful to have 27% better general immunity!”

He can be found at https://www.eftuniverse.com/

Lynne McTaggart, well-known for her Intention Experiments and Power of 8 intention groups, is holding weekly Facebook Live sessions of applying group thoughts to mitigate the coronavirus crisis, as well as weekly group sessions to help with healing for individuals. https://lynnemctaggart.com/

EFT tapping, meditation, prayer, whatever you choose— you can use your coronacation time to improve your individual situation and the world. I sincerely hope that you are physically and mentally well and that you have enough material goods and finances to get by. If you don’t, please reach out for help in any way you can!

 

 

*‘But how did the outbreak occur? Solving this medical mystery is important to prevent future pandemics. What’s increasingly clear is that the initial “origin story” — that the virus was spread by people who ate contaminated animals at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan — is shaky.

‘Scientists have identified the culprit as a bat coronavirus, through genetic sequencing; bats weren’t sold at the seafood market, although that market or others could have sold animals that had contact with bats. The Lancet noted in a January study that the first covid-19 case in Wuhan had no connection to the seafood market.’
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/how-did-covid-19-begin-its-initial-origin-story-is-shaky/2020/04/02/1475d488-7521-11ea-87da-77a8136c1a6d_story.html

**********************************************************************

Here is more of the relevant Seth material, with the quotes above in context. There was far too much to include in the body of the post. I found these passages at https://findingseth.com, https://www.wireclub.com/topics/philosophy/conversations/UmK3dAOnShBELwai0, and the Seth Quotes page on Facebook.

These books contain the quotes:
NoME = The Individual and the Nature of Mass Events
NoPR = The Nature of Personal Reality
TES = The Early Sessions
DEaVF = Dreams, Evolution and Value Fulfillment
WTH = The Way Toward Health

“The viruses and infections were of course present. They always are. They are themselves fragments, struggling small fragments without intention of harm. You have general immunity, believe it or not, to all such viruses and infections. Ideally you can inhabit a plane with them without fear. It is only when you give tacit agreement that harm is inflicted upon you by these fragments.” -Seth, Early Sessions, Vol 1

“Give us a moment … In those terms, thoughts move far quicker of course than viruses. The action of the virus follows the thought. Each thought is registered biologically. Basically (underlined), when you have an immunity to a disease you have a mental immunity.
You think of viruses as evil, spreading perhaps from country to country, to “invade” scores of physical mechanisms. Now thoughts are “contagious.” You have a natural immunity against all thoughts that do not fit in with your own purposes and beliefs, and naturally (pause, groping), you are “inoculated” with a wholesome trust and belief in your own thoughts above others. The old ideas of voodooism recognized some of these concepts, but complicated and distorted them with fears of evil, psychic invasion, psychic killing, and so forth. You cannot divide, say, mental and physical health, nor can you divide a person’s philosophy from his bodily condition.”
—NoME Chapter 6: Session 841, March 14, 1979

“The patient, therefore, often feels relatively powerless and at the mercy of any stray virus that might come along. The facts are that you choose even the kind of illness that you have according to the nature of your beliefs. You are immune from ill health as long as you believe that you are.”
—NoPR Chapter 5: Session 624, October 30, 1972

“Many viruses INHERENTLY capable of causing death, in normal conditions contribute to the overall health of the body, existing side by side as it were with other viruses, each contributing quite necessary activities that maintain bodily equilibrium.
“If (certain viruses) are triggered, however, to higher activity or overproduction by mental states, they then become ‘deadly.’ Physically they may be passed on in whatever manner is peculiar to a specific strain.
“Literally, individual mental problems of sufficient severity emerge as social, mass diseases.”
—The Individual and the Nature of Mass Events, Session 802

NoME Chapter 6: Session 840, March 12, 1979   5/52
[… 3 paragraphs …]
(When I arose early on the 26th so that I could wrap the proofs for mailing, however, I noticed that Billy [their cat] didn’t appear to feel well. Jane watched him while I went to the post office. He was no better when I returned, and as the morning passed we came to realize that he had a urinary problem. That afternoon I took him to the veterinarian, who kept him for treatment; the problem was serious; by then the cat was in great pain. Jane and I both wondered: Why Billy? Why should such a seemingly perfect young creature suddenly become that sick, for no observable reason? “We were shocked,1 no doubt about it,” I wrote in my notes for the 836th session, a private or nonbook one which Jane gave that evening. During the session Seth discussed Billy’s illness to some extent, while also giving the first “installment” of an answer to a longstanding question of mine: I was curious about the relationship between the host — whether human, animal, or plant — and a disease it might contract, one that was “caused,” say, by a virus. I’ll return to the question at the end of these notes.
[… 6 paragraphs …]
(“All viruses of any kind are important to the stability of your planetary life. They are a part of the planet’s biological heritage and memory. You cannot eradicate a virus, though at any given time you destroy every member alive of any given strain. They exist in the earth’s memory, to be recreated, as they were before, whenever the need arises.
[… 5 paragraphs …]
(Pause.) Viruses appear to be “the bad guys,” and as a rule you think of them separately, as for example the smallpox virus. There are overall affiliations in which viruses take part, however, in which delicate balances are maintained biologically. Each body contains countless viruses that could be deadly at any given time and under certain conditions. These — and I am putting it as simply as possible — take turns being active or inactive within the body, in accordance with the body’s overall condition. Viruses that are “deadly” in certain stages are not in others, and in those later stages they react biologically in quite beneficial ways, adding to the body’s stability by bringing about necessary changes, say, in cellular activities that are helpful at given rates of action. These in turn trigger other cellular changes, again of a beneficial nature.
[… 3 paragraphs …]
Now: In the same way that a member of such a society can go [askew], blow his stack, go overboard, commit antisocial acts, so in the same fashion such a person can instead trigger the viruses, wreck their biological social order, so that some of them suddenly become deadly, or run [amok]. So of course the resulting diseases are infectious. To that degree they are social diseases. It is not so much that a virus, say, suddenly turns destructive — though it does — as it is that the entire cooperative structure within which all the viruses are involved becomes insecure and threatened.
[… 3 paragraphs …]
You are not aware of the inner army of viruses within the body that protect it constantly. Host and virus both need each other, and both are part of the same life cycle.

