In Search of a Haplotype

The new variant of the virus has already spread out to over 45 countries. While scientists are understanding the impact of the mutant variants, what should we do as individuals and societies to counter the potential threat from the virus?

In this article, I have provided an insight on personal and administrative/social preparation that needs attention.

(Word Count 942, reading time 4 -5 minutes).

By now, we all know the virus is mutating, and mutating every few weeks. For those who are not aware of what a mutation is, it is a change in the genetic program embedded within the virus. However, only a few mutations have possible implications on the infectivity, ability to induce severity, response to the drug, and the response to vaccines. All of these are critical for individuals, families, and society in general. Of course, everything is intertwined and ultimately has an impact on the socioeconomic structure. We have seen the devastation of several families. When the virus went on the rampage, we saw how the economies faltered and GDP’s collapse.

Variants and their implications

We all know that the UK, EU, and the US are badly reeling under the virus. Hospital beds and ICU bed availability in many regions are critically stretched, and so are the human resources like HCW. London Mayor Sadik has already implemented a lockdown with punitive citations for overriding the lockdown. Rightly so, despite our freedom mongering and yearning for personal freedom, we ultimately land up with the hospitals.

At least three variants are known with possible implications on the infectivity, severity of the disease, resistance to drugs, and efficacy of the vaccines. N501, B1.1.1.7, D614G and A222 are mainly prevalent in the UK, South Africa, and the EU. All these variants are known to be more contagious than the wild type, that is universally prevalent. Also, a collaborative study between Duke University, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sheffield University has revealed that D614G variant is associated with higher viral loads in the upper respiratory tract. As of now, we are not yet sure if there is a variant that exists in LA and other parts of the US that are reeling under the virus. At least 45 countries have so far reported the presence of these new variants as of Jan 10, 2021. The National Laboratories from individual countries are searching for the virus’s existence within their societies and implications if any.

Japanese National Institute of Infectious Disease has similarly identified a new strain after the Japanese Government realized passengers’ arrival with the variant viruses. Naturally, the imposition of a ban on incoming flights from infected countries is the first knee jerk response. Many countries have reimposed the ban on travel from those countries with the presence of this virus. While the respective Governments are working to identify the new virus variants, individuals and the administration should gear up to deal with the increased threat level.

Credits: News Medical Lifesciences, Dr. Liji Thomas, MD. D614G mutation now the dominant variant in the global COVID-19 pandemic
  1. Individually, we all should follow the precautions stringently. Masks, social distancing, and containment strategies such as quarantine are basic. However, never presume that asymptomatic individuals are non-infectious. Research has proven without a doubt that asymptomatics are the ones who are spreading the virus. It goes beyond saying that kids harbor more viruses and remain asymptomatic. Kindergarten and schools can be the potential source of spread. While many schools have opted to go into virtual schooling, it is challenging for the daycare centers to do so. It is best to huddle into your bubble and only interact when it is essential or critical, understanding that those interactions should follow the strictest precautions mentioned above.

Vaccines
Vaccines are derived based on a certain genotype of the virus. If the virus changes its structure, the vaccines may have a potential dent in its efficacy. Second, vaccines, even if they are efficacious, may protect only the ones who are vaccinated. Vaccinated individuals may still harbor the virus. Thus, protection has to continue despite vaccines.

  1. City and Corporation Planning – Many cities, especially in South East Asia, are basking and boasting their success with COVID-19. COVID-19, as well all know, can strike back anytime. Complacency is not alone a defunct but also a counterproductive strategy. Europe and other countries undergoing a severe COVID-19 pandemic spike have realized how the spike overstretches the HCW. Doctors are overburdened, and so are the supporting staff.

Realistic modeling of the unfolding second spike is critical. R Naught, which was widely used at the pandemic initiation, has been revealed to have several flaws. It only threw our economy into shambles and society into unrequired chaos. Newer modeling that is closer to realism is the need of the time.

Second, the infrastructure that was propped up during the pandemic’s initial phase helped but was not necessarily sufficient. We need to identify a more long term viable solution to our healthcare services to deal with the virus. Using the same knee jerk response is unlikely to provide an adequate safeguard. Mere lockdowns are too insufficient and, at best knee jerk; we need more than a rational response, now that we know the pandemic better from our recent experience.

  1. Society – Herd Immunity
    Sweden, the UK, and the US are great examples that serve as potent examples that herd immunity is not enough. It does not offer protection without collateral. The collateral is the death and devastation of an individual with a permanent compromise with residual sequelae on health. Those who survived COVID-19 are physically either compromised in functioning or occasionally rendered dependent on supplemental oxygen.

