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Seismic Noise Has Dropped by up to 50%, allowing quieter earthquakes to be detected. That’s me you hear yelling.

2020-04-09
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a photo of me, by me, looking quizzical. I’m not mad, really I’m not. Or we’re all mad here.

This morning I posted a link to a NYT story that had multiple bits of new information.  One of the more important bits (that I didn’t get to this morning) was that seismometers all over the world have responded to the lockdown orders that have some 90% of the world’s population staying home other than for essential activities.  I personally was little affected by that order (even though I live in California).

As a result of that “stay at home” order, we (not I) are mostly staying at home.  I still take walks in the splendid isolation of my abode among the peach and almond trees.  I still go to the pharmacy for the medications that I take, most important of which is ibuprofen.  I still go to the grocery store.  All my banking needs are taken care of online and most of my bills are paid online.

My wife is still working as a physician assistant.  We still fill up the gas tank on our Toyota Highlander.  Nothing has changed except that I am posting to this blog more frequently.

Yet the seismometers say the world is quieter, and as a result we can hear the smaller earthquakes and the little things that are just the earth’s crust moving around.  What is more, the air quality in Los Angeles has greatly improved.  Now wouldn’t it be grand if all of the people who were running around like chickens with their heads cut off would just stay still?

I know, that’s terribly cynical.  I do feel bad, very bad, for all the people who are dying miserably, alone, because they are under quarantine or isolation in the hospital.  Yet human existence is suffering, or so the Buddha says.

So, if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.  Or don’t.  I’d rather you didn’t.  You don’t have to follow every ridiculous instruction you get, do you?

Only follow an instruction if it makes sense– or if you can make sense out of it, which means you may have to think about it for a while.

What did the Buddha mean when he said, if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him?  Let me know if you figure out what it means.  I’ll be sitting here, quietly listening.

Two Papers in Science Magazine Show Dangers of Endemic Coronaviruses in Bats for Human Pandemics and the pernicious effects of cutting funding for this research

2020-06-02

Coronavirus studies by Engin Akyurt via pixabay.com

Two papers published in Science Magazine on May 29 and June 1 describe endemic bat coronaviruses and how they mutated into SARS-COV-2.  The first paper, published May 29, discusses “Emergence of SARS-CoV-2 through recombination and strong purifying selection”– that is, how the novel coronavirus was evolved through combining parts of other viruses that were both present in the circulation of a non-human host.  Then, selection of the “receptor binding motif” (RBM) occurred, winnowing down mutations of the virus into a form that readily invaded cells by a particularly efficient protein on the virus’ spike.

The second paper, published June 1,  tells of the wide variety of coronaviruses that were collected from a particular species of bat– the Chinese horseshoe bat– during field studies.  Unfortunately, this research was stopped when the grant for the research was cut off by the US government.  “In a preprint posted yesterday on bioRxiv, the researchers examine partial genetic sequences of 781 coronaviruses found in bats in China, more than one-third of which have never been published.”  The preprint is titled, “Origin and cross-species transmission of bat coronaviruses in China” and details sequence data from all known bat coronaviruses, with a phylogenetic analysis showing the origin of SARS-COV-2.

The study, which collected numerous previously unknown varieties of potentially epidemic zoonotic viruses (those that spread from another species to humans), was stopped prematurely because the administration decided to cut off its funding before it could be completed.

From the paper published June 1:

One “pretty big limitation” of EcoHealth-led study, Gao notes, is that the researchers cataloged the bat viruses by a tiny part of their genetic material. The entire genome of bat coronaviruses consists of about 30,000 RNA bases, but obtaining full sequences is often difficult and expensive. So instead the research team sequenced just 440 bases from the gene that codes for a key viral enzyme, the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase. Gao says getting full viral sequences would have provided much more biological information on the different viruses found.

Daszak says that was going to be the next step but then NIH cut the grant. “We were planning to get full genome sequences from these samples and find out which [viruses] are likely able to bind to human cell surface receptors,” he says. “We won’t be able to do that work without the funding, unfortunately.” And even the hundreds of viruses included in the current paper are only a fraction of what remains to be discovered, Daszak says. “We are looking at maybe 10,000 to 15,000 bat coronaviruses that are out there.”