NoME Chapter 6: Session 841, March 14, 1979   8/21
[… 5 paragraphs …]
The case was startling, again, because of the obvious suicidal acts. The poison was, after all, left as evidence. Had the same number of people been found dead (pause) of a vicious disease — smallpox or whatever — the virus involved would have been the villain. I want to discuss thoughts and viruses, along with the health of the body.
You think of viruses as physical, and of thoughts as mental. You should know that thoughts also have their physical aspects in the body, and that viruses have their mental aspects in the body. At times you have both asked why an ailing body does not simply assert itself and use its healing abilities, throwing off the negative influence of a given set of beliefs and thoughts.
When you think of thoughts as mental and viruses as physical, the question is understandable. It is not just that thoughts influence the body, as of course they do; but each one of them represents a triggering stimulus, bringing about hormonal changes and altering the entire physical situation at any given time.
(Pause at 9:16.) Your physical body … give us time … is, as an entity, the fleshed-out version — the physically alive version — of the body of your thoughts. It is not that your thoughts just trigger chemical reactions in the body, but that your thoughts have a chemical reality besides their recognizable mental aspects. I will have to use an analogy. It is not the best, but I hope it will get the point across: It is as if your thoughts turned into the various appendages of your body. (Emphatically:) They have an invisible existence within your body as surely as viruses do. Your body is composed not only of the stuff within it that, say, X-rays or autopsies can reveal, but it also involves profound relationships, alliances and affiliations that nowhere physically show. Your thoughts are as physically pertinent to your body as viruses are, as alive and self-propagating, and they themselves form inner affiliations. Their vitality automatically triggers (long pause, eyes open) all of the body’s inner responses. When you think thoughts, they are conscious. You think in sentences, or paragraphs, or perhaps in images. Those thoughts, as clearly as I can explain this, rise from inner components of which you are unaware.
[… 1 paragraph …]
(9:28.) Give us a moment … In those terms, thoughts move far quicker of course than viruses. The action of the virus follows the thought. Each thought is registered biologically. Basically (underlined), when you have an immunity to a disease you have a mental immunity.
You think of viruses as evil, spreading perhaps from country to country, to “invade” scores of physical mechanisms. Now thoughts are “contagious.” You have a natural immunity against all thoughts that do not fit in with your own purposes and beliefs, and naturally (pause, groping), you are “inoculated” with a wholesome trust and belief in your own thoughts above others. The old ideas of voodooism recognized some of these concepts, but complicated and distorted them with fears of evil, psychic invasion, psychic killing, and so forth. You cannot divide, say, mental and physical health, nor can you divide a person’s philosophy from his bodily condition.
Give us a moment … While I say all of this about thoughts and viruses, remember the context of the discussion, for new information and insights are always available to an individual from Framework 2, and the body does indeed send its own signals.
[… 2 paragraphs …]
The people who died at Jonestown believed that they must die. They wanted to die. How could their thoughts allow them to bring about their [bodily deaths]? Again, the question makes sense only if you do not realize that your thoughts are as physically a part of your body as viruses are (intently).
[… 5 paragraphs …]

NoPR Chapter 7: Session 631, December 18, 1972   7/23
[… 5 paragraphs …]
You must remember that you dwell always in a natural framework — which means that your thoughts themselves are as natural, say, as the locks of your hair. In what may seem to you to be an odd analogy I will compare your thoughts with viruses,* for they are alive, always present, responsive, and possess their own kind of mobility. Physically speaking at least, thoughts are chemically propelled, and they travel through the universal body as viruses travel through your temporal form.
Thoughts interact with the body and become part of it as viruses do. Some viruses have great therapeutic value. The physical body will often let down its own barriers to these, knowing they will counteract certain others that are not beneficial at the time.
So-called harmful viruses are ever-present within the body. You are very rarely vulnerable to any but a small percentage, though you carry within you traces of the most deadly of them all of the time. Viruses themselves undergo transformations completely unsuspected by medical men. If one virus disappears and another is found, it is never suspected that the first may have changed into the second; and yet through certain alterations of quite natural character such is the case.
So viruses can be beneficial or deadly according to the condition, state, and needs of the body at any given time. It is known that one disease can often cure another; sometimes, left alone, an individual will go from a serious disease through a series of less severe ones that are seemingly unrelated to the original problem.
[… 1 paragraph …]
(Pause at 9:58.) I am not suggesting that you not visit doctors or not take drugs of that nature, as long as you believe in the structure of medical discipline that the Western world has evolved. Your bodies have been conditioned to it through the use of such medications since birth. There are many casualties, but this is still a system that you have chosen, and your ideas still form your reality. No one dies who has not made the decision to do so — and no disease is accepted blindly. Put simply, your thoughts can be regarded as invisible viruses, carriers, sparks setting off reactions not only within the body but the entire physical system as you know it.
Your thoughts are as natural as the cells within your body, and as real. They interact with one another as viruses do. While you are in this reality there is no division between the mental, the spiritual, and the physical. If you think there is, then you do not sufficiently understand the spirituality of the flesh or the physical reality of your thought.
[… 5 paragraphs …]
It is natural to live after death, and natural to return the body to earth and [then to] form another. It is natural for your thoughts to be as quick, responsive, and alive as viruses. It is natural for you to have probable selves as well as reincarnational existences.

DEaVF1 Chapter 6: Session 906, March 6, 1980   10/39
[… 8 paragraphs …]
Subject: Viruses as part of the body’s overall health system, and viruses as biological statements.
Viruses serve many purposes, as I have said before.1 The body contains all kinds of viruses, including those considered deadly, but those are usually not only harmless, or inactive, but beneficial to the body’s overall balance.
[… 1 paragraph …]
(9:01.) In certain fashions (underlined), that system also keeps the body from squandering its energies, preserving biological integrity. Otherwise it would be as if you did not know where your own house began or ended, and so tried to heat the entire neighborhood. So some indispositions “caused by viruses” are accepted by the body as welcome triggers, to clean out that system, and this applies to your present indispositions.
More is always involved, however, for those viruses that you consider communicable do indeed in one way or another represent communications on a biological level. They are biological statements, literally social communications, biologically made, and they can be of many kinds.
(Still quietly, but at a good pace:) When a skunk is frightened, it throws off a foul odor indeed, and when people are frightened they react in somewhat the same fashion at times, biologically reacting to stimuli in the environment that they consider alarming. They throw off a barrage of “foul viruses”—that is, they actually collect and mobilize from within their own bodies viruses that are potentially harmful, biologically trigger these, or activate them, and send them out into the environment in self-protection, to ward off the enemy (more vigorously).
In a fashion this is a kind of biological aggression. The viruses, however, also represent tensions that the person involved is getting rid of. That is one kind of statement. It is often used in a very strong manner in times of war, or great social upheaval, when people feel frightened.
Now, your friend had been to the Olympics (last month, at Lake Placid, New York), and he was charged by the great physical vitality that he felt watching that athletic panorama. [Because of that, and for other personal reasons], he could find no release for the intense energy he felt, so he got rid of it, protected himself, and threw out his threatening biological posture: the viruses.
[… 2 paragraphs …]
(Pause at 9:17.) There are all kinds of biological reactions between bodies that go unnoticed, and they are all basically of a social nature, dealing with biological communications. In a fashion viruses—in a fashion—again, are a way of dealing with or controlling the environment. These are natural interactions, and since you live in a world where, overall, people are healthy enough to contribute through labor, energy, and ideas, health is the dominating ingredient—but there are biological interactions between all physical bodies that are the basis for that health, and the mechanisms include the interactions of viruses, and even the periods of indisposition, that are not understood.
[… 12 paragraphs …]
1. Seth first mentioned viruses in the 17th session for January 26, 1964, when I asked him to comment upon the recent deaths of our dog, Mischa, at the age of 11, and of a pair of kittens Jane had obtained from the janitor of the art gallery where she worked part time. (The kittens had the same mother, but had come from successive litters.) I was 44 and Jane was 34, and in conventional terms both of us were still struggling—not only to learn about ourselves and the world, but to find our creative ways in that world. Seth’s answer to my question was more than a little surprising and saddening to us, and opened up a number of insights:
[… 1 paragraph …]
“The viruses and infections were of course present. They always are. They are themselves fragments, struggling small fragments without intention of harm. You have general immunity, believe it or not, to all such viruses and infections. Ideally, you can inhabit a plane with them without fear. It is only when you give tacit agreement that harm is inflicted upon you by these fragments. To some degree, lesser, dependent lives such as household pets are dependent upon your psychic strength. They have their own, it is true, but unknowingly you reinforce their energy and health.
[… 5 paragraphs …]

DEaVF2 Chapter 7: Session 906, March 6, 1980   1/34
[… 11 paragraphs …]
The species is also always in the process of keeping within its genetic bank millions of characteristics that might be needed in various contingencies, and in that regard there is a connection, of course, between, say, viruses of many strains and the health not only of man but of other species.