The only and ultimate panacea would be a natural selection of a haplotype (a genotype) that would be less infective, cause inconsequential disease, and still respond to drugs and vaccines. The emergence of such strains is a natural selection process. The virus will possibly realize that if it has to cohabitate like several other bugs, in a symbiotic relationship with human beings.

Shashank Heda, MD.
Dallas, Texas
(For COVIDRxExchange, a global nonprofit initiative for disseminating insight and expertise in the care of COVID)

https://www.lanl.gov/discover/news-release-archive/2020/July/0702-newer-variant-covid-dominates-infections.php

https://www.news-medical.net/news/20200925/D614G-mutation-now-the-dominant-variant-in-the-global-COVID-19-pandemic.aspx

Rubber Meets the Road.

Let’s start where I want to end this topic, and I know you won’t like me saying this. The pandemic is likely to swagger around more than anticipated. If we anticipated it to end sooner, if not early 2021, it bores disappointment. It’s just not the delay in rolling out the vaccine. Let’s see the multitude of issues why the pandemic is likely to last longer.

Vaccine Nationalism is an integrated world is unlikely to protect a nationality unless the borders are strictly closed. Well, any isolationism and walls are unlikely to stop the Humboldt of global integration. If the rich or the have (those with technology), are planning to cover their nationals, the virus is likely to linger longer in those deprived.

What are the consequences?

Most of us are aware of the new mutations in the virus that imposed an immediate lockdown in the UK. This mutant variant is secondary to the virus gaining survival by mutating and escaping. Such mutants are like to hamper our interventions right from screening to vaccination.

Is it a global vaccine rollout?

Of course nor, the vaccine rollout has started in the EU, UK, US, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Japan, China, and a select few countries. However, several countries are lagging behind either because they have no funds or no technology or logistics to deploy a complex vaccine delivery program. Add to that the regular protagonist of the ‘conspiracy theory’ school, and you compound the problem to a level of practical reality.

Surprise – Many doctors are evading vaccine

I was surprised to see practicing doctors avoiding vaccines. This is not an isolated but a pervasive phenomenon. There are still lingering doubts about the virus getting integrated into the human genome, which is unlikely to happen. Another misconception is heavy metal contamination of the vaccine. You and I are more exposed to the unknown quantity of heavy metals in our produce from Mexico or the disposable material we are exposed to. First, I may disagree if such contaminations are possible with the vaccines, and even if those were, it is unlikely that you get a significant dose to perturb your system. Another misconception that is going around – that the vaccine is made in cow or pig. I just piety these folks who work on churning the rumors mills devoid of research, reasoning, and rationale.

The cold chain and logistics

It is a formidable challenge to manage the cold chain in a diverse world like ours, even if we presume that vaccination will be adopted uniformly. Having worked as a molecular oncology fellow, I know that especially the RNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer need a distinct cold chain, and any disruption is likely to compromise the efficacy of the vaccine significantly. Now consider the vast and remote corners where the vaccines have to be carried out if we were to target complete eradication of the virus.

These are not easily surmountable challenges and devoid of a strategy and execution plan that is customized to individual locales (countries, regions, etc.), it is unlikely to achieve the desired goal of covering 60%-80% population. If the virus lingers, it will mutate and likely stay with humanity for longer than the expected period of time. It will evade our detection gold standard, such as RT PCR. It may create resistance to drugs such as Remdesevir, or worst, become more aggressive and, last, render our vaccines useless. That’s why we vaccinate ourselves annually for flu.

Let us hope for the best.

Hope is not the best strategy; instead, hope is the worst strategy. A thorough understanding of the global target population dynamics vis a vis the vaccination program is required. Strategies alone cannot help; execution of the plan will be the harbinger to success. Until then…

I wish you all a very safe 2021!

Shashank Heda,

Dallas, Texas

The Culpable Trend Continues

Of course, we saw during Covid how China suppressed the Covid investigation, manipulated the data and cleared the crime scene.

Recently, I saw news that China is targeting a GDP of 8 and above fir 2021. It is no news that China is under severe debt, industry is recuperating to gradual recovery, (and of course it will be, because its global customers are still reeling under recession), and it has quadrupled its expenses during a time depleted revenue flow and persistent pressure of aggressive spending on aggressive militarization.

Credits: John H Tuckers, The Riverfront Times

Now comes the real news

It has suspended the regulating agency which rates the progress. And why not? It has to, if it needs to pain all hunky dory, like the old style communist propaganda.

Eventually, we know, with one stroke of Perestroika, the entire communist castle came crumbling down. It’s just a matter of time, such artificial models have no sustenance, they glitter like a nighttime bugs, and lose the flare with the arrival of twilight.

