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Does Zinc Interfere with mRNA Vaccines?

During my reasearch into how SARS2 mRNA vaccines operate, a very odd notion occurred to me: Can zinc ions interfere with vaccines?

It’s an important question for Carol and me. At the advice of our doctor, we’ve been taking zinc supplements and an OTC supplement called quercetin now for well over a year. We’d been taking it for months before we got the Pfizer vacc.

(If you’ve not read up on mRNA vaccines yet, this short explanation for laypeople is the best I’ve seen so far.)

The Pfizer vacc is the first of its kind. Vaccination is the process of familiarizing our immune systems with a specific pathogen. This is generally done by injecting weakened or fragmentary pathogens into the patient. The immune system reacts to those weakened or fragmentary pathogens and develops enough familiarity with them to attack the little devils on sight.

Making large quantities of a whole or partial pathogen is a slow business. Because time was of the essence, Pfizer used a new mechanism called mRNA, which literally creates a sort of crude virus using RNA sequences. This RNA virus enters human cells in the patient and begins manufacturing parts of the target pathogen. In the case of SARS2, it’s the spike proteins. Our immune systems then recognize the spike proteins as enemy action, and kill anything having that specific spike protein.

I twitched a little when I figured this out. We’re infecting ourselves with a virus that makes virus parts in our own cells, thus avoiding the delay of having to generate gazillions of doses in vitro. It’s an elegant solution, sure, and we were able to get it on the street in record time. There are a lot of fistfights going on right now over the issue of serious side effects. I’ll leave that discussion to others. The issue here is fundamentally different from that of side effects.

Carol and I had plenty of zinc ions in our systems when we were vaccinated. The quercetin (taken daily) is a zinc ionophore. It “escorts” zinc ions into a cell. Zinc really doesn’t like virus replication, and stops it cold. This is how some clinicians have been treating COVID-19: by giving patients zinc and a zinc ionophore as soon as symptoms appear.

My question is simple: Can zinc + a zinc ionophore block the mRNA vaccine’s spike protein replication process?

Don’t say, “Of course not!” I doubt that question has even come up yet, given the media’s mad-dog attack job done on a certain zinc ionophore called HCQ. We don’t know. If you’ve seen somebody take up this question elsewhere, send me a link. I’ve begun to wonder if the shots we were given actually took, and if they did, to what extent. We reacted to the shots, which is a good sign. That doesn’t mean the generated immune response wasn’t weak, brief, or both.

The issue isn’t whether the vaccines work. The issue is whether we were in fact fully vaccinated at all. And y’know, about things like that I’d really like to be sure.

Omicron as Variolation

My Irish grandmother Sade was a very funny woman, and if I have any gift for humor myself, it came down from her through my father. She had funny words for things, and it was years after she died that I realized that a lot of them were real words. “Oinchek” (or close) meant “goofball” or perhaps “dumbass” in Irish slang. “Redshanks” were Irish and Scottish mercenaries of the 16th century. Sade used the term for imaginary creatures who dug up her tomato garden; we pictured them as mice in red pants. “Gomog” hasn’t turned up in my research and may be Sade’s coinage, but it’s another term for “goofball.” Then there’s “omathaun,” (simpleton, fool) which I thought Sade invented until I heard it used in Disney’s Mary Poppins. And last week, when I first heard of the “omicron variant,” I initially read it as the “omathaun variant.”

Heh. In some respects, all the variants have been omathaun variants, judging by mainstream media reactions. Oh yeah…I keep forgetting…say it with me now…we’re all gonna die!!

Fecking ijits. (You can figure that one out for yourself. Sade never used it in our hearing but it’s real.) The South African researcher who identified the omicron variant told the media that the symptoms of omicron are “unusual but mild.” Reading her description, well, it sounds like the common cold. Milder, even. In fact, the symptoms are at such variance from COVID-19 that my first reaction was, is SARS2 really behind it? Evidently that’s been established to most everyone’s satisfaction. And that’s a good thing.

Omicron could end the pandemic.

Work with me here. I have no citations to offer; this is pure speculation on my part. Omicron appears to be what evolutionists and epidemiologists predicted long ago: a mutation that spreads easily but causes a less serious disease. What it leaves in its wake is natural immunity, which doesn’t exist according to the media, but to everyone with half a brain and some education, it does. (You can get thrown off of Twitter or Facebook for even mentioning it.)

If omicron really is SARS2, then a person who gets it, stays home for a day or three and then recovers, may come away with immunity to all variants of SARS2. The fistfight over whether natural immunity is stronger and longer-lasting than vaccine immunity is ongoing. Given that the CDC no longer states that the vaccines impart immunity at all, I’m betting that natural immunity is indeed stronger and broader and longer-lasting.

As Edward Jenner discovered circa 1790, people who had recovered from a mild disease called cowpox (many of them women who milked cows) didn’t get smallpox. Jenner found that deliberately infecting people with cowpox imparted immunity to smallpox. Jenner invented vaccination, which for a long time was called variolation, after variola, the scientific name for the smallpox virus.

Omicron may finish off an inadvertent ongoing regimen of SARS2 variolation. A great many people around the world have already fought off SARS2 and are now immune to it. Vaccinated people who get breakthrough infections will come away with immunity. Those who haven’t been infected will probably get omicron eventually. They may not even realize that they had it. Omicron may “fill in the cracks” of SARS2 immunity, and turn the damned thing from pandemic to endemic, like flu. People still die from the flu every year, and we don’t go into a screaming panic over it. Or…omicron could make SARS2 rare enough that it mostly disappears. Where’s SARS1 these days, anyway?

