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So it appears the idea that Covid-19 began at the Wuhan Institute for Virology may be more than a rumor.

There’s a chicken-and-egg problem here. The Institute houses specimens of bat-borne coronaviruses for study–but the reason they’re studying bat-borne coronaviruses is because bat-borne coronaviruses (such as that that caused SARS) are present in Central and Southern China. So it could come from either direction. If Patient Zero is in fact a grad student at the institute it’s a point in favor of the former case, but I’d like to see that confirmed first.

This sidesteps a common aspect of the rumor, that the Chinese government bred and released the virus as biological weapon. That idea does not appear to have any backing. Scientific analysis so far indicates that Covid-19 bears the hallmarks of a naturally occurring entity, not a designed weapon. And, even if the CCP wanted to make such a biological attack, they certainly wouldn’t start in one of their own cities. The Chinese government prizes stability and economic growth; the virus is a potent threat to both.

Abominably, some have used the supposed biowar plot as an excuse to carry out hate crimes on people of East Asian heritage. This is terrible.

If it is true that the virus leaked from the institute, it presents an interesting problem. Medical science requires study. If we’re going to fend off the possibility of a pandemic, we need to know the possible sources of pandemics–which could release said pandemic. This is of particular interest to those of living in the Greater Boston area. Boston University has a lab on its property that houses samples of, not only Covid-19, but smallpox and the Marburg virus. Some people have complained about the implict threat to the city, as they have complained about the small but real nuclear reactor located somewhere on MIT’s campus. BU has ignored these complaints under the argument that scientific progress requires these facilities. Which is true. What is the proper threshold of risk? I can’t answer.

Assuming the Institute is responsible for the virus’s release, it’s unclear what we should do.

The Chinese government intentionally treated the pandemic as a PR problem rather than a medical disaster. The Trump administration tried to do the same thing, but they had their feet held to the fire by the public. This is what it means to be a free people–that there is some form of accountability, even if it’s inefficient. There have been talk of trying to retaliate against the Chinese government for getting us all into this mess. Perhaps the world community could file suit against them in some greater body, such as the International Court of Justice. However, the point of being a sovereign power–particularly a sovereign great power–is that you can tell the world community to go fuck itself. The only resort after that is military power and what would that even look like? B-52 runs over Shanghai aren’t going to help anything. Reconstructing the world economy is going to require Chinese participation.

I guess the one thing that this might help is to remind the world that China is a dictatorship and it needs not to be a dictatorship. That there can be no normalization of relations with any nation possessing a system of government such as China’s, and to be reminded by their example that we must preserve and expand freedom at home. Democracy has spread across the world in Unprecedented Era because it works. This pandemic is a clear illustration of why.

This is not a poem
For poems cannot do what I need them to do.

How do you formulate a form?
Sestinas were not designed to an RFP. They had no blueprints.
A clever word game they began, Sudoku that got out of hand.

Wittgenstein’s Tractatus
One of the great poems of the Twentieth century
An elegant tapestry, each strand as precise as only Ludwig could make them
Yet still didn’t do what he wanted it to do.

How do you formulate a form?
You don’t. You let your need etch the outline.

I feel I have an egg within me
If I find a way to open my mouth wide enough
It shall emerge, shining white, pearlescent with spit
But I cannot yet unhinge my jaw

How do you formulate a form?
The first step is: you try.

God loves us, more than any human we can ever know.
God does not give the tiniest shit about us.

But make no mistake.

God is the Ancient of Days, gray-haired and venerable. God is not the Ancient of Days.
God is the Law, the Logos, the dharma. God is not the Law, the Logos, the dharma.

“In my Father’s house are many mansions.” So shall we tour all these mansions, guided by our brother and friend Yeshua. Without his guidance we would be eaten by the worms outside. We cannot imagine what shall come at the end of the tour. Mansion after mansion, further up and further in.

.

At 17, “current events” were something to be studied so I could answer Scholars for Dollars questions. At 42, “current events” are like bullets snapped into a magazine that I hope will be discharged in a direction other than mine.

Modern society in a developed nation relies on systems: systems of transportation and communication, systems of energy production, systems of waste disposal. These systems have been laboriously built up over the past two centuries. They channel tremendous force.

And if that force is misdirected, even a little bit, it’s like a tank running over a garden shed.

My paternal grandmother was one of a species now endangered as the white rhino: the devout Christian liberal. Any leftist organization in need of $20 had my grandma’s address as an emergency measure; at the merest touch a check was in the mail. By my estimate, she paid for about 50% of Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior II.

But that should not be taken as a sign of a hip lifestyle. To the end of her days, Grandma shared the traditional Methodist suspicion of small pleasures, right down to her attitude toward sugar (she was a huge William Dufty fan). She forbade my father in his youth to read violent, juvenile-delinquency-inducing comic books, although she did allow him nonviolent Mad magazines. She fed me cod liver oil; she took it herself. These things were not in contradiction to her liberalism, they were part of it.