Shashank Heda
Dallas, Texas

Chinese regulator suspends rating agency over Yongcheng default
https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Markets/China-debt-crunch/Chinese-regulator-suspends-rating-agency-over-Yongcheng-default

Sleep Walking

Let’s scratch the surface

You all know how the bulls are raging on the stock markets globally. Most indices have skyrocketed while the economies of the world are reeling under covid.

Credits: Ben Carlson, https://fortune.com/2019/10/29/stock-market-rally-2019-christmas-eoy/

In a world full of non-ideal things, this one is no outlier, not because the markets display anomalous behavior but because the sentiments are so disconnected from the ground realities.

They say Covid is a disease of the affluent. Though I may disagree with that observation, however, stock market sentiments are the affluent’ sentiments. None of us want to see it lose, so we succumb to sentiments than the bottom line of individual companies comprising the index.

What’s so wrong if stocks are rising, especially in a sagging economy?

Absolutely a great question. Let’s understand the dichotomy and the disconnect. Presume my shares from a listed company shot up by 27% in the last nine months; obviously, I gained those. That offers a relative advantage over those struggling to survive and sustain.

However, let’s understand the stimulus bill. If only we have a great economy, ideally, we would not have the required stimulus. Interest rates would not have been low, millions would not have defaulted on their payments and mortgages, and unemployment would have been on the decline.

When the indicators are not connected with the ground reality, we are bound to land up in a ditch. Just imagine my leg is on the gas paddle, and I am pressing it hard; my car is cruising at astonishing speed, but the indicator says 22 mph.

When the indicators do not capture realities, we live in the castle, when the bourgeoisie falter, that revolutions are born. To douse the fire, we provide stimulus and subsidies. The vicious cycle keeps going endless while we churn a class of have-nots and increase the chasm with the have’s.

https://fortune.com/2019/10/29/stock-market-rally-2019-christmas-eoy/

Global stock markets form K-shape as investors search for growth
https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Datawatch/Global-stock-markets-form-K-shape-as-investors-search-for-growth

Emergent Variants and Infectivity

SARS CoV2 is continuously mutating. However, at least three mutations are known to have an impact on various aspects of the pandemic. N501V1.0, B.1.1.7, and D614G each have an impact on the pandemic. These mutations may impact the diagnostic testing, severity, infectivity, efficacy of the vaccine, modulating the effect of medicines (such as Remdesivir) and finally, recalibrating the policies. Thus, the most appropriate action immediately after understanding the new variant is to evaluate the potential impact on public health. (898 words, reading time 4-5 minutes).

SARS CoV2 is continuously mutating. However, at least three mutations are known to have an impact on various aspects of the pandemic. N501V1.0, B.1.1.7, and D614G each have an impact on the pandemic. These mutations mat impact the diagnostic testing, severity, infectivity, efficacy of the vaccine, modulating the effect of medicines (such as Remdesivir) and finally, recalibrating the policies. Thus, the most appropriate action immediately after understanding the new variant is to evaluate the potential impact on public health.

(Credits: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-19818-2)

Recently, at least two aggressive variants have been identified, one in the UK N501V1.0 and the other, B1.1.7 in South Africa. Multiple spike protein mutations define these variants. Apart from the nine mutations or 20 mutations on either of the variants. deletion 69-70, deletion 144, N501Y, A570D, D614G, P681H, T716I, S982A, D1118H. It has multiple spike protein mutations (deletion 144, A570D, deletion 69-70, N501Y, D614G, D1118H, P681H, T716I, and S982A).

D614G is increasing in frequency at an alarming rate”. It had rapidly become the dominant SARS-CoV-2 lineage in Europe. It had then taken hold in the United States, Canada, and Australia. D614G represented a “more transmissible form of SARS-CoV-2 (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02544-6).

What are the implications for diagnosis, the severity of the disease, policies, infectivity, and efficacy of the vaccine?

  1. Diagnosis: Ideally, at least two epitopes are considered while designing an RT PCR test for SARS CoV2. One of the proteins is on Spike protein. If the mutation affects the exact domain as the epitope, there is a strong possibility of redesigning the primers for RT PCR. Labs should revisit their primer design if those are based on the S-gene.

Does that invalidate the Antigen based or Antibody-based test? Possibly the first one may need to be revisited closely. However, the antibody test may still be valid and relevant.

  1. Severity: Severity of the disease is depends upon intrinsic factors, whereas infectivity is based upon extrinsic factors, predominant amongst those are the avidity and affinity of the virus for the receptor ACE2, and priming of these receptors via TMPRSS also plays a significant role.

However, noteworthy amongst the intrinsic factors are the IFN genes. A down-regulation, Loss of heterozygosity, methylation, or other factors that reduce the expression is one of the major putative factors in the progression of severity.