The comparison may not be germane; I don’t know. The important thing is to read news from many sources (including international sources) and not panic. From all I’ve read (and I read a lot) the end of the pandemic is definitely in sight.

Rant: One Jab to Rule Them All

I monitor the COVID scene pretty closely. I read the stats, I read research papers, and I read the stuff that Twitter and Facebook won’t let you post, even though I have to turn my crank filter up a little. (These days, my crank filter is usually at 5 or 6 just reading local Arizona headlines.) I read news that disappoints me, if it makes a good case. Last week, a columnist I follow pointed out that studies showing that ivermectin works against COVID tend to come from places where parasites are endemic. Knock out the parasites (which is what ivermectin definitely does) and you have people better able to mount a robust immune response against COVID. So maybe ivermectin isn’t an antiviral after all. (The long-form piece from which the analysis came is well work a look, even if it’s a slog.)

That said, I am appalled at the willingness of MDs and hospitals to stand around and wait for people to die, when a course of ivermectin costs almost nothing and as best I can tell (MDs won’t talk about it) the human formulation of ivermectin has few side effects taken at established doses. So why not try it?

Nobody can tell me. And nobody can explain the slobbering, twitching, eyes-rolled-back-in-the-head fury tantrums people in the mainstream media throw when anybody with a platform suggests it. I have a simple question: Will it hurt? If so, how?

Nobody can tell me. Er…nobody will tell me. At this point, I don’t think I need to be an MD to know the answer. It won’t.

I think I know something else. I think I know why the media is doing all that slobbering, apart from the fact that they’ve had lots of practice and are mighty good at it. Stand by. I’ll get to that. In fact, that’s the whole point of this rant.

But first, let’s talk about the new antiviral pill that Pfizer has ready to roll, pending FDA approval. Pfizer is claiming that its new drug, Paxlovid, cuts hospitalizations and deaths by 90%. Even the Washington Post is bullish on Paxlovid.

So why hasn’t the FDA granted Pfizer an EUA allowing the drug to go on the market immdiately? The drug companies had such good results that with FDA approval they ended the tests early.

Still no pills. It’s possible that Pfizer is arguing with the FDA and the Biden administration about pricing. You know damned well the pills won’t be cheap. New drugs never are.

In the meantime, I stand scratching my head over news that in the world’s most heavily vaccinated countries, new cases and hospitalizations are off the charts. One might almost begin to entertain a certain sneaky but unavoidable suspicion that the vaccines don’t really work. Sorry: A vaccine that protects for four or five months (if that) doesn’t work. And then there’s the question of what “protection” actually means. Recall the stealthy walk-back by the CDC of what the vaccine is capable of doing. They silently erased the statement that the vaccines grant immunity to SARS2 from their web site, replacing the word “immunity” with the non-technical term “protection.” The next step was to state that the vaccine doesn’t prevent infection, but merely makes the infection less dangerous. Oh–the vaccine doesn’t keep the vaccinated from spreading the disease. So…what does it do again?

Gibraltar is 118% vaccinated (the number includes non-Gibraltar Spaniards who commute to their jobs on the island nation) and the virus is eating them alive. Ditto Ireland, with 91% vaccinated. How is that possible?

Still no EUA and no pills. And I have a theory as to why: Treating COVID-19 patients as soon as symptoms appear will end the pandemic. If you get the virus, you get natural immunity. Eventually, people capable of spreading infection become so sparse that the virus has nowhere to go that it hasn’t already been.

And that’s good, right? End the pandemic with (ok, sure, expensive) pills?

Depends. I’ve identified something about the pandemic that I call the “One Ring Effect.” Sauron sank so much of his power into the One Ring that destroying the One Ring ended not only his power, but Sauron himself. Ever since the vaccine was first available, it was sold as The One Solution. It soon became forbidden to talk about treatment or natural immunity. The media, government, Big Medicine and Big Tech all were screaming that THE VACCINE IS THE ONLY THING STANDING BETWEEN US AND DEATH!!!!!

Taking Ireland and Gibraltar into consideration, well…no. And hell no.

If Pfizer’s pills work (and from what I see online I suspect they do) those pills can stop a SARS2 infection in its tracks, before the infection becomes serious enough to warrant hospitalization but after natural immunity develops. It might take six months or a year, but it will reduce the virus from a death-threat to a minor nuisance. Get symptoms, get tested, get pills, get over it. No more pandemic.

Now, if the vaccine didn’t stop the pandemic but pills do, then all that screaming was for nothing. Government at all levels will lose face to a degree history has never before seen. The public will realize that they’ve been fooled by people who claim to be experts but are just power-drunk political hacks, who poured all their power into The One Vaccine. Those little Frodo Pills threw the pandemic into the volcano, greatly diminishing the power of governments to bulldoze a country into totalitarian mandates that do nothing but generate ill-will.

Governments will not like this. And since the mainstream media are mostly government cheerleaders in ugly clothes, they won’t like it either. There will be other consequences too, but I’ve made my main point: The pandemic was to a great degree about power. The powerful don’t want it to be over. They oversold themselves as protectors. This is why there was so much slobbering over HCQ, ivermectin, and almost anything else that was a possible treatment. From gormless mask-fetish busybodies in grocery stories all the way up to the highest levels of government, SARS2 provided a sense of power and meaning. People who have little power and no identifiable meaning in their lives just love it and want it to last forever.