WTH Chapter 2: January 28, 1984   2/33
[… 9 paragraphs …]
— is instead the result of an exaggeration or overextension of perfectly normal body processes. You are not attacked by viruses, for instance, for all kinds of viruses exist normally in the body. There are no killer (underlined) viruses, then, but viruses that go beyond their usual bounds. We will have more to say about such issues later on in the book — for I hope to show you how certain feelings and beliefs do indeed promote health, while others promote an unfortunate extension or exaggeration of perfectly normal bodily processes, or viral activity.
[… 3 paragraphs …]
(Long pause.) People have been taught that their bodies are a kind of battleground, and that they must be in a constant state of readiness lest they be attacked or invaded by alien germs or viruses or diseases that can strike without warning.

NoME Chapter 1: Session 802, April 25, 1977   9/63
[… 4 paragraphs …]
Dictation: (Pause, one of many.) Now: To a certain extent (underlined), epidemics are the result of a mass suicide phenomenon on the parts of those involved. Biological, sociological, or even economic factors may be involved, in that for a variety of reasons, and at different levels, whole groups of individuals want to die at any given time — but in such a way that their individual deaths amount to a mass statement.
[… 8 paragraphs …]
Now if you believe in one life only, then such conditions will seem most disastrous, and in your terms they clearly are not pretty. Yet, though each victim in an epidemic may die his or her own death, that death becomes part of a mass social protest. The lives of intimate survivors are shaken, and according to the extent of the epidemic the various elements of social life itself are disturbed, altered, rearranged. Sometimes such epidemics are eventually responsible for the overthrow of governments, the loss of wars.
[… 1 paragraph …]
The epidemics then serve many purposes — warning that certain conditions will not be tolerated. There is a biological outrage that will be continually expressed until the conditions are changed.
[… 1 paragraph …]
The sight of the dying gave them visions of the meaning of life, and stirred new [ideas] of sociological, political, and spiritual natures, so that in your terms the dead did not die in vain. Epidemics by their public nature speak of public problems — problems that sociologically threaten to sweep the individual to psychic disaster as the physical materialization does biologically.
(Pause.) These are the reasons also for the range or the limits of various epidemics — why they sweep through one area and leave another clear. Why one in the family will die and another survive — for in this mass venture, the individual still forms his or her private reality.
[… 17 paragraphs …]
They do not “worry.” They do not anticipate disaster when no signs of it are apparent in their immediate environment. On their own they do not need preventative medicine. Pet animals are inoculated against diseases, however. In your society this almost becomes a necessity. In a “purely natural” setting you would not have as many living puppies or kittens. There are stages of physical existence, and in those terms nature knows what it is doing. When a species overproduces, the incidences of, say, epidemics grow. This applies to human populations as well as to the animals.
[… 2 paragraphs …]
There are also “trial runs” in human and animal species alike, in which peeks are taken, or glimpses, of physical life, and that is all. Epidemics sweeping through animal populations are also biological and psychic statements, then, in which each individual knows that only its own greatest fulfillment can satisfy the quality of life on an individual basis, and thus contribute to the mass survival of the species.
[… 2 paragraphs …]
Many children, who, it seems, should have died of disease, of “childhood epidemics,” nevertheless survive because of their different intents. The world of thought and feeling may be invisible, and yet it activates all physical systems with which you are acquainted.
[… 1 paragraph …]
Love involves self-respect, the trust in individual biological zest and integrity. To that extent, in their way animal epidemics have the same causes as human ones.

https://www.wireclub.com/topics/philosophy/conversations/UmK3dAOnShBELwai0
from The Individual And Nature of Mass Events.–by Jane Roberts———–
—— “Unfortunately, many of your public health programs, and commercial statements through the various media, provide you with mass meditations of a most deplorable kind. I refer to those in which the specific symptoms of various diseases are given, in which the individual is further told to examine the body with those symptoms in mind. I also refer to those statements that just as unfortunately specify diseases for which the individual may experience no symptoms of an observable kind, but is cautioned that these disastrous physical events may be happening despite his or her feelings of good health. Here the generalized fears fostered by religious, scientific, and cultural beliefs are often given as blueprints of diseases in which a person can find a specific focus-the individual can say: `Of course, I feel listless, or panicky, or unsafe, since I have suchandsuch a disease.’
————— “The breast cancer suggestions associated with self examinations have caused more cancers than any treatments have cured. They involve intense meditation of the body, and adverse imagery that itself affects the bodily cells. Public health announcements about high blood pressure themselves raise the blood pressure of millions of television viewers.
—— “Your current ideas of preventative medicine, therefore, generate the very kind of fear that causes disease. They all undermine the individual’s sense of bodily security and increase stress, while offering the body a specific, detailed disease plan. But most of all, they operate to increase the individual sense of alienation from the body, and to promote a sense of powerlessness and duality. Your “medical commercials” are equally disease promoting. Many, meaning to offer you relief through a product, instead actually promote the condition through suggestion, thereby generating a need for the product itself.”

“Examine the literature that you read, the television programs that you watch, and tell yourself to ignore those indications given of the body’s weaknesses.

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Filed under channeling, health and healing, history, nature, psychology, spirit communication

2020 Vision

… is a joke that’s going to get old real fast, so I’ll try to use it quick before that happens.

A free-to-download version of the Kali Yantra from kalibhakti.com, empty of color and ready to receive your preferred reality.

I was going to write about the terrifying prospects we face in the next year and the next decade, and the way they’re battering mental health all over the planet. But you know about all that. What do we do with it? Here are a few musings.

Some interesting takes on how to cope with this apocalyptic Anthropocene era have crossed my screen in the past week. One was the “post-doom” concept espoused by Michael Dowd: “Post-doom: what opens up when we remember who we are, accept what is inevitable, honor our grief, and invest in what is pro-future and soul-nourishing.”
https://www.postdoom.com/

I heard about this in an interview by Steve Bhaerman, the alter ego of my guru Swami Beyondananda. 
https://omtimes.com/iom/2019/12/michael-dowd-post-doom/

It reminded me of the beautiful Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Inner Light,” in which a probe from a long-dead civilization causes Picard to experience the existence of a man who lived near the end, as the planet was being roasted by a malfunctioning sun. The people knew that soon there would be nothing left of their world, but they managed to retain their joy in living despite unimaginable tragedy.

Next I was introduced to “rewilding” by Micah Mortali, interviewed by Tami Simon:
https://www.soundstrue.com/store/weeklywisdom?page=single&category=IATE&episode=14107
Rewilding is a term for conservation efforts to return land to a wilder state, including the reintroduction of large predators, but Mortali was talking about human beings reconnecting to our natural environment, knowing ourselves as animals that belong within it. When Simon asked him how he would suggest that we deal with climate change, he said something I thought was striking and potentially very useful: we should go outdoors and be with nature, and pay attention, and the Earth will teach us what we need to do.

Mortali also pointed out something that it totally obvious but that people forget all the time, that we grew out of the primordial soup of this planet and we are entirely part of her, not separate. The dichotomy of “man” and “nature” is false. Thinking further, then, how is it that nature has led herself to a situation in which one segment of life on the earth threatens to destroy all the rest along with itself?

I remember that when I was a kid I heard adults talking about a time to come, not too far in the future, when the world would be shaken by earthquakes, terrible storms, upheavals of all sorts. They spoke as if this were inevitable and as if everyone knew it would happen. I have never been able to track down whatever they based this belief upon. Nostradamus, perhaps? At any rate, dang, here it is. I think I’ve always subconsciously expected it.

I was also exposed, from early childhood, to Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future, in which humanity would go through a period of worldwide crises (around the 1990s, in the Star Trek canon), then emerge into an age of peace, enlightenment and prosperity. He is not the only one to imagine this, as far as I know. My impression is that it forms a strong thread in the current human psyche.