  1. Policies and Complacency: Just today, I read the news that there are no new cases in Mumbai. Absolutely, hats off. Great achievement, but let’s not forget the empire strikes back. Right now, Mumbai and places like Mumbai have dismantled their Covid hospitals. We need to be prepared earlier or possibly better if the virus strikes back. These mutations come at a (mis) opportune time of vacations, Christmas and New year when the society wants to revile and enjoy with their near and dear ones.

Some communities are basking that Covid has disappeared from their communities. Often, mutations within the virus are likely to be highly deleterious, preventing the invasion of the virus into the host resulting in the purging of the population. Policymakers need to understand that selective mutation in the virus might have conferred a disadvantage to the virus, rendering the virus into oblivion. However, aggressive variants like the one from the Uk or South Africa, may rekindle the reinfection within the community. I will caution; kindly watch out; it’s not over. The enemy strikes best when we let our guards down, a perfect situation for a storm.

  1. Infectivity: R-actor will be affected since the new variant is more infective if not aggressive in severity. The new variant is estimated to increase the reproductive number (R) by 0.4 or greater, along with an estimated increase in the transmissibility by 70%. Those R factor reporters will be back into play. However, remember, the R-factor has less reliability. It’s not a game of statistics. The complexity is compounded by several factors. R factor experts should reinvent themselves.
(Credits: https://www.cell.com/trends/immunology/fulltext/S1471-4906(20)30260-X).
  1. Effect on the Vaccines: it is too early to say if these variants are likely to affect the efficacy of the vaccine. If the mRNA vaccines are designed on the epitopes with putative mutants, it is likely to affect the vaccine’s efficacy. However, it is too early to say that.
  2. Effect on Medications: The D614G variant has a mutation that affects the action of the drug Remdesivir. The new mutants from the UK or South Africa may or may not have any impact on the known mechanism of the existing drugs.

In a nutshell:

SARS CoV2 is known to mutate at least once in two weeks, primarily because of three distinct mechanisms – a. the RDRP enzyme’s intrinsic vulnerability during replication resulting in proof-reading errors, b. host RNA-editing systems, which is considered as a defense mechanism, and c. existence of multiple lineages simultaneously in the same patient (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-19818-2).

Another possible mechanism for the emergence of a variant is the persistent and prolonged infection, thus offering the virus an opportunity to evade the immune mechanism, called an immune escape. (https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/sites/default/files/documents/SARS-CoV-2-variant-multiple-spike-protein-mutations-United-Kingdom.pdf).

We have to revisit our primer design, severity, policies, and operational procedures, while the studies will unravel the impact on vaccine efficacy. R factor experts should consider renegade, relent, and renovate their R factor formulae and models to guide the policymakers and community.

Shashank Heda, MD
Dallas, Texas

https://www.cell.com/cell-reports-medicine/fulltext/S2666-3791(20)30213-5

https://www.cell.com/immunity/fulltext/S1074-7613(20)30537-9

https://www.cell.com/trends/genetics/fulltext/S0168-9525(20)30334-6

https://www.cell.com/chem/fulltext/S2451-9294(20)30195-9

https://www.cell.com/trends/microbiology/fulltext/S0966-842X(20)30324-3

Kill Chain is not enough.

Future wars are unlikely to be physical. If one is worried about a nuclear war decimating the world, it is unlikely to happen, so is a full-scale fistfight. Future wars will be cyberwars, swiftly inundating the cyber-critical infrastructure, as well as paralyzing the network. It is not without reason that the US and the EU are opposed to the 5G belonging to Huawei of China.

Several espionages and attacks on the west are a drill to understand the weaknesses and understand the Western world’s readiness to deal with such attacks. In this article, I have talked about the cyberthreats and how their insipient potential as a weapon for future wars. (Word count 804, reading time 3-4 minutes).

After the Doklam and Ladhak standoff, it was apt that the Chinese army is more a paper tiger since the chinks in its armors were revealed. Several of China’s war capabilities are not enough to sustain a war that can last over a few weeks. Its aviation and air force is not at the level of war preparedness; its army is more paramilitary in nature that reports to the Communist Party and not the Govt., the retired soldiers are inadequately paid with resultant demoralization. Of course, it has a nexus of alliance where partners don’t trust each other (Russia has balked from giving its S400 technology to China. There are numerous examples of weaknesses. However, it is never a great idea to be complacent about adversaries’ weaknesses.

Cyber is definitely not the area where we see those weaknesses. Those are massive capabilities that have been built, and the multiple cuber attacks from the past are just an example of pf becoming battle hardy. It has a massive army of cyber warriors who are supported by the state (Govt.). It’s a huge complex multistory complex with several thousand workforces practicing daily warfare techniques.