Bring ’em on, FDA. Those pills will change the world. Oh–and they will change you, too. Get used to it.


Ok, this was a rant. You know what a rant is, right? (I don’t do them often enough to have a reputation for them.) I am not an anti-vaxxer. Carol and I have had our shots. Angry or accusing comments will be nuked without regret.

The Four-Color Problem

A year or so ago, a stray thought popped into my head as I crossed a large parking lot to get to one of the few remaining indoor malls in the Phoenix area. I stopped. I looked around. I looked around again. And damn, that stray thought was right:

Cars appear to be made almost entirely in four colors: black, white, silver, and red.

Up and down my row it was almost a physical law. I raised my gaze and did a 360. Ah–way over there, a flash of blue! On the opposite edge of the lot was something that looked brown. Or maybe it was just dirty.

There was no yellow. There was no green. Lord knows, there was no purple or pink. (Is Mary Kay still a thing?) It was black, white, silver, and red plus debris.

I first assumed it was a fluke. Or maybe selective vision. Carol and I have a silver car and a red car. Up and down our street it’s pretty much black and white. So there you have it: We notice what we’re used to noticing. But as days and then months passed, the pattern played true: black, white, silver, and red, with an occasional green or blue rounding error. It’s persisted to this day. When I see two blue cars at the same time it startles the hell out of me. And a few days ago I saw the first yellow vehicle I’d seen in over a month. It was a big honking pickup truck. (Could it be a custom, er, bespoke paint job?) Yes, I would be able to see that one coming.

Ok. You who know me know this: Stray thoughts enter my head so often my head might be considered a sort of thought pound. Most of them don’t stand up to close examination. This one has.

Time was, mall parking lots were rainbows. When I was growing up, our family owned cars in blue, various shades of green (including two-toned green), gold, and yellow. In fact, at one point we owned two bright yellow cars at the same time. For a little while, we had a two-toner in gray and maroon. And that was before I left home. Later on, red, white, and brown cars finally entered the Duntemann homestead. I do recall seeing a few purple cars back in the day, though not in front of our house. (As best I know I have never seen an orange car.)

No more. So what happened? My guess is that car manufacturers are shaving costs by limiting available colors. They may keep one paint machine open for special-order colors, and I’ll bet they make customers pay big for the privilege. I don’t know anyone in the car industry or I’d just ask.

It doesn’t matter in any important way. But a little bit of weird urban beauty has passed out of this world. I wonder if I’m the only one who’s noticed.

Where Are the Job-Seekers?

I’ve read dozens of short items online recently saying how desperate employers are to fill a record number of vacant positions. The explanations offered for this are all over the map. (I’ll list some I’ve seen a little later.) The end of the unemployment extensions and the eviction moratorium didn’t seem to push people into the labor force. The number of job openings and the number of people no longer looking for work are both at record highs. So how are all those unemployed people who aren’t looking for jobs paying their rent? What the hell is going on here? I have a little list, based on a broad skim of articles asking the question:

  1. Wages. People are standing back from the job market until pay levels improve. Pay at many low-level jobs in restaurants and hospitality has already gone up. It does not appeared to have helped. And the question of how the stand-backers are paying their bills remains unanswered.
  2. Covidphobia. Young people are too scared of COVID to get back out into the world. The ones who still have parents may be moving back in with parents to dodge the virus. There may be a little of this going on, but from a height it doesn’t ring true. And it certainly doesn’t account for the numbers.
  3. Schools. With schools closed, women have left the job market for lack of daytime childcare. I haven’t found good numbers so far on how many schools are still closed, but I doubt it’s enough to account for the gap between jobs and job seekers. Most of the closings I’ve seen mentioned were for the 2020/2021 school year. We’re now well into 2021/2022.
  4. Stupid HR tricks. This is not a new problem. Most people in tech know about the screwy online hoops you have to jump through to even get a return email. Keywords, sheesh. And things like “Must have twenty years’ experience in Kubernetes,” when Kubernetes didn’t even exist until 2014. I don’t know who said it, but it’s truer in HR circles than most others: “An inability to find a 5-pound butterfly does not indicate a butterfly shortage.” Again, none of this is new, and I doubt it has much impact on the current labor shortage.

From ten steps back, I’m tempted to say, “All of the above,” and I might be right. There is, however, something more. This quote, from the website of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) may point to the heart of the problem:

SHRM also polled 1,000 unemployed Americans who were laid off or left their jobs during the pandemic-the majority of whom worked hourly jobs in industries heavily impacted by the health crisis, such as food service and retail. The top reason for remaining unemployed, cited by 42 percent of respondents, was not having received any responses to jobs for which they’ve applied.”

Skills mismatch and berserk credentialism will probably take the blame. But we’re not talking about software engineers here. These are low-level service jobs, most of which probably don’t require any college at all. Earlier today, a post on Nextdoor in my area repeated a suspicion I’ve had for awhile now:

Lots of companies – of course not all, but many – say they are hiring and can’t find people, but are not really hiring. By staying understaffed, their payroll expenses are way down, they can blame ‘lazy workers’ for the poor customer experience, and most of all if they ‘can’t fill’ key positions they dont have to pay back those pandemic bridge loans from the federal government. This is a real issue facing many people – some companies claim to be hiring but really don’t want to fill the positions.”