During summers in the late Eighties, my cousin Mike and I, in our early teens, were left at the family cottages in New Hampshire, under Grandma’s theoretical supervision. In practice, this entailed us doing mainly what we wanted. We were in separate houses, under separate schedules, and Grandma had no real control over us save to nag—which she did, enthusiastically. She tried to wake us up in the mornings after we’d been up until 1AM; we locked the doors. She tried to give us wake-up calls; we left the phone off the hook. With filial shame do I recall this now, but at the time, we were as water flowing around a stone.

The reason we were staying up until 1AM was that we were playing Dungeons & Dragons, the Red Basic and Blue Expert sets. I DMed, and Mike played two or three characters at once. The level of story was very Monty Hall, but to unjaded 14-yr-olds it was brilliant, and there was no one to tell us we were doing anything wrong. We spent hours a day, growing in power, in spells and magic items and monsters and gold.

Grandma never thought the game was Satanic. That’s not the kind of Christians we were. What she thought was that is was violent and a waste of time and probably an incitement towards juvenile delinquency. The net effect was a great deal of clucking and scolding. So imagine our shock when she said she wanted to play.

“I want to see what fascinates you boys so about these ‘role-playing-games.'”

Uh…OK.

Though at first taken aback, we quickly warmed to the idea. We loved our grandma, and the idea that we might be able to make some connection with her through Dungeons & Dragons seemed strange and tantalizing. I set to making a small dungeon that might show off the game’s mechanics to best effect. It was resolved that the game should take place that evening after supper.

We met in the little cottage, where Grandma was staying, her home turf. The lamp hung low over the small table in the single main room, attracting a variety of moths and mosquitoes battering against the picture window, which were in turn feasted upon by immense (though not Giant) spiders. I got out the rule books and dice and the random pieces of cardboard I was using as a GM’s Screen.

“See, Grandma, the first thing you have to do is make a character. It’s like a role you’re pretending to be, like an actor does.”

There was a touch of skepticism in her eyes. Now that the empirical reality was here, we couldn’t tell if she thought her initial outreach had been a good idea or not.

I explained character attributes and guided her through rolling the 3d6s. When we got to the question of class, I talked very quickly past the other options until I got to cleric. I felt like I was trying to guide someone through a minefield, in Tibetan. Finally, we reached alignment.

“See, there’s Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic. You can just put down ‘Lawful.’ The next step–”

“I want to be Chaotic!” she said.

Mike and I were gobsmacked.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes!”

Neither of us had ever played a Chaotic character. Chaotic characters were bad. I considered trying to talk her out of it, but I didn’t want to discourage her. So Chaotic it was.

I told Grandma to pick a spell for her character. Strictly speaking, 1st level clerics in OD&D weren’t supposed to get spells, but I always thought that was stupid. If Grandma was going to go to the bother of doing this, she should get a little magic.

“Hmmm…I want ‘Cause Fear.'”

That was the Reverse of “Remove Fear,” but she could use Reverse Cleric spells, because she was Chaotic. Maybe Grandma was getting the hang of this.

So Mike and Grandma lined up at the entrance of the eldritch crypt, lit their torches, prepared their iron spikes and 10’ wooden poles, and descended.

“You see a werewolf! Roll for initiative! Grandma, that means roll to determine who gets to go first.”

They did, and Grandma won.

“I cast my spell! I want to make him afraid!”

The monster failed its saving throw miserably! The werewolf went yelping back into the depths of the crypt! Yay Grandma!

And then…

“Why do you spend all your time with this when you could be learning a musical instrument?”

The delicate suspension of normality that had fueled the evening popped like a soap bubble. Grandma had seen enough.

I hadn’t really expected anything else, but that moment of connection was worth it. A door may have slammed shut, but I never expected that door to be open in the first place.

My beloved Grandma T went to glory over a decade ago. This will always be one of my favorite memories of her.

“Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix” by Charles R. Cross

My main takeway from this is: Jimi was an SF fan! I did not realize this, but “Purple Haze” was inspired not by LSD, but by Philip JosĂ© Farmer’s Night of Light, and the “Axis: Bold as Love” album was intended, in Jimi’s words, as “Science fiction rock and roll.” He was an enthusiastic reader of SF and similar esoterica (particularly the then-new field of UFOs). I wish we could have seen where he went with those themes.

But the cost was great. As with the bio of Janis, towards the conclusion of the book you started to almost hope for the end, simply because the title subject wouldn’t be in pain anymore. The music industry devoured both Janis and Jimi, giving them everything they wanted while simultaneously destroying them. They were promoted to legends in death, but you can’t help wonder if there wasn’t some middle path.

Dude, what if there are near-death experiences?

What if there is some dude lying in a hospital bed, his heart jamming up, his brain seizing, and in front of him is this blinding white light?

Except: it’s not heaven. The brightness is the light in a hospital delivery room. Because what he thought was his life was all a dream in the womb, and that light is the first thing he sees as he crowns through his mother’s vagina.

DUDE.