Let’s turn towards North Korea. We all know how NK attacked Sony a few years back after Sony made a cartoon movie on its dictator, Kim Jong Un. There is no retribution, at least that I know about. Let’s visit Russia. If China and North Korea are so ahead in the cyberwar preparedness, Russia is a master. Their better side is commercial products such as Kaspersky. The stealth cyber technology is evident from the irregularly irregular attacks that they conduct at a frequency.

Recollect the recent killing of the nuclear scientist of Iran. A report from Guardian by Patrick Wintour states a “satellite-controlled smart system” was used remotely to identify and kill the nuclear scientist. He was killed using a gun that used AI and was Satellite operated. Not many may recollect the recent war in the Caucasus. Azerbaijan won the recent Nagorno Karabakh conflict after using Turkish made unmanned drones that destroyed Armenian fortifications. As Andrew North reports in Nikkie Asia Review, ‘Turkish-made combat drones have given the lowly-regarded Azeri military a potentially decisive edge, with Turkish arms manufacturers hoping for lots of new orders from around the world.’ Not sure if you recollect how Stuxnet was deployed to blow the centrifuges at the nuclear facility at Natanz, Iran. It that entire Nuclear facility was brought down by firmware grade malware that destroyed 984 centrifuges used at the nuclear facility.

Let’s visit the Kill Chain.

Lockheed Martin, a US-based company that is the manufacturer of the evolving F series of fighter planes, came up with the model of understanding Cyberattacks. It is a very well known model called The Kill Chain. According to the Kill Chain Model – Reconnaissance, weaponization, Delivery are the select few steps during a seven stage cyberattack. Cyber sleuths from private corporations follow this model to safeguard their assets. Understanding the Kill Chain provides robustness unseen in the industry.

What’s wrong with the Kill Chain?

Our Kill Chain model is not enough; we witness frequent attacks on industrial complexes and the State infrastructure. I am tempted to use the corollary to what Einstein said, to solve the problem, we need to see beyond how we created it. The solution is definitely not within the realms of technology, it is beyond that, but one thing is certain, if our understanding of Kill Chain is not safeguarding us and not deterring our adversaries, it is not enough. Otherwise, also, I would say, no one would fashion their best armor on display for the adversary to find gaps. Whether Kill Chain methodology is deployed or any other cyber warfare methodology, it is not enough.

Future wars are cyber wars, and we are not well prepared. Let’s understand that our Kill Chain model, based on threat driven approach, is not enough. Zero day attacks are a potential gap, that can be exploited. Not alone that, a well coordinated strategized attack and access to a system of least consequence, may pose a potential entry point and cascading of a full blown war.

Shashank Heda
Dallas, Texas

US cyber-attack: US energy department confirms it was hit by Sunburst hack
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-55358332

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/07/mohsen-fakhrizadeh-iran-says-ai-and-satellite-controlled-gun-used-to-kill-nuclear-scientist

https://asia.nikkei.com/Opinion/Turkey-s-disruptive-Caucasus-power-play-risks-regional-war

Paxton-Cruz Backdoor

Paxton and Cruz – backdoor to vertical mobility

Ken Paxton, the attorney general for Texas, filed a suit in the US Supreme Court for wrongly dismissing several million votes in four battleground states. Almost 17 Attorney Generals and over 107 elected congressmen supported the lawsuit. Ted Cruz, whom Trump had criticized as having a small phallus, also endorsed the initiative. Of note, the Supreme Court rejected citing lack of evidence and questioning Texas’s right to meddle in the elections of other states.

It is noteworthy to see the outcome since Trump often boasted of having appointed three judges to the supreme bench. Prima facie, I was annoyed with the congressmen, attorneys, Ken Paxton, and ridiculed Ted Cruz. However, let us reveal the facade and declutter the dynamics of those supporting such a frivolous suit. All these congressmen, attorneys, and senators knew there is no merit in the suit, then why did they support it?

The only reality is the greed to get reelected and upwards mobility in their legislative progression. I still remember when, in 2018, Trump tried to intimidate a few Senators. They said they stood by their conviction and declared they would not want to be reelected.

Is Trump that powerful?

Yes and no. Yes, because he has the support of a massive base of voters within the GOP, and No, because they all are enacting an act of support despite knowing the truth, just committed to their long term survival.

Two observations are still important –

  1. Despite Trump appointing the judges, they did not compromise their integrity. Processes and tacts were above personal obligations and affiliations.
  2. Trumpism, not Trump, is a throbbing phenomenon that cannot be dismissed. Politicians may exploit it, but they seem to show relative integrity in the light of the circumstances.