In other words, companies that lost their cash cushion due to COVID lockdowns and are now in debt to the Feds want to run lean for awhile to get back on their feet. Making noise about not being able to find workers is cover. The intent is to get by with as few employees as possible–temporarily if not permanently.

I see this playing out in supermarkets: At the Fry’s where we shop, I don’t remember when I last saw two or more “people” lanes open. Nearly all the goods are going through the self-checkout kiosks. Now, automation eliminating jobs is not a new problem. Self-checkout kiosks have been with us for years. The COVID disruptions may have pushed some firms to try automation solutions those firms hadn’t before considered.

Not even that is a complete explanation. What we’re seeing may simply be a perfect storm of a lot of smaller things acting together that keeps a worker surplus from becoming employed during record-high demand for workers. I’m still puzzled how people pay their bills while staying out of the job market. I’m watching the topic, and if anything crisp turns up I’ll mention it here.

Strictly Bespeaking

A year or so ago, Carol and I were driving somewhere, and we passed a bus stop shelter with an ad for condos on one side:

The Gildersleeve
Bespoke Apartment Homes
Starting at $200,000

Huh? What the hell did that mean? (I made up the word “Gildersleeve” and the price, but it’s a species of ad we see a lot of here, on bus stop signs and elsewhere.) To my recall, “bespoke” was a verb. Not one you see often, and when you do see it, it’s usually where somebody is trying to sound old-timey. I do not recall ever seeing it used as an adjective.

I grabbed my 1936 New Century Dictionary, which is my closest dictionary and within arm’s reach. It simply said, “Preterit and past participle of bespeak.” Looking up to the entry for “bespeak,” all definitions were as verbs, and the one of interest was “to give evidence of or indicate; fortell.” Ok, sure. That’s how I understood it. Nothing about condos. I had to go down the hall to fetch my 1974 New World Dictionary. Here, “bespoke” had its own separate entry. Its first meaning was the same as New Century had it. The second meaning, as an adjective, meant “custom or custom-made; making or made to order.” The entry did tag this usage as “British.”

Heh. Not anymore, evidently. (At least with respect to condos.)

So the matter rested until a few nights ago, while I was curled up in Chairzilla reading Poul Anderson’s The Boat of a Million Years. Early in Chapter VI, Poul writes:

“A short, somewhat tubby man with a pug nose and a scraggly beard turning gray, he was given to self-importance. Yet leathery skin bespoke many years of faring, often through danger, and goodly garb told of success won by it.”

Like I said, old-timey. The odd thing about all this is that now, at 69, and having read untold numbers of books since I learned to read at 4, I have no recall whatsoever of seeing “bespoke” used as an adjective, to describe condos or anything else. Ever. This is odd. Hell, I used to read the dictionary for fun. My father told me early on when he bought me my first dictionary (I might have been eight or so) “Every time you look up a word in the dictionary, read the whole page.” And I did. After that, nobody at school could beat me at vocabulary or spelling.

Running across a use of a word so different from the one I knew was jarring. I take some comfort in the adjective form being a Britishism. After all, they call car hoods “bonnets” and trunks “boots.” They spell jail “gaol,” which somehow sounds Halloweenish, or at least mildly diabolical. There are plenty of examples beyond that.

In poking around online, I see the word used a lot in custom tailoring, as in “a bespoke suit.” This seems peculiar. A custom-tailored suit does not give evidence of its being custom-made (I have one) so it does not bespeak anything. Yet it is bespoke.

Sigh. No wonder my Polish grandparents never learned to (be)speak English.

Progress Report and Excerpt: The Molten Flesh

I’m now about 40,000 words into The Molten Flesh, which is nominally the sequel to The Cunning Blood. It’s a sequel in the broader sense of a story told in the same universe but not focusing on the same characters or planets. The single exception is Sophia Gorganis, who has a cameo in a flashback set a few years earlier than the action of The Cunning Blood. The focus is now on a different nanotech society and device: Protea, a synchronistic combination of the human body and a nanomachine that is present in every part of the body, up to and including the brain. The same general nano/human typography conventions apply: Subvocal human speech to the nanomachine is enclosed in vertical bars. The speech of the nanomachine to its operator is in italics. Those conversations are private; onlookers cannot hear either side.


From The Molten Flesh, Chapter 13

Copyright 2021 by Jeff Duntemann. All Rights Reserved.

Halifax fired its main engines as soon as its shuttle repair bay doors closed behind Hubbardton and sealed. Like everything else about Halifax, the shuttle bay seemed out-of-scale. At least three fourth-generation shuttles could line up side-by-side for repair or storage. Ron eyeballed that in a pinch, it could stuff away five second-gen shuttles.

The lock pumps had the repair bay pressurized in less than ten minutes. Cory Ellis went down the ladder from the shuttle’s lock. Ron jumped. It was hard for the big ship to be in a hurry. Acceleration was only half a gee. The air in the bay still held the flinty scent of bare metal and fresh plastic. “New starship smell,” Ron said, chuckling.

No sooner had the pressure all-clear horn sounded than five crew entered the repair bay at a run. Three men and two women, all young-Ron pegged them at under thirty, a couple of them way under thirty. A reasonable security detail, he supposed.