Can we say that, logically, whatever is happening must be what is supposed to be happening? And will we create that golden age that is supposed to show up afterward?

I would love to think that God/the Universe/Mother Nature will take care of us and allow us to survive, along with taking care of all the other creatures. However, we know there have been repeated mass extinctions, where nearly all life was lost. This is something Earth has done from time to time, and no doubt will do again. Then things continue in a different form. I think often of the Hindu concept of the Kali Yuga, when things go downhill and are destroyed, to make way for a new cycle. I think also of the goddess Kali (which I just found out is a different word from the above) who performs the necessary act of destruction, without which creation cannot occur. While looking up other information for this post, I became fascinated with reading about her.

I am beginning to consider that Kali may be a perfect image for our time and our response to it. Though she is fierce and bloody, Kali is also the most loving of mothers, in her guise as Kali Ma, symbolizing the ground of being that underlies all that is. She is ultimate darkness not because she is evil but because she embodies all possibilities; she is the void which can give birth to all reality. As the force of Time, she both brings everything into being and causes everything to pass away.

If you have been reading my work for a while, you may remember a book that describes encounters with the Goddess in her dark form, Waking Up to the Dark. https://elenedom.wordpress.com/2015/10/21/review-waking-up-to-the-dark/ It seems that She, like any loving mother, stands ready to discipline her children when they get out of line, but also as our mother, she will not abandon us in our time of need.

So many people perceive deities and entities of various sorts that are either working to protect us and back up our efforts, or are doing their best to sow discord and undermine anything positive we manage to produce. (I have encountered a range of beings myself, but for the most part they’ve been of the helpful type.) Some feel a certain complacency about things being monitored from behind the scenes, while others may despair in the face of evil forces they think are overwhelmingly powerful, controlling us without our having any choice. But even the most fundamentalist among us believe that humans must take responsibility for carrying out the will of God. I am very much a proponent of “the Lord helps those that help themselves.”

I submit that whatever cosmic beings are working for our good or ill, or their own, we are not separate from them. In the end all of reality is made up of the thought processes of One Mind. We are no more nor less important than the other myriad components of that Mind.

A while back, as I told you, I asked my friend Fryderyk if there was any help from the spirit world coming to us. ‘I wondered if they have any involvement with trying to help our dire situation on our dying planet. He said, firmly, that this is the responsibility of those who live on the planet at present, that we wanted and intended to be here and deal with this, that it is “your burden.”’
https://elenedom.wordpress.com/2019/09/17/things-you-can-do-when-youre-dead-and-some-you-cant/

As hard as it appears, this is the logical conclusion. We are here, at this time, because we wanted and needed to be here. We are the ones willing and able to take on the greatest challenge humanity has faced. We may feel utterly inadequate to the task, but it is our task.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We have to be. There is no one else.

 

While I don’t want to get overly exercised about these metaphorical ages, this very complicated explanation of the Yugas has some fascinating information about cataclysmic events within known historical periods. I think we can all agree that, one way or the other, the path of the Earth and life on it is more cyclical than linear.  
https://grahamhancock.com/dmisrab6/

 

https://www.hinduhumanrights.info/kali-as-the-yuga-shakti-the-power-to-create-a-new-world-age/
The gorgeous depiction of Kali with a tiny dragon on this site was made by Mei Huang: http://www.meihuangart.com/#/illustration/

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Our Lady burning

Delighted to see that these chandeliers still exist!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notre Dame means so much to me that I used some of my photos of her as the theme for this blog. Like so many around the world, I was stricken and in tears during the fire on April 15. It turned out that things were not as bad as we feared, and at least this time it was an accident, not another willful act of destruction. But as I worked on writing about it, the church and other sites in Sri Lanka were bombed, with great loss of life, on Easter morning. I threw out what I had written before, and wrote this instead:

 

Our Lady burning

At Sacré-Coeur I felt nothing.
That gorgeous edifice towering on its hill,
seen from everywhere, unable to be unseen,
never moved me.
I read that it was made
to bring back the flock,
rekindle faith in the heart of France.
Imposed as it is imposing,
it floats above the city
without root, it seems to me.

Notre Dame is my place,
central, home to my soul,
“where God lives,” as a friend said,
and Saint Michel hovers nearby.
The power must have simmered there
long before those stones were cut.
From the depths it infuses them,
rises like sap through those square towers,
spirit soaring despite the attenuated tops.
Imperfect beloved, at times unwell,
she has been clothed with misplaced additions,
but her identity has endured, her significance,
through violation and neglect.

Here, it’s been a hard time that has not stopped.
On the same day there was a local burning;
a child dead, others hurt, homes lost.
A small building but great importance.
The week before, death after death,
other children, a strange paroxysm.
My friend murdered by someone close,
leaving her own children.
Our city reeling, impossible events,
then more impossible events.
And Our Lady burned, and it seemed
nothing could be counted upon.

But that was not enough,
because this is the world
and it has humans in it.
To add to the month of churches torched,
we must have bombs,
and now we use them on Easter,
and more children and more mothers
must be blown away.
because the founders of our faiths
never got through to us
and we think God only lives
in our own kind of house.

(In the book it says, “Jesus wept.”)

The humans inside the churches
have also killed, also violated.
Hearing of Notre Dame,
some said good riddance.
A man entered another cathedral
with gasoline.

 

Hope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notre Dame burned, by accident, on 4/15/19. On Easter, 4/21/19, a church in Sri Lanka was bombed during the morning services. All this followed arson attacks on churches and a social service organization in the south of the US. Here are some things others had to say:

https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2019/4/15/1850518/-The-Barbarians-at-the-Gate-Rejoice-on-Daily-Kos-at-the-Death-of-Civilization

https://www.wired.com/story/the-notre-dame-fire-and-the-future-of-history/

https://johnpavlovitz.com/2019/04/15/notre-dame-reminds-us-that-we-belong-to-one-another/

https://www.thenation.com/article/notre-dame-fire-muslim-france-islamophobia/

https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/notre-dame-in-the-french-imagination
‘At moments of enormous and historic loss, one seeks, perhaps foolishly or with false reassurance, for some sense of continuity, including the continuities of disaster and renewal.’
‘…Still, the cathedral belongs to everyone, and everyone is rooting for its restoration. The French leftist and staunch atheist Jean-Luc Mélenchon wrote on Monday evening that, while he could not see the hand of God in the cathedral, nonetheless, “If it seems so powerful, it’s without doubt because human beings surpassed themselves in putting Notre-Dame in the world. Those who feel the emptiness of a universe deprived of meaning and the absurdity of the human condition see here the apotheosis of the spirit of thousands of women and men who worked over two centuries and eight hundred years.”’

http://www.sacre-coeur-montmartre.com/english/history-and-visit/article/the-origin-of-the-construction-of
(Sacré-Coeur will celebrate its 100th birthday this fall.)

And here are a few moments of heaven:
https://www.facebook.com/eleneguschdom/videos/vb.1579282359/10216830307341533/?type=3

 

Behind the cathedral

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In happier times

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The Blue Lady and Marian Apparitions

Photo of the sky over Conyers, GA in 1990, attributed to someone named Ferdinando. My Blue Lady looked a lot like this.

Last time, I told you about my vision of an entity I thought of as the Blue Lady. While looking for images that might convey something of what I saw, I came across this:

http://www.zeitun-eg.org/zeitoun1.htm

“For more than a year, starting on the eve of Tuesday, April 2, 1968, the Blessed Holy Virgin Saint Mary, Mother of God, appeared in different forms over the domes of the Coptic Orthodox Church named after Her at Zeitoun, Cairo, Egypt.”