Are GOP the only lawmakers in the US who play this game? Is politics the only arena where such realty shows are played? Is US the only country where such tactics are in vogue? The answer is a Universal No. Such double standards are all pervasive, from politics, to business to daily living. Worst, academics too is infiltrated with such ‘Paxton-Cruz Backdoor’ phenomenon.

Humanity Needs a Hand

Religion and technology represent two different yearnings of mankind, each representing a stride. While we are marooned in the past with our utter conviction to our faith, we take a stride forward with technology and fall. For a real progress, we truly need evolution and progress on our ideologies and faith, rather than technological advances. Only when we sync up the steps that we, as humanity, will be able to walk into the future.

When I review radicals and ultra-right-wing or conservatives’ history, i feel humanity’s one leg is shackled and marooned in the long past. One leg taking a massive stride towards logic and technology. This stride has created an unstable gait for humanity for us to falter and fall.

By no means is religion written dictums or rules that we have to follow ardently. Those are the principles and guidelines provided to society and human beings for peaceful coexistence during those times. Rituals and artifacts are all the more superficial. Those are meant for cementing the abstract for the commoner to embody himself/herself. They also offer a sense of identity and a vivid recollection and subscription to faith and ideology.

Over a period of time, however, we have fossilized the rituals and artifacts and petrified the system by willful ignorance and erosion of the principles.

At each epoch, we had divine enlightenment from people such as Lord Krishna, Lord Ram Gautam Buddha, Lord Mahavir, Jesus, Md. Paigamber, who taught us the way of living. They knew the daily hustle and bustle of living are not conducive to reflecting on the finer and cognitive and supra cognitive aspects of living.

I sometimes wonder and pity humanity that we have not adopted the right way of life as enshrined in those religious tenets’ principles despite such supreme deliverances. Instead, we recede into the ideological conflict of imposing “my rightful ideology over your rightful ideology,” a moral fraud. We act not as simple animals but as rascals, if not demons, and destroy humanity with those divine injunctions.

No religion is barred from this radical regression, not to name any, we all have consigned to just the superficial, the tangible as it appears and lost the substance. Some religions are more intolerant than others, but all have genuinely lost the path of religion and faith, have failed to evolve, adapt, and adopt. Such is moral perfidy and erosion that it takes us a thousand years and a messiah to enlighten the next generation. Until then, we will be locked in this disturbing chasm of stride and fall.

Shashank Heda
Dallas, Texas

Iran’s Supreme Leader: Who might succeed Ali Khamenei?
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-55257059

Deterrence or Readiness?

After ruffling the feathers with its covert land grabbing intentions, China has stoked a fear unseen for several centuries in the South China Sea. The polarization against the CRIPT-K axis has galvanized truly well. This blog talks about the potential for war if it were to happen, providing the underlying dynamics and its fallouts on the outcome. (923 words, reading time 4-5 minutes).

After ruffling the feathers with its covert intentions of land grabbing, China has stoked a fear unseen for several centuries in the South China Sea. Of course, it is not just the passive land-grab, its active intrusion, and malignant interference in the internal politics to influence the decision making. The world is, of course, aware of this potent subvert development.

The CRIPT-K Axis

CRIPT-K stands for an axis formed by China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, and North Korea. To the disadvantage of the CRIPT-K axis (just invented this acronym while writing this blog), CRIPT-K has galvanized a congregation of forces against them. Chief amongst those are QUAD, expansion of the Five Eyes to Six Eyes. Initiation of Seven and Nive Eyes countries’ involvement reignited the ‘Durian Pact’ with potential expansion of the ‘Five Power Defense Arrangements (FPDA), into the South China Sea. Chinese moves have hastened an upgrade and build-up of arms in Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, The Philippines, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, and India, and Australia are already part of the Quad along with the US and Japan.

The Bamboo Diplomacy and Natuna Standoff


I have reservations about Thailand because of the ongoing strife between the king and his populace and its inclination towards ‘Bamboo Diplomacy.’ Let’s now visit the ‘Natuna Standoff.’ In Sept 2020, Chinese vessels infiltrated the exclusive economic zone of Indonesia’s fishing territories of Natuna Island. This resulted in minor skirmishes between China and Indonesia.

Bound by interests


There certainly is a weakness and potential for a few countries getting caught in the crossfire, not because they intend to participate actively. As Alexander Cooley and Daniel Nexon from the Foreign Policy write, “Even when states do not actively switch patrons, the possibility that they could provide them with greater leverage.” In a real conflict, there is a potential for these countries to not side with either of the superpowers.