Ron blinked. The tall blond woman had the captain’s golden galaxy over her heart. The shorter, dark-haired woman had the drivemaster’s braided golden ring. |Something funny is going on here.|

The captain is Bronya Azarova, born in Kraznoyarsk. 27 years old. The drivemaster is Sally Ann Gildea, from Cincinnati. 25. Both are Star Academy graduates. I cannot identify the men with any certainty.

|Neither was in the top ten of her class, or I’d have heard the names. You’d think they’d send someone a little more seasoned to run a starship the size of a small town in Nebraska.|

There’s not much running to be done. The whole point of the fourth generation was to allow AIs to do nearly all of the decision-making. No more human error. Safe.

|I guess Star Academy was one way for a girl to get her ass out of Siberia.|

Ron was bemused but pleased. A more seasoned captain like Sophia Gorganis could have caused a lot more trouble. He walked behind Cory as they approached the detail. When Cory got a few meters from Bronya, the rest of the detail stepped back. Bronya stood her ground.

“Mr. Ellis, what do you think you are doing?” Her accent was pure, her face a blond-framed sneer that suggested contempt painted over terror.

“I’m saving my life and yours.”

Chush sobachya. Give me the keys to the drive.”

Cory tilted his head toward Ron. Ron dug in a pocket and held up the keys like a hand of cards.

Bronya reached into a hip pocket, and pulled out a 9mm sidearm. She stepped around Cory and with both hands aimed it square at Ron’s sternum.

|Mush matrix, full torso. Fast!|

It’s mostly still there. Give me two minutes. Keep her talking.

Cory ducked to Ron’s left. “Bronya! Stand down! What did Star Academy teach you about firearms in a spacecraft!”

She didn’t move. “Ron Uhlein taught me starships are tougher than that. Keys, Mr. Uhlein.”

Ron tucked the keys back into a pocket. The heat of Goop’s rearranging his body was bringing sweat to his forehead. Not ideal, but unavoidable. Keeping her talking might be hampered by his not knowing Russian-but he would try. “I like your style, kid. Come work for me and give 1Earth a spanking. You know damned well what they’ll do to you when you go home without Halifax.” He pointed at her left breast. “You earned that galaxy. I suspect I helped you earn it. I’ll let you keep it. I’ll send you to star systems nobody else has ever been to.”

The pistol quavered in her hands. “Give…me…the…keys.”

“How about revenge? The Canadians stomped your nation and killed several million of your people. They stomped my nation too-and now they’re so scared of us they don’t travel outside the cities. I’ll bet it’s the same in Russia. Let’s you and me put together a new alliance: Rural Russia and rural USA, against 1Earth.”

Bronya licked her lips. “You are a thief and a traitor.”

“I’m a free man.” He took a step forward. “Are you a free woman?”

“I am a citizen of Earth.”

“A planet that’s mostly turned its back on star travel. However it was you got lucky enough to take this monstrosity out of Earth orbit, you’ll never be that lucky again. I’m your last chance to use your galaxy, kid.”

Long seconds passed. Bronya’s face showed torment. Ron kept his hands in his pockets. Close-range slugs would do less damage to a mush matrix in his chest than to his arms and legs.

Then, from Hubbardton, behind them. “Bluster! Fake!”

Ron cursed. He had ordered Alyssa to stay on the shuttle. The girl walked directly toward Bronya, yelling, “Orphan! Forgotten! Lonely! Bitter!”

Bronya is indeed an orphan, and has been since she was fourteen. The matrix is now in place.

Bronya swung the pistol toward Alyssa. No way! Ron jumped. The half-gee fake gravity threw off his aim. He stumbled, his shoulder lowered and aimed at her ribcage. The woman had reflexes; she dodged, spun back and pumped two rounds into his chest before he connected. The kinetic energy of the slugs slowed Ron a little but caused him no pain beyond a strong thumping where the mush matrix absorbed the rounds’ energy. She tried to side-step but not quickly enough. Ron caught her free arm and kicked Bronya’s legs out from under her. She hit the floor ass-first and fired again. The slug went ching! against the metal deck.

“Drop it!” Ron yelled. Bronya, grimacing, tried to swing the pistol back toward Ron. He grabbed her wrist and squeezed hard. “I said drop it!”

She reeked of sweat. “I know what you do! You are a monster!”

“I do what I have to do.” |Pain #4. Thirty seconds’ worth. Go.|

Goop squeezed the neurostimulant into Bronya’s arm. The woman inhaled a ragged breath, and screamed. The pistol hit the steel deck. Ron shoved himself to his feet. Bronya thrashed on the deck, holding one arm in her opposite hand, whimpering between full-throated screams.

The three men from the detail fled the repair bay. Sally Ann stepped backwards several meters, but continued watching. After thirty seconds had passed, Bronya let herself fall flat on her back, breathing quickly, tears smeared across her face. Ron looked her in the eye as he picked up the pistol and tucked it into another pocket. He cupped a hand below his ribs. Goop expelled the spent slugs. Ron reached out his hand and let them fall half-gee gently on Bronya’s chest. “Captain Azarov, I believe you dropped these. Oh…and I withdraw my offer.”

Hallowander

Halloween. Wow. It seemed like the Fourth of July was just a few weeks ago. Then Carol and I walked into Wal-Mart. We live on a street with only a few kids, and if memory serves we ended up eating most of last year’s candy ourselves. So we bought a couple of bags of stuff we wouldn’t mind finishing, if it comes to that.

And it will.