That is, for more than a year, something or someone appeared over St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church. The something was a glowing form resembling a woman in long robes, with rays of light around her head. This apparition was often accompanied by others, including forms like white doves that came and went suddenly and flew without visibly flapping their wings. Sometimes the strange sights went on for over two hours. A great many people saw them, and quite a few striking photos and even movies exist. No matter how skeptical we may be or how uncomfortable religious imagery may be for a lot of us, this evidence is there to confront us.

Please take a moment to boggle at the pictures at the link above.  Here is an example.


And here are some more: http://jesusphotos.altervista.org/Apparition_at_Zeitoun.htm

Even for those of us who are accustomed to Seeing Things and knowing that others see even more, this is a freaky event to contemplate, especially since it involved so many observers at once. Blessed Mother sightings are not uncommon, though, and have been well documented over many decades.

I am curious as to whether the Blue Lady I saw had anything to do with this phenomenon. I’m also wondering whether the apparitions are related to the being described by Clark Strand in his book Waking Up to the Dark: Ancient Wisdom for a Sleepless Age, which I reported on here: https://elenedom.wordpress.com/2015/10/21/review-waking-up-to-the-dark/

Recounting Strand’s experiences, I wrote: “As he progressed with his exploration of the depths of night, at some point the darkness itself, the Yin principle one might say, began to visit him in the form of a beautiful young woman, three-dimensional, visible, audible, and solid to the touch. When he first saw her, her lips were sealed by a creepily evocative X of black electrical tape, which she wordlessly pleaded with him to remove. Sometimes her appearance would change. He recognized her as Mary, Isis, Sophia, Diana, the Shekinah, the Queen of Heaven, and especially the Black Madonna. In all cases, She is the personification of Earth and Nature, the Mother we all come from and who we ignore at our peril, the feminine essence that so many human societies have suppressed with desperate force.”

I would like to know whether people in completely different cultures, not exposed to the Mary mythos, have similar visions. Certainly Mary has become conflated and entwined with the goddesses of other cultures, as we see in Our Lady of Guadalupe:

“Following the Conquest in 1519–21, the Spanish destroyed a temple of the mother goddess Tonantzin at Tepeyac outside Mexico City, and built a chapel dedicated to the Virgin on the same site. Tonantzin (the beloved mother of the gods) was celebrated around each winter solstice which occurred on different dates, the winter solstice of 1531 occurred on December 12, 1531 according to the UNAM. Even many of the newly converted to Catholicism natives then continued to come from afar to worship there, often addressing the renamed native image, as if she were the Virgin Mary, which they had known as their Tonantzin.” [December 12, 1531 was the climactic day of the visions seen by the peasant Juan Diego.]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_Guadalupe

It would be no surprise if various peoples saw the image of the Mother in a guise familiar to them. As one of the Zeitoun website pages put it, “She sometimes made Her apparition with the Babe Jesus Christ in Her arms. It is not strange to see the Child Jesus Christ in an apparition; heavenly apparitions may take forms known to us, so that we can understand them.” The image of a powerful, all-loving, nurturing Mother is as fundamental to the human psyche as anything can possibly be, and She is real in at least a psychological and emotional sense. Perhaps seeing Her in so many times and places is to be expected.

That’s about as much as I can say about the visions themselves at this point. Your thoughts are welcome. I would especially like to know if you have experienced anything along these lines yourself.

I do want to add something about Her names. Often these apparitions are referred to by the acronym “BVM”— Blessed Virgin Mary. I have always been bugged by the Blessed Virgin concept. Virgin and Mother are incompatible archetypes! The story of the mother of Jesus being a virgin was added well after his death, and is based in Greek and Roman, not Jewish, mythology. The reason it bugs me so much is not only because it’s just plain not historically true, but because it seems to me to insult and repudiate women, and all of nature along with us. It is a perfect expression of a patriarchal culture that could not deal well with sexuality or human bodies. It’s as if God built the world a certain way, then decided that he had messed it up when He invented mammals and their means of reproduction.

Adyashanti’s interpretation made me feel a little better about this. He said the story means that the divine principle came directly into the world without requiring the duality of male and female, remaining one purely divine reality. Whatever. I prefer to contemplate the ancient image of the Mother without painting the unnecessary Virgin layer over her.

It would be wonderful to believe that Someone is watching over us with loving attention, and like any mom, will comfort us when we inevitably fall and get bruised. But perhaps, like any mom, she will set limits on our nonsense, and apply consequences. If only she could make us stop fighting with our brothers and sisters….


Still more photos of apparitions or purported apparitions:

Apparitions at another place in Egypt in 2009, still photos and video
http://jesusphotos.altervista.org/Apparition_at_Warraq.htm

“Photographs of the Virgin Mary in the clouds”
http://jesusphotos.altervista.org/Virgin%20Mary%20in%20the%20clouds.htm

 

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Filed under history, mythology and metaphor, psychology, spirit communication, spirituality, the unexplained

Taking the Hill for Human Rights

At their immature levels, religions can be obsessed with the differences that make them better or more right than others. Pope Francis insists that mercy is at the very top of the Christian hierarchy of great truths*, and everything falls apart whenever mercy is displaced by anything else or anything less. —Fr Richard Rohr

 

Pastor John Pavlovitz wrote in a recent post: “Whatever hill is worth dying on for you in this life, take it now.”
https://johnpavlovitz.com/2018/07/03/pick-a-hill-worth-dying-on-america/

I realized right away that I knew which “hill” that was for me. Despite the progress of the past decade, the ability of LGBTQ+ people to work, to buy ordinary products and services, to adopt children, to live in a particular building or neighborhood, even just to live at all has been under heavy attack of late.

A couple of weeks ago I watched Hannah Gadsby’s high-impact one-woman show Nanette, which you absolutely should check out. In her native Tasmania, homosexuality was illegal until 1997!!!! I was 37 then, for freak’s sake! That was a sobering reminder of how fragile our situation is. In my relatively open community, it’s easy to forget how difficult things can be in so many parts of the world.

And of course that includes much of the US. The vice-president, may he soon be enlightened, is trying to establish a “religious liberty” office to make sure that anyone whose religion tells them to discriminate against those who are different in their sexual or gender identity can do so with complete freedom, the Constitution and legal precedent be damned. As Cornel West has said, “The fundamentalist Christians want to be fundamental about everything except Love Thy Neighbor!”

I often find myself imagining something like this:

Incredibly, because Americans insist on continuing to use the death penalty and it seemed to be under threat, last fall the US voted AGAINST a UN “resolution condemning the use of the death penalty as punishment for consensual gay relations.” The resolution passed anyway, but the US had sided with a group of countries known for human-rights abuses and against all of Europe and almost all of the rest of the Americas. We could have abstained. We did not.
https://www.cnn.com/2017/10/05/opinions/un-death-penalty-resolution-usa-lgbt-ghitis-opinion/index.html

This feels more and more like a crisis, one building inexorably, one that can’t be ignored. “If you aren’t finding your voice right now, don’t bother worrying about it again,” Pavlovitz wrote. “You won’t have one much longer.” So I am continuing to make whatever sounds I can.

The event that got me started thinking about writing this post was the death of Jeremy Reynalds, who founded the local help for the homeless organization Joy Junction. Friends commented about something I had forgotten: that Reynalds not only forbade LGBTQ+ folk from staying at his shelter, but even refused to take donations from such people. Wow. I wasn’t good enough for him to help me if I needed it, and even my money wasn’t good enough for him. I had a seriously hard time with this. It bugged me for days. It even contributed to some physical symptoms.