Chinese incursions into the Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, Philippine, Malaysian, Vietnamese, and Indonesian waters and air spaces is now an established pattern. With its recent adventurism from Natuna Standoff and its invasive incursions of several countries’ sovereign waters and air spaces, China has pushed these countries to drop their Bamboo diplomacy and remove their ambivalence to side with the US.

This consolidation and polarization of forces are massive polarization against CRIPT-K (China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, and North Korea).

Credits: https://thenewdaily.com.au/news/world/2018/02/26/south-china-sea-australia-usa/

Is war inevitable?

If I understand China, posturing is different than actually going to war. They will test the waters are keep their readiness but won’t dare to open front anywhere. If they sense a weakness in the system, they will right-away grab the opportunity. Under prevailing situations, China is unlikely to undertake any active incursions, not because it does not intend to, but because it knows its flaws and intrinsic weaknesses.

What about Russia?

Russo Putin knows his state is a declared and established pariah state. It has power but not sufficient economic might to wage war. It will provoke China, but it will take advantage of the situation to re-establish itself as one of the mainstream players in the global front-yards. There is a lack of trust between the two major players – China and Russia, to the extent that Russia did not export its S-400 latest technology to China due to the fear that China may reverse engineer and steal its secrets (Conversely, India has S-400).

The China-Pakistan Nexus

This nexus has been mushrooming due to a marriage of convenience. For China and Pakistan, India is an Achilles tendon, impeding their aspirations. Since the 1980s, China has been transferring nuclear technology to Pakistan despite being a consignee to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) guidelines and contravention of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) obligations. The world should be aware that, as recent as 2018, China also transferred, Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles (MIRV) for Pakistan’s Ababeel and Shaheen-3. That is an imminent threat. India is on the splurge of acquiring a gamut of weapons to counter this imminent threat. 

The Appendages without independent existence

Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and North Korea are obligate pathogens surviving at the Dragon’s cost. Without the Dragon feeding them, these are unlikely to survive and sustain, economically or politically.

What about Miscellaneous?

“Miscellaneous” groups include Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Nepal, a few South African countries, etc., who have no spine to hold themselves erect, internally or externally. Those will only serve as stations or platforms for the Chinese forces during a global fallout.

Is a war genuinely happening?

If the anti-CRIPT (K) preparedness continues, a global war is improbable to occur unless some major fault-lines resurface.

What are those fault lines? The world survived the weakness unearthed from SARS CoV2. Economic implications and ramifications are still not felt completely; we never know if other “Trumper” events are likely underway, global warming is already getting neglected. Our infamous radical terrorism has truly not reneged. These are not the fault-lines but signs and symptoms of fault lines.

Let us see how global leaders provide a direction in navigating us through these rough patches.

Thoughts, comments, please share. I wish you to be my active audience.

Shashank Heda,

Dallas, Texas

Indonesia gets US nod for F-15 and F-18 fighter jet purchases

https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Aerospace-Defense/Indonesia-gets-US-nod-for-F-15-and-F-18-fighter-jet-purchases

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2020-06-09/how-hegemony-ends

Kraken and Kaliya

This is a derivative work, an abstract, an attempt to delve into the minds of those believing in conspiracies, or a a phenomenon, of social isolationism and helplessness, that is universal. This blog runs into 1200 words approximately. I would caution, read when you are at ease. However, it offers an insight on many social phenomenon, little difficult to unravel, but once we understand the underlying dynamics, quite easily revealed.(Reading time 4-5 minutes).

The Kraken Myth and the Safe Harbor

Well, Kraken is a mythical giant octopus, that rose from the bottom of the sea to devour the bad, the malevolent. Let me clarify another term, the Safe Harbor, which talks about conduct that does not violate the rule. Not much of a difference between Kaliya, the serpent demon whom Lord Krishna overpowered in the Yamuna. And what is a safe harbor is a legal provision to reduce or eliminate legal or regulatory liability in certain situations as long as certain conditions are met (Investopedia). 

For many, who are watching with anxiety, the Kraken Conspiracy has added to the folklore of conspiracy theories already pervading the US mythical landscape, the way the Flat Earthers have reigned so far. We all know the several conspiracies around JFK’s assassination. According to Rob Brotherton from Washington Post, over a third of Americans believe that global warming is a hoax, and over half believe that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

It is a famous past time here in the US. Indulging or ruminating the conspiracy theories, that have been recirculated and kept ripe with the grapevine. It’s not just American past time, conspiracies have always evoked interest, possibly because we love some goosebumps. As Rob Brotherton from the Washington Post explains, “But focusing exclusively on unconscious biases and cognitive mistakes overlooks the fact that there is often a kernel of believability at the heart of these theories”.