There is plenty of evidence that some of these viruses are spilling over to humans all the time in southern China, Daszak says. In an earlier paper, Daszak and co-workers found SARS-related antibodies to coronaviruses in about 3% of people they sampled in China living near bat caves, suggesting they had been infected by some of these viruses. He argues that the world needs to change its approach and go from reacting to pandemics to trying to identify dangerous coronaviruses before they emerge. Many more viruses that are closely related to SARS-CoV-2 are just waiting to be discovered in wildlife, Daszak says. “But, of course, if history repeats itself, by the time we’ve found all the rest of the SARS-2 clade, something else will be emerging.”

This is the pernicious effect of cutting off funding for highly productive research just because it involves cooperation with Chinese scientists.  This short-sighted decision will render us less able to foresee the next pandemic’s inevitable appearance.

 

Science Magazine Perspective: Reducing Transmission of SARS-COV-2 (and my thoughts on a Republican convention without masks)

2020-06-01

photo by Juraj Varga courtesy of pixabay.com

From the article, published May 27 (bolding added for emphasis):

Respiratory infections occur through the transmission of virus-containing droplets (>5 to 10 μm) and aerosols (≤5 μm) exhaled from infected individuals during breathing, speaking, coughing, and sneezing. Traditional respiratory disease control measures are designed to reduce transmission by droplets produced in the sneezes and coughs of infected individuals. However, a large proportion of the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) appears to be occurring through airborne transmission of aerosols produced by asymptomatic individuals during breathing and speaking (13). Aerosols can accumulate, remain infectious in indoor air for hours, and be easily inhaled deep into the lungs. For society to resume, measures designed to reduce aerosol transmission must be implemented, including universal masking and regular, widespread testing to identify and isolate infected asymptomatic individuals.

Identifying infected individuals to curb SARS-CoV-2 transmission is more challenging compared to SARS and other respiratory viruses because infected individuals can be highly contagious for several days, peaking on or before symptoms occur (27). These “silent shedders” could be critical drivers of the enhanced spread of SARS-CoV-2. In Wuhan, China, it has been estimated that undiagnosed cases of COVID-19 infection, who were presumably asymptomatic, were responsible for up to 79% of viral infections (3). Therefore, regular, widespread testing is essential to identify and isolate infected asymptomatic individuals.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations for social distancing of 6 ft and hand washing to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2 are based on studies of respiratory droplets carried out in the 1930s. These studies showed that large, ~100 μm droplets produced in coughs and sneezes quickly underwent gravitational settling (1). However, when these studies were conducted, the technology did not exist for detecting submicron aerosols. As a comparison, calculations predict that in still air, a 100-μm droplet will settle to the ground from 8 ft in 4.6 s whereas a 1-μm aerosol particle will take 12.4 hours (4). Measurements now show that intense coughs and sneezes that propel larger droplets more than 20 ft can also create thousands of aerosols that can travel even further (1). Increasing evidence for SARS-CoV-2 suggests the 6 ft WHO recommendation is likely not enough under many indoor conditions where aerosols can remain airborne for hours, accumulate over time, and follow air flows over distances further than 6 ft (510).

Airborne spread from undiagnosed infections will continuously undermine the effectiveness of even the most vigorous testing, tracing, and social distancing programs. After evidence revealed that airborne transmission by asymptomatic individuals might be a key driver in the global spread of COVID-19, the WHO recommended universal use of face masks. Masks provide a critical barrier, reducing the number of infectious viruses in exhaled breath, especially of asymptomatic people and those with mild symptoms (12) (see the figure). Surgical mask material reduces the likelihood and severity of COVID-19 by substantially reducing airborne viral concentrations (13). Masks also protect uninfected individuals from SARS-CoV-2 aerosols (1213). Thus, it is particularly important to wear masks in locations with conditions that can accumulate high concentrations of viruses, such as health care settings, airplanes, restaurants, and other crowded places with reduced ventilation. The aerosol filtering efficiency of different materials, thicknesses, and layers used in properly fitted homemade masks was recently found to be similar to that of the medical masks that were tested (14). Thus, the option of universal masking is no longer held back by shortages.

To illustrate the perniciousness of ignorance, a recent news story claimed that, in a telephone conversation between the governor of the State of North Carolina and the president regarding the possibility of holding a Republican National nominating convention in that state, the president demanded that the convention be held with a full hall and that no masks be worn by attendees.  This situation would present the most infectious possible setting for a national meeting, yet it is what the president demands in order to whip up the enthusiasm of his base.  What would happen if his demands were accepted?  A few asymptomatic people could have infected the entire hall, possibly resulting in spread of cases nationwide after the attendees returned home.  Such a “superspreader” event would be a tragedy for Republicans nationally but a “victory” for the president.  What price ignorance and narcissism?