But later, I read that Reynalds had changed, which is a great relief and source of hope.  ‘“I’m much less judgmental than I used to be, and that’s made me a much happier person,” Reynalds said in 2016. “My mantra for the last eight or nine years is ‘Let God do the judging, and I will do the loving.’”
https://www.abqjournal.com/1197802/reynalds-leaves-legacy-of-helping-the-less-fortunate.html

Understanding why certain religious people are so set in their anti-LGBTQ stance runs one directly down the infinitely dark rabbit hole of biblical literalism. In researching background for this post, I came across the word “bibliolatry,” which refers to worshiping the written word above all else including real, living people and even the living traditions of one’s faith– not to mention the living Christ in whom one supposedly believes. To that, another kind of Christian might reply:

I understand that we all cherry-pick whatever agrees with our preconceived notions. However— something that has been said so many times, but it bears repeating since they Just Don’t Seem to Get It— if these people are going to insist that same-sex relationships are sinful because of their interpretation of a few words in Leviticus, why is it that they feel free to eat shellfish and wear polyester/cotton clothing and trim their beards?

I haven’t had any recent opportunities to ask this directly of an evangelical. Typical answers might be that this was written a very long time ago and that society has changed a great deal, and/or that Jesus superseded the Old Testament laws with the greater law of “Love one another.” One article, in explaining why we no longer execute disobedient children, simply stated, “The Old Testament Law is not in force today.”** Well, that was easy, wasn’t it.  Except that they’re saying it is.

In addition to this convenient inconsistency, they seem to have decided that the way God constructed nature and humanity is not OK, because they insist that biology is something quite different from what it really is. It probably won’t help to tell a person who believes the Earth is only 6000 years old to objectively observe the natural world, but even a cursory survey would quickly show that sexuality and gender are not binary, but exist along continua. Now, for religious people to question nature and find it lacking is to question and criticize the workings of the mind of God. Isn’t that blasphemy? How can that be acceptable to them?

Well, that’s why it’s so crucial for them to believe that sexual orientation is a choice. If homosexuality does NOT inherently exist in nature, but rather is invented by depraved or confused human minds, then there is no conflict with their chosen biblical interpretation. Likewise, if there is no such thing as an intersex or transgender child and the kids are only imagining it all, there is no need to revise rigidly prescribed gender roles. There are powerful incentives for them to wish reality away.

Somehow I have felt compelled to follow the rabbit downward and better understand the origins of this way of thinking. I hadn’t realized how recent a phenomenon biblical literalism is. Fundamentalists might like to think of themselves as part of an ancient tradition, part of the bedrock of Christianity, as the name implies, but this is not the case. Certainly it is not how most of us brought up in mainstream forms of Christianity were taught to think about the bible. We were taught in Catholic school that biblical stories such as the Adam and Eve myth were to be understood as allegories, and there is nothing at all modern or “liberal” about such an attitude. Very early authorities such as Philo of Alexandria and Origen*** wrote about just that way of understanding scripture, and their teaching was accepted for most of the past two millennia.

Dr. Kevin Lewis went so far as to describe literalism as heresy: ’The heresy of literalism as such is a modern, post-scientific phenomenon. Its beginnings can be traced in seventeenth-century Protestant orthodoxy, but it bloomed with twentieth-century Fundamentalism, when the modern world fully embraced the dynamic power of natural science. Scientific method crucially altered the Western mind. After Descartes we became principled skeptics, doubting in order to find out the truth. The notion stole into the religious mind that biblical narratives make proposals that only appear to compete with testable scientific findings (to test our faith) while ultimately, if miraculously, conforming to scientific truth.’

‘So rose up in history a reactionary Christian mind, panicked and defensive, straining to assert scientific proof (thereby establishing absolute certainty) for its Scripture and the articles of belief it wished to communicate. Thus did literalism teach the “letter” to drive out the “spirit” of the biblical writings, effectively misusing the text in order to promote a corrupted theological agenda. The effect is a rigid constriction of the inspiring Word.’
http://people.cas.sc.edu/lewiske/heresy.html

I have often said that if someone wishes to take scripture literally, they had better be able to read and write the ancient languages involved, fluently, and understand exactly how the words were used at the time those passages were written. Only then can they expect to have any idea what it is that they are taking literally. Some scholars try to do that.

A rather arcane article, “The Secret History of Leviticus” by Idan Dershowitz, showed up in the New York Times, interestingly enough. Dershowitz analyzed the text in detail to elucidate likely changes over the long period of time that probably elapsed as the book was rewritten into its present form. He points out that there were generally no known prohibitions against sex between men in earlier times, and that the prohibitions appear to have been absent in the earliest version of Leviticus as well, and to have been added later in the book’s history. 
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/21/opinion/sunday/bible-prohibit-gay-sex.html?action=click&module=Trending&pgtype=Article&region=Footer&contentCollection=Trending

An interesting case is a website written by Rick Brentlinger, who identifies himself as a gay Christian and an independent Baptist preacher. (I’m a little sorry to identify him by name, since I am about to harshly criticize him.)  I found it while looking for the meaning of the passages about homosexuality in the original languages. He has a rather different take on Leviticus, and on Paul, asserting that in both cases the prohibition is really against temple prostitution rather than same-sex relations in general. I can’t say whether or not he is accurate in his analysis, but it is an interesting perspective. One statement of his with which I wholeheartedly agree: ”Scripture cannot mean NOW/ What it did not mean THEN.”

Unfortunately, Brentlinger goes on to toe the literalist line, even stating in so many words that Adam was a real man and the first human. He rails against common practices like contemplative prayer and meditation, saying that only reading or hearing scripture is acceptable prayer. (It amazes me— how is one supposed to listen to God with all those words chattering in one’s mind all the time?) Yet he even slams Lectio Divina, in which one reads scripture in a mystical manner, intending to let its meaning manifest in a nonverbal awareness. Even the way other people read the Bible is not good enough for him! It seems to me that he is playing along with the game plan of the very people who oppress him and his. I can empathize a little, though. Otherwise he would have to separate entirely from his faith community and his home culture, I suppose, and that might be too much to contemplate. It seems that he is finding a way to be part of the groupthink and be himself at the same time.

At any rate, there is nothing at all that literalists can quote from Jesus’ preaching on homosexuality or other matters of sexual orientation or gender identity, because nothing is there, neither prohibitions nor permissions. There is that one story that can be interpreted as being tolerant of same-sex relationships, the one about the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant/companion and shows absolute faith that he can do it. Brentlinger does interpret it that way.

I wonder what the literalists think about the apocryphal books such as the Gospel of Thomas, and how they deal with the idea that some gospels were written through divine inspiration and some weren’t, when it is clear that ordinary humans chose which books to include in the canon. Some of those books were of inferior quality, but others were discarded because they didn’t fit the political power needs of the men who were in charge. And they were all men, of course. In the early days of Christianity, many individuals were preaching and transmitting their own revelations and insights, and some of the most famous were women. The powers that were felt the need to squelch all that, making us all poorer in the process. Some of the early writings have come to light in the past century, of course, and now we have a broader perspective that makes biblical literalism appear all the more ludicrous.

It was decided by some of those august Church Fathers, trying to hold their young organization together, that revelation had stopped at the death of the last apostle, and no one else was going to hear anything worthwhile from God! This connects with the suspicious attitude toward contemplative prayer and meditation— one must simply accept what has already been written, and heaven forbid that one might connect with the divine on one’s own. (Everything there is authoritarian at its core. And that, dear reader, has a lot to do with the love of fundamentalists for our current administration.)

I’ll end by bringing you back to John Pavlovitz, who had to broaden his thinking when he was exposed to people who were different from those he’d been brought up with— and then his brother came out as gay. ‘”It was a gradual deconstruction of my faith,” he says. “You look at one isolated area of the Bible, for example, then realize, Well, if that doesn’t mean what I was taught it meant, what other areas of my spiritual journey was I taking for granted? So you start digging into it, and you find yourself exploring all areas of your belief system.”’