In rare circumstances, Conspiracy theories can be a bane and pose an existential threat to society. According to Smithsonian, “These new parties, which included the Democrats, the National Republicans, the Anti-Masons, and the Whigs, frequently used conspiracy accusations as a political tool to capture new voters—ultimately bringing about a recession and a collapse of public trust in the democratic process”.

In my view, ‘The Trump Effect’. aka Trumpism is not superfluous, it is deep and taps into the crevices of deep-seated insecurities of a particular set of ethnicities. It is a reflection of isolation, lack of opportunities, of vertical mobility within the society and as a group, of increased isolationism and seclusion. As a group or a part of a clique, people are simply attracted to conspiracy theories when they feel disempowered and helpless, specifically with a frustrating social event.

I believe, to avoid cognitive dissonance, the mind wanders and leans towards cognitive baises, and these biases of causality, which are unsubstantiated and inadequately documented, but supports the internal bias, that requires no evidence, results in subscription to a Conspiracy. Psychodynamically, this avoids greater stress and falling into cognitive dissonance. Anyways, persistent dilemma results in degradation of personality and morale, and this defensive mechanism stops the individual from falling into the vicious trap of dissonance.

Conspiracy theories are universal, across times, cultures, ethnicities, and ideologies often serving irrational delibrations to cater to the rational cravings of the mind. As mentioned earlier, they are enchanting since they evoke goosebumps for many than satisfying the quest of logical reasoning.

Karen Douglas, in her seminal work on ‘The Psychology of Conspiracy Theory’, explains that people like conspiracy theories, when they are anxious, feel powerless, and without control to influence the outcome and a subscription to conspiracies actually disempowers the individual or the group as a whole. What are the immediate implications of these on the outcome?

Impact on the Georgia Run-off

If the Trump or Republican votaries feel disempowered, they are unlikely to vote, because irrespective of their best efforts, they are likely to be robbed by the malevolent force behind the situation. ). It also causes disenchantment with politicians and scientists. the need for people to feel safe and secure in their environment and to exert control over the environment as autonomous individuals and as a clique. People turn to conspiracy theories for compensatory satisfaction when these needs are threatened. For example, people who lack instrumental control may be afforded some compensatory sense of control by conspiracy theories, because they offer them the opportunity to reject official narratives and feel that they possess an alternative account (Goertzel, 1994). Thus, Conspiracy Theories may promise to make people feel safer.

Douglas writes further, that people are clearly attracted to conspiracy theories when their social motivations are frustrated, it is not at all clear that adopting these theories is a fruitful way to fulfill these motivations. A feature of conspiracy theories is their negative, distrustful representation of other people and groups. Thus, it is plausible that they are not only a symptom but also a cause of the feelings of alienation and anomie—a feeling of personal unrest and lack of understanding of the social world—with which they are correlated. Believe in Conspiracies, is generally speculative and contrarian, represent the public as ignorant and at the mercy of unaccountable powers, and impute highly antisocial and cynical motives to other individuals. Studies have shown that people are likely to turn to conspiracy theories when they are anxious (Grzesiak-Feldman, 2013) and feel powerless (Abalakina-Paap, Stephan, Craig, & Gregory, 1999). Other research indicates that conspiracy belief is strongly related to lack of sociopolitical control or lack of psychological empowerment (Bruder et al., 2013). Experiments have shown that compared with baseline conditions, conspiracy belief is heightened when people feel unable to control outcomes and is reduced when their sense of control is affirmed (van Prooijen & Acker, 2015).

COVID-19 as a Myth and a Hoax

Some groups believe COVID-19 is a myth, a hoax. Is it common only in the US? Not at all. I was talking with a friend from central India and when I asked how’s COVID in his city, he said, people are moving around normally. Some even believe that COVID is a myth, a hoax. Why blame America? Well, it is related to all the factors cited above – of cognitively associating the causality of the trigger with an event, of finding inadequate reasoning to substantiate, of deeply inflicted anxiety and helplessness, and finally, a lack of control to fix the situation.

On the contrary, experimental exposure to conspiracy theories appears to immediately suppress people’s sense of autonomy and control (Douglas & Leite, 2017; Jolley & Douglas, 2014a, 2014b). These same studies have also shown that it makes people less inclined to take actions that, in the long run, might boost their autonomy and control. Specifically, they are less inclined to commit to their organizations and to engage in mainstream political processes such as voting and party politics.

History Repeats itself!

The Kraken: What is it and why has Trump’s ex-lawyer released it?
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-us-2020-55090145

The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories
Karen M. Douglas, Robbie M. Sutton, Aleksandra CichockaFirst Published December 7, 2017 Research Article Find in PubMed
https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721417718261

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/criq.12578 (worth a read)