What’s wrong: why does America have so much trouble with its police and why are so many people in prison?

2020-05-31

photo by Wynn Pointaux courtesy of pixabay.com

I have blogged in the past about police brutality incidents, when black people have been shot dead or brutalized.  I got sick and tired of seeing the same thing happen day in and day out.  I gave up posting about it because nothing ever changed, not after Philando Castile was shot while sitting in his car after a traffic stop by a policeman who was acquitted at trial, nor after Eric Garner was suffocated for selling untaxed single cigarettes by another policeman, who was never indicted.

I have seen estimates that police shoot dead about a thousand people a year, mostly black people.  The only time a policeman was punished recently was when he shot a white woman– he went to prison for 12 years.  The United States still has a major problem with race, 400 years after the first slave was imported to the New World.

Race is a problem in other countries, but it’s worse here.  We fought a Civil War over the issue.  Five days after the North was victorious, Lincoln was assassinated, and in his place, his vice president reversed all the gains of the war.  Reconstruction was a disaster, brought on by Johnson, who was a virulent white racist, and who terminated the Northern Army’s occupation of the South under the worst possible terms.

Former slave-holders again took power to terrorize the freedmen and the promise of “forty acres and a mule” was never realized.  We are still paying the price for the encouragement of white racial domination over the freed slaves and the failure to re-integrate the former slaves into society as equals.  The gilded age was raised on the backs of blacks and poor whites.

Our prison system is packed (the most per capita in the world by several times over) with black people who were railroaded on plea bargains by overcharging into long terms for minor offenses.  They are housed and barely coexist with whites who were primarily imprisoned for extremely violent acts (as opposed to relatively lesser crimes by the blacks.)  They are warehouses for hate, with solitary confinement destroying minds and guards abusing prisoners at a disgusting rate.  With the pandemic, they are now pesthouses with no opportunity for “social distancing” and no right to wear face masks.

Now our cities are wracked with protests and rioting, six days after a black man was murdered by asphyxiation for passing a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes (which would have killed him in a few years anyway.)  I don’t believe in violence and I think that some people are using this moment to go out and destroy everything that has been built up in these neighborhoods at risk.  I think maybe right-wingers (not just the police) are using this as a reason to commit violent crimes against protesters as well.  Who knows how many (left wing) “anti-fascists” are out there breaking windows and fanning the flames?

I am deeply saddened by the brutality of our police, which persists despite major community efforts at control.  I am disgusted by the video of a policeman kneeling on the neck of an arrestee for eight minutes and forty-five seconds, including two and a half minutes after he stopped breathing and moving.

This policeman appears to have acted with willful disregard for human life, if not intent to murder, knowing that it takes a long time to effectively strangle a person to death.  How did he know to persist in his act for so long?  Did he read somewhere, or does he know from personal experience that a strangulated person can be revived if you don’t keep the pressure on long enough?  Was he trained to know that?

Half of the policemen in the US should be summarily fired, and the rest retrained and restrained.  New policemen should be hired from a group of men and women nonviolent by nature (the opposite of the current procedure) and trained from the outset in violence prevention, not “killology” (a real thing, see Milwaukee police training.)

The autopsy: as if the fact that this 46 year old black man had hypertensive heart disease and coronary artery disease could be an excuse for his strangulation.  He could have lived another ten years or more with those conditions, especially if he had been given the privilege of medical treatment (not in this country– no medical insurance!) and smoking cessation.

The coroner speculated that the effects of some drug(s) for which he had no evidence yet pending toxicology could have contributed.  No physical evidence for strangulation?  Doesn’t he know that it takes extreme violence to leave tissue hemorrhages or fracture the hyoid bone from strangulation?

Half of the $100 billion spent on local police should be slashed.  That half should be diverted to social services and mental health emergency services.  The number of people in jail should be cut in half.  Cash bail should be eliminated; those accused of violent crimes should be tried within six weeks and remain in jail until then.  Those accused of nonviolent crimes should be released on their own recognizance and again, should be tried within a short period of time unless there are exigent circumstances.