At Wal-Mart (and probably almost everywhere else in the retail universe) Halloween was already over, and shoved to one side of the Seasonal aisle. Many of the candy SKUs were gone, including every species of M&Ms but…popcorn. Huh? Popcorn flavored M&Ms? I’d like to say I’ve seen stranger things, but I’m not sure I can. (Ok, sure: Peanut butter-flavored whiskey is a contender, as is coffee-flavored Coke.) At least we got it cheap. And the rest of the Seasonal aisle–along with much of the rest of the store–was already full-bore Christmas. No surprise.

And still tiny radishes. That’s the only kind of radishes you can get at Wal-Mart. Back in September you could still get full-sized radishes at Fry’s and Safeway. Now everybody is selling miniature radishes. I like slicing radishes and covering the tops of our salads with them. Microradishes cut a little easier than big radishes, but you have to cut a whole lot more of them.

Oh–and Total Wine now sells a red blend infused with…habanero. Maybe there’s a habanero surplus because everybody with asbestos esophagi are demanding ghost peppers in everything. So the winemakers could be getting them cheap. (An aside: Witching Hour wines are decent, for cheap red blends. Why not get a bottle for your Halloween festivities? There are several SKUs. Just read the labels before you drop them in your shopping cart, ok?)

Maybe there’s a habanero surplus. I really don’t care, as long as they don’t start loading it into iced coffee. But I will tell you something else: There is a severe onion-ring shortage. Two fast-food restaurants that we haunt now and then haven’t been able to get onion rings for literally weeks. For Corleone’s, it’s been longer than that. A little sniffing around online tells me that the world’s #1 exporter of onions is…China. So the nation’s onion rings are likely as not sitting in that immense barge-clot that’s jamming up California ports, especially off Los Angeles.

There’s hope on that front. As usual, the problem devolves to idiotic regulation by government seat-warmers who’ll gladly collapse the world’s economy because a handful of whiners in LA complains that they can see containers stacked more than two high at the ports. If they’re on a ladder. And holding binoculars. Here’s a long-form explanation of how that was discovered and how it was (maybe, or might be) solved. Let us pray. I miss onion rings.

My old friend Mike Bentley posted a link to a stack rank of books about…drumroll please…the PowerPC CPU. My PowerPC book came in at #7. Mike’s was at #24. All those books were long ago and far away. Once Apple switched to Intel CPUs, the PowerPC went gently into that good night. That’s too bad; it was a solid architecture and deserved better. In case you’re interested in PowerPC books, you can get mine on Amazon. It’s a shame the mass-market paperback is now going for $877.95. I guess you’d better order the trade paperback, which sells for $4.75. A footnote: There never was a mass-market paperback edition. Maybe it’s a ghost. (More likely a daemon, heh.)

Carol has a recipe for beer bread that she wants to try, and we’re going to make it pumpkin-spice beer bread. How? By using pumpkin-spice beer. I bought a 12 oz can of Sleepy Dog Gourdgeous Pumpkin Spice Ale yesterday. You likely won’t see it in stores because it’s a local product, produced in Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix. Not sure how well it will work. I’ll let you know.

A quick aside: I’m still getting old coins in change at McDonald’s and other stores when I pay cash. The nation’s penny jars are still emptying into our outstretched hands. The other day I scored a 1969-S and a 1975-D in one transaction.

Speaking of stack-ranks, Google has a search-trends stack rank of Halloween costumes. We don’t see a lot of kids in costumes anymore, and it’s been a very long time since I wore one myself. I’m thinking a lot of these popular outfits are popular with adults. #1 is Witch. (My psychic powers predicted that one.) It’s an interesting list, and starts getting peculiar fairly quickly. #10 is Chucky, the serial murderer doll from the Chilld’s Play flicks. #18 is the 1980s. Ok, I could see the 1970s as a costume. (Maybe I wore a costume more recently than I thought.) But the ’80s? What is it? A pinstriped suit with matching vest? It surprised me that Princess was down to #30. Disney may have saturated its market. I had to look up “The Purge,” which took #38. And #49: The 1990s? I got nuthin’. (The site does not provide examples, just stats.) Oh–#59 was the 1970s. Dressing a kid up like the 1970s might be considered child abuse in some jurisdictions. And that’s as far as I went.

KBAQ, our local classical music station, is going to be playing Halloween-appropriate classical compositions all day long and into the evening, including a lot you may not have heard of. You can stream it here no matter where you live. If you like classical music, it may surprise you how many compositions are about ghosts, devils, death, and wizardry/witchery–or at very least sound like they should be. (One example is the waltz from Aram Khachaturian’s Masquerade.)

In closing, on this long afternoon of the creepiest night of the year, I present a recent translation of an ancient Halloween prayer that most of you have heard many times:

“From goosies and goalies and long-legged besties
And things that grow hemp in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!”