And he claims some of that personal revelation, which doesn’t go over well with the kind of church he moved away from:
‘Some simply know in their gut, he says, that a religion of in-groups and out-groups isn’t what Jesus was preaching.’
https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/how-raleighs-john-pavlovitz-went-from-fired-megachurch-pastor-to-rising-star-of-the-religious-left/Content?oid=9664688

You know, if you’ve been reading my stuff, where I stand with regard to personal revelation. And so here I am, on my hill, where I intend to stay until it’s no longer necessary.

 

*Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), 36-37.
http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html

**https://www.gotquestions.org/stone-rebellious-children.html

*** https://www.newdawnmagazine.com/articles/rescuing-the-bible-from-literalism

This article also takes up archeological questions about the origin of the people of Israel, the supposed conquest of Canaan, and the exodus from Egypt. These are fascinating matters which also feed into our current political situation, but I’ll take them up at another time.

 

 

 

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“Captain, I’m afraid I don’t know where we are.”

If your threat ganglia pop out, there’s usually a good reason.

That line keeps repeating in my head.

As all good science-fiction should do, Star Trek: Discovery used fantastical but relatable metaphors to comment on our situation here and now.  The conceit of the Mirror Universe, the place Saru didn’t recognize when he made the statement above, was as good as any to explore the deep and pervasive sense of disorientation so many of us continue to feel.  (For those who missed it, the Mirror Universe– the one where, you might remember, Spock had a beard– was populated by the same beings as our own but was a twisted place where humans ran a cruel, xenophobic, racist empire based on war.)

Much of the first season of Discovery was deeply dark and very 2017-18.  It appeared that even Starfleet captains had renounced virtue in favor of expediency.  Of course it turned out that the brilliant but ruthless Captain Lorca was really a denizen of the evil universe’s Terran Empire, and had never been meant to represent Federation values at all.  But then, in desperation to survive against the Klingon onslaught, which was threatening the existence of Earth itself, Starfleet came to the brink of committing genocide, leading to this exchange:

Admiral Cornwell: “We do not have the luxury of principles!”
Michael Burnham: “That is all we have, Admiral!”*

In the face of destruction of our entire planet– a situation we DO face in real life– and against threats not only to any chance of democracy but to truth itself, is this valid?  Do we have any room to maneuver at all?  Can we survive without compromising our values?

The wide-eyed optimism of Star Trek, which has never died, says that there is always a better way.  To choose compassion over fear.  To choose the Federation values of peace, fairness, inclusiveness, and respect for those who are different. When trapped between unacceptable alternatives, to find a third path.

In Gene Roddenberry’s cosmology, things got a whole lot worse before they got better.  I remember some adults talking that way when I was a kid, around the time of Classic Trek, explicitly expecting that there would be an era of horrendous upheavals and destruction to live through, somewhere about now.  I don’t know what made them think that way, but they seem to have been correct.  One can hope that the calm really will come through after the storm, and that somehow it will all make sense.  Personally, my threat ganglia are still out and waving.

**************************************************************

About a week ago I wrote this, in response to people asking me for my thoughts about the current primary season.  Non-New Mexicans probably won’t care:

I’ve been wanting to write something about my choice of candidates for the gubernatorial and congressional primaries, in part to explain my thinking to myself. I am helping two campaigns, to the small extent that I have energy to do so. People I’ve spoken with are expressing a lot of confusion, because we have the blessing or curse of multiple decent human beings running. So let’s think a few aspects of the races through. I’m interested in the thoughts of others who may have come to a different set of conclusions.

I was a little bit concerned that I might be basing my choices on emotional reactions to my favorite candidates, so I have spent time thinking through the matter as dispassionately as possible.  [My Vulcan ancestry at work again.]  Yet, I have to say that my two candidates are nice, pleasant people to be around, and that is a big part of my support for them. At the same time, they’re tough and they don’t knuckle under. I think they’ve got the right combination of the two.

There’s no confusion with the governor’s race for me. I’ve been a fan of Michelle Lujan Grisham for years, and every time I have the opportunity to speak with her in person, I like her all the better. The last time I saw her was at the annual meeting of the Health Security for New Mexicans Campaign on April 28. I had the good fortune to be getting out of my car at the same time she was getting out of hers, and we had a bit of a walk to get into the building, around two sides of a block, so I had her to myself for a few minutes. We discussed health insurers and some maddening issues for health care providers like me. Michelle has the health care wonk thing going on, having run the state health department, and that’s important for me. I know from previous discussions that she would try to get the superintendent of insurance to work more for the people and less for the insurers, and that she has some specific ideas about that.

The fact that she showed up for our meeting at all was big, of course. But this was bigger: When I asked her how an ordinary person could go about contacting her on a specific issue like the one we were talking about, she replied, “I work for you. Call me.” OK, that might not really happen very easily in practice. But the sentiment seemed real. I do believe that Michelle acts out of a spirit of service and that she does not put herself above her constituents.

One of the first things our representative did when she got to Congress was to try living on a food budget equal to that of a food stamp recipient, to see how real people can manage it. She reported on how difficult it was. This was when I first took real notice of her, and I immediately developed respect for her. In the past she’s done hands-on investigations like going undercover at a nursing home to expose abuse. She doesn’t take the easiest paths and sometimes she upsets those who are in charge. She is exceedingly tenacious, maybe to the point where she annoys some people; that’s a big reason why we finally got the cleanup of the Kirtland jet fuel spill going after so much dithering around. She knows how to build a coalition; that’s how a bipartisan group of female lawmakers broke the logjam on VAWA.

Jeff Apodaca did not show up at the Health Security meeting himself, but he did send two representatives, his wife and former candidate Peter DiBenedittis, who now works for him. Apodaca stated forcefully in the debate televised today that he would put a single-payer system in place in the state. That’s quite commendable, but he seemed to think he could do that all by himself, making me wonder if he really has much of an idea how state government works.

Apodaca has expressed a number of ideas that strike me as interesting, fresh, and utterly unrealistic. Yes, it would be totally great if we could pipe water from areas that often have flooding to those that have drought. (He suggested that if water were piped to Texas, the Texans wouldn’t need to take water from NM!) Maybe someday that could even be done. Is it a real-world, near-term solution for our desiccated state? Um, no. My impression is that he may not even realize that what he’s saying comes off more like science fiction than policy. Perhaps I’m being a stick in the mud (the long-dried mud, that is), and I should be more welcoming toward way-out-of-the-box possibilities, but I’d rather we would start with something we could actually get done, and soon.

There is something that disturbs me more about Apodaca, though, and that’s what I perceive as negativity and anger. His speech at the Progressive Summit in January struck me as one of the nastiest and most venomous presentations I’d ever heard from a candidate. I can’t remember the specifics of what he talked about, but he belittled others rather than lifting everyone up. He lost any chance at my vote there and then. That unpleasantness was on display in today’s debate, as well.

Joe Cervantes is more of a conundrum for the progressive Democrat trying to choose a governor. His TV ads include endorsements from people I really respect, Jerry Ortiz y Pino and my own beloved state senator, Mimi Stewart. He comported himself quite well in the debate this evening, and the fact that he represents Sunland Park, right on the southern border, makes his perspective especially useful in the present climate. I still have to go with Michelle, though, because of my personal experience with her and more importantly her broad experience in both state and federal government.

What we can’t lose perspective on: The candidate we pick will go up against Steve Pearce in the fall. If you’re bothering to read this, you probably realize how dangerous Pearce would be as governor— a man who, among all his other alarming qualities, believes that his wife should obey him because that’s biblical!