I am appalled and disgusted by this act.  Now that video of it has appeared on the nightly news for everyone to see, will anything change?  I doubt it, because a willful indifference to reality characterizes those who swear by MAGA.  The only thing that will really stop this is the dying off from old age of those born and bred to this denial of reality.

Why you should wear a mask to prevent transmission of SARS-COV-2 and infection with COVID-19

2020-05-31

Coronavirus studies by Engin Akyurt via pixabay.com

Here is an article published in Arxiv, an e-print server for scientific articles of immediate interest: “Universal Masking is Urgent in the COVID-19 Pandemic: SEIR and Agent Based Models, Empirical Validation, Policy Recommendations”– which was made available on April 22.  It contains a link: http://dek.ai/masks4all/  (not secure) which has a video and a lot of promotional material endorsing the idea that everyone should wear masks to cut down on the transmission of COVID-19.  It says that even home-made cloth masks provide significant protection.

I’m impressed by this promotional material and I feel very badly that our leaders haven’t endorsed this idea more strongly.  It is far better, since we can’t tolerate being locked down any longer, for everyone to wear a mask when they go outside.  The shortage of masks that prevailed early in this pandemic seems to have eased; they are even available on those TV channels that sell gemstones, watches, knives, and the like.

So buy a mask, or make one, and go out there to celebrate the summer.  We’re going to have a bad time this fall, so we should enjoy life while it lasts.  Also, if you’re out there protesting, definitely wear a mask if you don’t have a gas mask.

A new oral antiviral with broad-spectrum effectiveness against many viruses, including coronaviruses: NHC (N-hydroxycytidine isopropyl ester): hope to treat COVID-19

2020-05-31

Coronavirus studies by Engin Akyurt via pixabay.com

A new article gives additional evidence that NHC may be useful against novel coronaviruses in humans.  Previously, in October 2019, the drug was tested against influenza with good results and the results published in Science Translational Medicine.  The new article adds testing against Middle Eastern Respiratory Virus (MERS)

From a Science Translational Medicine article posted April 29:

In mice infected with SARS-CoV or MERS-CoV, both prophylactic and therapeutic administration of EIDD-2801, an orally bioavailable NHC prodrug (β-D-N4-hydroxycytidine-5′-isopropyl ester), improved pulmonary function and reduced virus titer and body weight loss. Decreased MERS-CoV yields in vitro and in vivo were associated with increased transition mutation frequency in viral, but not host cell RNA, supporting a mechanism of lethal mutagenesis in CoV. The potency of NHC/EIDD-2801 against multiple CoVs and oral bioavailability highlights its potential utility as an effective antiviral against SARS-CoV-2 and other future zoonotic CoVs.

NHC (β-D-N4-hydroxycytidine-5′-isopropyl ester) is an orally available prodrug which hydrolyzes to the active form, N-hydroxycytidine.  It has been previously investigated against influenza virus.  This study and review looks at NHC’s effects on SARS-CoV-2, MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, and related zoonotic group 2b or 2c bat-CoVs.  It works by incorporating into the growing RNA chain that is produced by the viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerase which creates new virus RNA (the genome of the infectious virus.)  Once incorporated, it leads to mutations which make the new RNA highly abnormal and no longer infectious.

This mechanism is related to the effect of remdesivir (RDV), which is also incorporated into the growing RNA chain but leads to immediate termination of the chain and its inability to become a complete virus genome.  NHC is also effective against mutations of coronavirus which are resistant to the effect of RDV.

Mice are resistant to SARS-COV-2 due to differences in the mouse cell surface receptor for ACE-2.  Therefore, the study also evaluated the effects of NHC  in human airway epithelium (HAE) cells grown in culture.  NHC was highly effective against SARS-COV-2 in HAE cell cultures, as well as against SARS-COV-1 and MERS in mice.  The effects of NHC were most pronounced when given prophylactically 2 hours before exposure to the virus, but it was also effective when given shortly after exposure to virus.

The authors point out that mice show a very rapid reaction to infection as compared to humans, and the expected result of treatment with NHC after humans develop symptoms would be seen at 5-7 days after infection, as compared to 12 hours after infection with mice.  Therefore, as with oseltamivir treatment of influenza, which is only effective when given within 5 days after symptom development, NHC would be given as early as possible after infection with SARS-COV-2.