Odd Lots

  • Sandia Labs has invented a way to extract metals from coal ash, including rare-earth metals used in batteries and electronics. Furthermore, they do this using food-grade citric acid, which is relatively benign from an environmental standpoint. The treatment makes the coal ash residue much less toxic, and thus easier to dispose of.
  • It took a few seconds to decide if this listicle item was in fact satire, but it seems to be factually accurate, to the extent that facts are presented. Behold a stack rank of The Most Miserable Cities in America. Arizona has both ends covered: Bullhead City is the most miserable city in the state, but Scottsdale is said to be the happiest city, and Phoenix the city with the greatest job security. The Phoenix suburb of Gilbert has the lowest poverty rate, not just in Arizona but in the whole country.
  • A lot of misery is caused by debt. Here’s another stack rank of our 50 states (it’s a long piece; scroll down to find the full table) this time by debt per capita. Arizona is #42, which I consider pretty good. Wyoming is #50. My home state of Illinois is #4. and, as usual, the king in this wretched wreck of a castle is…skip the drumroll, please–New York.
  • Mary Pat Campbell operates a fascinating site called Actuarial News, which aggregates articles about economics, risk and statistics in many areas, including COVID. She’s an excellent aggregator, in that her capsule summaries save time for me by letting me decide quickly whether a piece is worth reading in full. Highly recommended.
  • Arizona has administered 8,197,928 doses of COVID vaccine as of today. 59% of the population is fully vaccinated, while 69.5% of eligible persons are fully vaccinated, including 88% of the over-65 cohort. Unfortunately, the state does not track breakthrough infections, which are a topic of great interest to me right now.
  • Every new Windows 10 machine I’ve bought in the last couple of years has pestered me to “get even more out of Windows” at boot time. You can’t kill the screen except to delay it by 3 days. Here’s how to kill it so it never comes up again. I’ve done this on three machines so far and it’s worked every time.
  • Antarctica just had its coldest winter on record . Average temp there went down to -61.1C, the coldest ever recorded. Russia’s Vostok station went down to -79C, (-110F) just one degree from the coldest temp ever recorded on Earth. Brrrr! As for fear of the Antarctic ice melting and killing us all, well…don’t sweat it.
  • From the No Shit, Sherlock department comes a revelation that full-fat dairy products do not increase heart disease risk. I’ve been following the high-fat/low-fat issue for 20 years, and this is not new knowledge. Of course, the knucklehead interviewed at the end said that non-tropical vegetable oils are even healthier than dairy fat. To the contrary.
  • A study performed by a Native American health service found that treating COVID-19 patients with monoclonal antibodies was very effective: Only 17% of infected patients treated in the study were later admitted to a hospital, and only 3% died.
  • Here’s another drug to watch for early-intervention COVID-19 treatment: fluvoxamine (Luvox) which is a well-understood SSRI antidepressant that also has anti-inflammatory properties. See this paper published in the journal Open Forum Infectious Diseases.
  • Merck has a new antiviral in testing with “phenomenal” success against SARS-COV-2 . It will cost $70/pill. Why is there a furious war being waged against ivermectin? It’s a well-understood and safe generic that costs $2/pill. Meanwhile, much of the health industry, including hospitals, clinics, pharmacists, and even doctors (who should know better) are standing around watching people die, even as evidence is piling up that ivermectin is effective against early COVID-19. Merck’s new drug may be a gamechanger, but the game is crooked as hell.

  • Since we’re talking about diseases, I’ll throw this in: Certainty is a disease. An interesting piece from Inc explains how certainty is a key element of the Dunning-Kruger effect. My own views go like this: Certainty and competence are inversely related. The more certain you are, the less competent you’re likely to be. Many years observing humanity suggests to me that the more you scream about how right you are, the more likely you are to be wrong.

Excerpt: Complete Sentences

5

Three flashlight beams lit the campground road. With Charlene to his right and Marianne to his left, Eric led the way to where the road swung toward the lake and the sand came right up to the crumbling edges of the asphalt. A slow breeze like a soft warm breath came off the lake, heavy with the scent of summer, and gentle water sounds joined with the August cricket song. Charlene’s left hand gripped Eric’s right arm just below the end of his T-shirt sleeve. Her touch was still magical, perhaps moreso because she was putting her weight on his arm whenever she took a step. She could walk because he was there to help. He tried to drive the thought out of his head, but with each tightening of Charlene’s hand on his bare arm, the intoxicating thought returned: She needs me!

The trio walked out onto the beach until they had gone midway across the sand, within several yards of the water. Eric scanned the horizon. “This should be good, right here.”

Charlene squeezed his arm one last time, and pulled herself against him. She tipped her head until her temple touched his shoulder. “Thank you,” she whispered.

“Whatever I can do to help,” he whispered in reply. He looked up again as she drew away. “Turn off your flashlights.” The three lights flicked out, leaving them in darkness.

No one moved nor spoke as their flashlight-dazzled eyes gradually adapted. Above them, in an order Eric had witnessed under many dark Wisconsin skies since he’d been a small boy, the stars were coming out. First, the brightest of the brilliant: Antares, Spica, Vega, Deneb, Altair, all torches of the night. And one more, in their league but not of their kind: Saturn, a steadfast untwinkling pale yellow in the southeast. As his eyes grew more accustomed to the dark, the second-string stars appeared. Eric could name some but not all, and they were everywhere, the framing members of the constellations, not torches but-he grinned-two by fours. Soon after emerged the multitudes of lesser magnitudes, down to the limits of his eyes to discern. Finally, meandering down the sky toward Sagittarius in the south, a river of pale stardust, the Milky Way.

“Wow!” Marianne said to his left. “I’m lost already!”

Charlene tsked. “Nobody’s lost with Eric around.”

“Especially you,” Marianne muttered.

It was a girl thing; Eric guessed that he wouldn’t understand. He shrugged, and knelt beside Marianne. “We’ll start right here. Turn toward the north.” He gripped Marianne’s hand and pulled her around until she was facing the same way he was. He noted that there was no magic in Marianne’s hand, as there was in Charlene’s. “Right over the trees in the north. Look hard. You’ll see the Big Dipper.”