In 2014, we ended up with an incredibly weak Democratic candidate, Gary King, and Susana Martinez wiped the floor with him. Those who had any idea what was going on repudiated King at the party convention, but he was able to gather enough extra signatures to get on the ballot anyway. Name-recognition and fondness for his dad put him on top in the primary, but there wasn’t enough enthusiasm to take him through the general election. We can’t let this happen again. King is universally hailed as a nice guy, but niceness isn’t necessarily a great thing when it’s wishy-washy.

I can’t help remembering how it was in 2010, when then-lieutenant governor Diane Denish wrote out pages and pages of specific and actionable policy ideas while running for governor. She had plans up the wazoo. Her opponent, Susana, said practically nothing and appeared to have little idea what she was getting herself into. But she represented law and order, and Denish was tainted by the corruption into which Bill Richardson had sunk the governor’s office. We all know how that worked out.

Now we have to pull ourselves out of a different sort of morass. I agree with Mayor Tim Keller, who made the point many times during his own campaign that we have to do our own lifting and can’t rely on help to swoop in from somewhere else. But there are better and worse mechanisms we can use to get it done, and more and less knowledgeable and energetic people to lead as we do it.

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Rep. Lujan Grisham, when asked why she was giving up her seat in Congress to run for governor, said that with Washington so dysfunctional, the state and local levels are where things can get done. (Mayor Keller said something similar when he left his job as state auditor.) Yet, we still have to have someone warming those seats at the Capitol and at least attempting to do something positive. My choice for NM CD1 is Deb Haaland.

I’m not being a great help to any campaign, but I did get out and knock on doors in the past couple of days to get out the vote for Deb, my first experience of canvassing. Most people weren’t home, or at least didn’t answer— no surprise there. I had the privilege of walking a really lovely neighborhood, and even got to see one of the “spaceship” houses close up and talk with its very friendly owner. (If you’re a local, you know the two houses I mean.) The most heartening interaction today was with a guy who told me, “Oh, I’m a Republican. My wife’s the Democrat. But we still live with each other.”

Of course I had to explain why I was bothering to walk around with a Deb yard sign and why I had picked her out of the crowded primary field. Everyone knows by now that she’d be the first Native American woman elected to Congress. That is a major matter, since Indians have practically no representation in DC at all, and women are still quite underrepresented. Especially in this time of environmental peril, I do think it’s well worthwhile, even crucial, to include a Native point of view, and we need far more than this one individual to express it. But people want to know what else there is about Deb.

I could go on about renewable energy being a critical necessity for the state’s economy and the world, and her championing of it, or her support for universal health coverage. I could add that she’s had a broad range of experiences, rather than, for example, being a lawyer for her entire adult life. She’s known for working hard for progressive causes and candidates over the years, for always showing up. She showed up at Standing Rock with the water protectors, too. Growing up in a military family, although she did not go into an armed service herself, will give her perspective when the present administration pushes for war. 

But what originally attracted me to Deb was something very simple, a small gesture that made a lasting impression. I was at a gathering hosted by Equality New Mexico a couple of years ago, where I met her and also Santa Fe’s new mayor, Alan Webber. The room was crowded, and I was trying unsuccessfully to slip between bodies and furniture to get a glass of water. Deb saw this, filled a glass and brought it to me. She was the chair of the state Democratic party at the time, but she so didn’t make a big deal of herself. She was real and down to earth. She saw a need and literally filled it. That graciousness and warmth has characterized every interaction I’ve had with her.

In addition, Deb is my age and has been a small-business owner, so I see her as a woman like me. As a single mother of one daughter, she is like my own mother. Her daughter is an LGBTQ person (a different one of the letters from me) and I know Deb will always do whatever she can to protect us from discrimination and worse.

Having said all that, I’d be happy if we could hire all the primary candidates as a team (with one possible exception), because they all have considerable strengths.

It’s a little bit painful not to be able to support my city councilor, Pat Davis, in this primary. I have great respect for Pat and his work with Progress Now, and as with Deb and Michelle, he is always a delight to meet in person. He can articulate his position on issues with great clarity, and I’d say he won the debate that was televised a few days ago, though other viewers might disagree. However, whichever Democrat we elect in the primary has got to be able to win the general election in November, and I’m afraid Pat is too polarizing a figure to manage that. The unopposed Republican, Janice Arnold-Jones, is non-loony and also very articulate, and it’s possible that she could come off looking like the voice of reason, a comfortable and non-threatening choice.

It’s a burning question for all the Democratic candidates this year, at least the leftier ones— should we push as hard as we can for our progressive values, or try to be palatable to a broader swath of the electorate? I honestly don’t know. It’s looking, from elections that have already taken place, like strong progressives are doing quite well. Pat Davis decided to go for it with his “Fuck the NRA” ad, which was, shall we say, a bit surprising to the viewing audience. A former cop who has been shot himself, he concluded that being nice and polite was getting us nowhere, and I can’t fault him for trying to push the gun conversation in a more useful direction. He did get national attention. However, it’s possible that he committed suicide as a candidate, and that the audacious ad caused some people to stop listening to his usual far more measured and reasonable arguments. We’ll see more as this continues to play out.

I was very unhappy with Davis when he voted for the ART project, although he said he had come around to it reluctantly, and he did fight to get a stop put in my neighborhood, which was going to be left out. Worse, every day when I drive to my office, I curse his decision to make Zuni one lane. He pushed for the re-striping of the road in order to stop pedestrians from getting killed, and no one could argue with that as a reason, but with traffic getting backed up for blocks, cars using the bike lane for turns, and still no clear places for pedestrians to cross, I question whether Zuni really is safer for anyone. Early on, one of my patients was involved in a car accident, when another driver hit her while failing to merge where the road goes from two lanes to one at San Mateo, a poorly-designed area if you ask me. And this redesign was done while the ART construction was at its height and Central was virtually unusable. Zuni was never meant to be a major artery to begin with, as my former councilor Rey Garduno once told me— yet the ART proponents blithely assumed it could take on the extra traffic from Central, while reduced to one lane. Yeah, right. Pat Davis stands by his decision, since it was meant to save lives, but it seems to me that the Zuni situation is an example of not quite thinking things through. (End of Zuni rant.)

Damon Martinez’s enthusiasm about the ATF sting that was supposed to get the “worst of the worst” of local criminals and instead netted low-level guys, most of them black, entrapping and victimizing at least one harmless person and costing millions in the process, was enough to lose any chance at my vote.

Antoinette Sedillo Lopez is probably a fine choice for this office, and she is supported by a lot of people I respect. My husband and I think that Deb’s range of experiences will be more useful.

I don’t know much about Damian Lara. As an immigration lawyer, no doubt he does excellent work. He too may seem relatively extreme to the general electorate— though again, maybe that could be a good thing.

Paul Moya speaks well and seems to have good ideas, but he’s very young and could use more experience for this national-level job.
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I had a terrible time deciding about the lieutenant governor and land commissioner candidates. Both Rick Miera and Howie Morales would likely make fantastic lieutenant governors. I voted for Miera on the basis of his support for us Doctors of Oriental Medicine and our patients, as well as for the Health Security Act.  All the land commissioner hopefuls have useful experience and excellent ideas, though Garrett VeneKlasen gives the most detail about his plans.

So we have a wealth of strong, qualified, apparently sincere and decent candidates, but it’s a little hard to feel confident about the future of US government in general this year. I can only hope that we’re accomplishing something more than rearranging the Titanic’s furniture.

In any case, GO VOTE!

 

* The fates of the Klingons and the Federation are decided largely by a quartet of seriously badass women.  We have strong women on both sides in NM as well.  May the Burnhams among us prevail!

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