There is no known mouse model of the effects of human aging on the clinical picture of infection with SARS-COV-2.  This limitation makes it harder to study the effectiveness of treatment with antivirals in humans, other than the tests done on cells in culture.  In the meantime, we will have to do with the modeling studies done in rhesus macaque monkeys, which show a similar clinical picture as in human COVID-19.  Fortunately, monkeys usually survive SARS-COV-2 infection even without treatment; they have been found to respond experimental vaccination well.

The authors state that NHC could be expected to have some effect in humans with severe COVID-19 later during the course of illness because virus shedding continues longer.  The evidence in autopsies shows widespread thrombosis and angiogenesis (new, tiny blood vessel formation) in the lungs.  The clinical picture in severe COVID-19 also appears to be dominated later in the course by “cytokine storm” so there is precedent for additional treatment to reduce the inflammatory response and thrombogenesis (production of blood clots) in late, severe disease.

In summary, the authors advise further development of NHC with human trials in COVID-19, in which the drug should be given as early as possible after infection.  In addition, “NHC is broadly active against multiple genetically distinct viruses including VEEV, influenzas A and B, Ebola, and Chikungunya viruses.”  Therefore, the drug should be evaluated against other epidemic viruses which may strike the human population in the future.

Novel Fabric that generates weak electrical field inactivates coronaviruses and may find use in face masks: tested at Indiana University per IEEE Spectrum

2020-05-30

photo by Juraj Varga courtesy of pixabay.com

Engineers at Indiana University have tested a fabric that generates a 0.5 volt DC electrical field with small dots of silver and zinc on polyester that can inactivate coronaviruses by interfering with their electrostatic properties and ability to penetrate cells.  The virus was shown to be noninfectious after exposure to the fabric by attempting to introduce it to cell cultures, where it failed to grow and lyse the cells. The novel fabric is described in a chemrxiv preprint published on May 14 and publicized in IEEE Spectrum on May 28.

The use of face masks to filter breathed air depends on trapping viruses in the fabric; such trapped viruses are not, however, inactivated.  Applying a weak electrical field does appear to inactivate coronaviruses.  Inactivating the virus will prevent it from causing problems when the mask is removed and the user is exposed.  The only hurdle now is to ensure that the face mask will be moist, so that the battery properties of the zinc and silver dots are exploited.  The wearer’s breath may provide enough moisture to complete the circuit.

This experiment is based on a gel wound dressing with the same electrical properties that treats infections caused by bacteria that live in biofilms on wounds.  The wound dressing is commercially available from a company called Vomaris.  The researchers plan to develop a washable face mask with a replaceable piece of electrical-field producing fabric.  Protective gowns could also be practical with the same techniques.

From the IEEE Spectrum article:

In collaboration with IU [Indiana University] geneticist Kenneth Cornetta, who performed some of the initial virus experiments in his laboratory, the team exposed a pig respiratory coronavirus to the electroceutical fabric for 1 or 5 minutes. After one minute, they found evidence that the virus particles had begun to destabilize and aggregate, becoming larger than before exposure. That suggests the weak electric field was causing “damaging structural alterations to the virions,” the authors write.

The researchers also tested the fabric with the human cold coronavirus 229E, with the same results.  They have not yet performed the same tests with the SARS-COV-2 coronavirus, but are suggesting that will be equally effective.  They plan to submit an Emergency Use Authorization to FDA to produce face masks.

Trust in US government was at an all-time low. Then came the pandemic.

2020-05-30

 

photo of skeptical person by Oleg Gamulinsky courtesy of pixabay.com

We have a tsunami of information, some real, some unreal, threatening to drag us under.  First, some definitions: Nature magazine, May 27, titled “The epic battle against coronavirus misinformation and conspiracy theories” introduces us to the ocean of information washing over us and helps with terminology.

The story describes “infodemic” as follows: “The World Health Organization (WHO) has called the situation an infodemic: ‘An over-abundance of information — some accurate and some not — rendering it difficult to find trustworthy sources of information and reliable guidance.’ ”  The story defines mis- and dis- information: ” ‘misinformation’ … is wrong but not deliberately misleading … ‘disinformation’ … [is] organized [deliberate] falsehoods … intended to deceive.”

From the Nature story, an example of disinformation:

On 19 March, the website Biohackinfo.com falsely claimed that [Bill] Gates planned to use a coronavirus vaccine as a ploy to monitor people through an injected microchip or quantum-dot spy software.