He felt her hand tense. “Yes! It’s there! I see it! It’s really big!”

“Yup. That’s why it’s not called The Medium-Sized Dipper. Now look at the bowl of the Dipper. Find the two stars at its left side.”

“I see them.”

“Now draw a straight line between those two stars, and extend it upward until the line hits another star.”

Marianne remained silent for a few seconds. If she had never looked up at a sky as crisp and clear as this, she might have trouble separating the Dipper’s canonical stars from the clutter of fainter lights everywhere around them. So he was patient. She was only nine.

Charlene placed her hand on his shoulder and squeezed twice. Eric suspected she was thanking him for catering to her bratty little sister. Again, he felt Marianne’s hand tense as her eyes learned the skill of separating the brighter lights from the fainter.

“Yes! It’s there! What star is that?”

“Polaris. The pole star. The whole sky revolves around it.”

“Wow! And that’s really because we’re rotating, right?”

“Right. And Polaris is the end of the handle of the Little Dipper. It’s harder to see because its stars are fainter. It’s about the same shape as the Big Dipper, but smaller and aimed the opposite way.” Eric lifted lifted Marianne’s hand until it pointed to one side of Polaris. “See it?”

Eric could almost feel the epiphany that came upon Marianne. “I do! Wow! The Little Dipper! How do you knowall this stuff?”

Eric released her hand and stood. “I read books. Lots of them.”

 

In one rapid-fire lesson, Eric took Charlene and Marianne through the hallmarks of the late summer sky: Scorpius, the teapot of Sagittarius, the Summer Triangle, Delphinus, the Great Square of Pegasus, and all the bright stars from horizon to horizon. Halfway through the tour, he felt Charlene’s soft, small fingers wriggle their way between his. He lost his train of thought, and caught himself wondering where Achernar was. No, wait-that wouldn’t be visible this early until October. Only one thing was clear in his mind:

A beautiful girl was holding his hand.

“Please show me Lyra,” Charlene asked. Eric’s heart was pounding. “In the book I read, it actually looked like a harp.”

Lyra was almost at the zenith. Eric craned his neck back until he felt it pop. “Straight up. A very bright white star with a touch of blue. That’s Vega, Alpha Lyrae. You can’t miss it.”

“Yes! It was so bright and beautiful in that book. I wanted a T-shirt with ‘Lyra’ on it, printed in gold ink on black above the constellation. I wanted it to be my symbol.”

Eric pointed at Vega. “Lyra is a parallelogram, with Vega above and to the right of it. Four stars. It would be easier to see if it wasn’t straight up.”

“That’s easy to fix,” Charlene said, and sat on the sand. She stretched her legs out toward the water, and lay down. “I see it! Perfectly! It’s better even than the book!”

“No picture of the stars ever does them justice.” Eric pointed again, almost to the zenith. “To the right of Lyra is Hercules. It looks like a keystone.”

Charlene grabbed Eric’s ankle. “Don’t look straight up like that. You’ll hurt your neck. Lie down like me.” She turned to her sister. “Marianne, you too.”

“I dunno about this,” Marianne grumbled, but complied.

Eric hesitated, looking back toward the trees that separated the beach from the tent sites. He had done plenty of observing flat on his back. It was certainly a more comfortable position for looking at the zenith. But he’d never done it with a girl-or anyone else-beside him.

Once Marianne was stretched out on the sand, he sat down between the two girls, took one more nervous glance toward the road and the trees, and lay down himself.

The lecture began again. He explained how you could follow the curve of the Big Dipper’s handle and “arc to Arcturus” and later, following the same general curve, continue to Spica. He showed them the close pair of stars called the “cat’s eyes” at the stinger end of Scorpius. Wistfully, he told them that if he had his telescope finished, he could show them the rings of Saturn.

Eric heard Charlene wriggling toward him on the crunchy sand. Her hand gripped his right arm. The next thing he knew, her head was on his shoulder, her body pressed against his side. He had the intuition that she was paying but a fraction of the rapt attention that she had shown only minutes before. His tour of the sky stopped abruptly.

A slow, silent minute ticked past. Eric oscillated between elation and dread.

Dread won, in the form of Marianne’s agitated voice. “Hey, Shar, what are you doing over there? If mom sees us lying down like this, she’ll be mad.”

“Your mom is always mad.”

“You’re lying down and hugging a boy!”

Charlene looked over Eric’s recumbent body at her sister “I’m hugging my friend.”

“He’s a boy. It’s not like hugging mom.”

Charlene’s voice grew sharp. “Your mom hugs you. She’s never hugged me. Ever. And your dad never hugs anybody. Who am I supposed to hug?”

The last thing Eric needed was for the girls to get in a screaming match across his ribcage. The pale green luminous hands of his watch showed 9:41. He had promised Mr. and Mrs. Sawyer to get their daughters back to the site before ten. This was as good an excuse as any.

“Um, we have to go home now. It’s quarter to ten.”

Eric helped Charlene to her feet, with Marianne standing nearby, her arms crossed. Charlene rubbed her eyes and cheeks against the sleeves of her T-shirt. Once their three flashlights were lit, they walked back to the tents without another word. Charlene’s limp was still obvious, but she did not take Eric’s arm. And one faint smile was her only reaction when he finally said ‘G’night”.