This false claim was picked up by a YouTube video, which eventually was viewed more than 2 million times.  The notorious Roger Stone discussed it on a radio show and claimed he’d never take a vaccine “funded by Gates.”  Then the New York Post (a dodgy right wing newspaper) picked up the story and repeated it without contradiction.  The story spread to Facebook, where it got “more than a million” likes, comments, and shares.  The whole story is ridiculous– first of all, there’s no such thing as quantum-dot spyware.  Yet many people believe it or share it.

What has changed to make matters worse in recent decades?  Not just the internet.  Social media like Facebook (which started in 2004) is designed to maximize user “engagement” or “clicks”, and scary or shocking items make for increased interest.  There is no filter on this kind of media, no moderator to stop errors and falsehoods.

Information spreads orders of magnitude faster than before, when print or radio were controlled by people with money and power.  Now the average person can make statements that are potentially read worldwide.  The more shocking the statement, the more likely it is to spread, and the more an advertiser will pay to append a message to it; this creates an incentive for people to exaggerate or even falsify to increase the impact of their statements.

In parallel to the spread of the internet, those who are dismissive of the power of government to do good have amplified their messages and their distortions.  These people have spread the notion that “government is bad” (mostly because they don’t like progressive taxation) and, as Ronald Reagan said when he was inaugurated as president in 1981: “Government is not the solution to our problems.  Government is the problem.”

From the story in the May 23 New York Times, titled:Will the Coronavirus Kill What’s Left of Americans’ Faith in Washington?: “Just 17 percent of Americans [in 2019] trusted the federal government to do the right thing “just about always” or “most of the time,” according to the Pew Research Center.”

In the 1950’s, when the question was first asked by pollsters, about three-quarters of people trusted the government implicitly.  Then came the new “conservative” movement, spearheaded by the actor, paid spokesperson, and man of average intelligence, Ronald Reagan.

Now, in the pandemic, people have more faith in government, especially local.  This is partly because many have received the federal $1200 stimulus checks into their checking accounts.  It is also because people are looking to government to help protect them from the virus.

Confused messaging about face masks and reopening guidelines have impaired this newfound trust; daily briefings from the president have not helped.  This distrust comes from both sides of the political spectrum.  On the usual left, there are “science-based” people who distrust a president who uses a drug that, in studies, causes a higher death rate than taking nothing.

On the far right, there are many people who fear the “deep state” (which consists mainly of committed public servants who belong to no political party.)  Most of those on the far right actually trust the president because of incessant propaganda, especially from talk radio and Fox “news”.

There is a small but vocal group of people who believe in conspiracies; this has been exemplified by the QAnon movement.  Estimates of those who subscribe to these conspiratorial views range from 5% of adults to as high as 40% who agree with at least some statements from Q-Anon.  Conspiracy theories from Q-Anon and others include the belief that the coronavirus was genetically engineered to eliminate the excess population, or that the response to the virus is designed to control people and prevent them from dissenting.

Some have claimed that bills now in Congress will allow the government to take children from their families or to place people in concentration camps for having contact with virus carriers.  A particularly pernicious theory holds that contact tracers intend to delve into people’s phone contact lists (confusing phone contacts with personal contacts) and that the new 5G network system actually causes the virus.  A few have tried to burn down cell phone towers.

The cultural conflict has naturally played out on social media.  Attempts by moderators to take down posts that stoke conspiracy theories and false information about the virus have been only slightly successful.  I previously posted about the conspiracy theories in the video “Plandemic”, which was erased from parts of the web; the video lives on in the dark web, inaccessible to moderators.

Many more than eight million people have viewed this video, and the number serves as a good starting point for estimates of how many people believe in this alternative to reality and other conspiracies.  That number represents roughly two or three percent of Americans.  It is this two or three percent who believe implicitly in every conspiracy theory they hear about who are most dangerous.

People who are predisposed to believe in these delusions will not be swayed, neither by logical arguments nor by events that would seem to contradict their beliefs.  This is a dangerous group of people, and there is little that can be done to change their minds.  The only recourse is vigilance against armed attacks by aggrieved and desperate individuals; repeated debunking of their theories is necessary but not sufficient to stop them.

One thing that will help in the long run is if the government is headed and directed by people who value the truth above all else and avoid any temptation to lie or hide the facts.  Maybe if someone else is elected to lead the country in November, this will happen– but don’t relax even if the leadership does change.  Conspiracy theorists and new “conservatives” (like the Tea Party) will continue to attack our notions of reality and responsible government.