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Swine Flu: Smoking Pig or Sneezing Gun?

May 13, 2009 1 comment
Oink *cough* Oink!

Oink *cough* Oink!

In what appears to be the first mainstream admission that the Swine Flu might well be of human creation, Bloomberg reports on an Australian researcher (a plant virologist) who suspects that the infection may have arisen from a vaccination laboratory, by mistake of course:

[Emeritus Professor] Adrian Gibbs, 75, who collaborated on research that led to the development of Roche Holding AG’s Tamiflu drug, said in an interview that he intends to publish a report suggesting the new strain may have accidentally evolved in eggs scientists use to grow viruses and drugmakers use to make vaccines. Gibbs said he came to his conclusion as part of an effort to trace the virus’s origins by analyzing its genetic blueprint.

A similar theory existed for Avian influenza. That is, that it leaked from a laboratory in China by mistake (of course), possibly from a biological weapons laboratory. For those out there who had some kind of notion that nobody was developing biological weapons anymore, then you ought to surf Google more!

Yes, this virus strain could be a case of mistaken release of a partially attenuated pathogen, but what, pray tell, are supposedly legitimate pharmaecutical companies doing with these unusual and, dare we suggest, practically off-limits viral RNA in their possession? Why did this virus start off in pigs in Mexico?

We discussed earlier how the theory that this virus is natural is an implausible one, that three viral strains (as originally reported) do not simply combine in vivo without leaving a very obvious train of precursor strains. We also discussed, jokingly, how the virus outbreak may have been no mistake (something that requires constant consideration, as there are many plausible motives). The facts are now beginning to fall into place, but this most intriguing of mysteries is still not close to being solved.

Swine flu has infected 5,251 people in 30 countries so far, killing 61, according to the WHO. Scientists are trying to determine whether the virus will mutate and become more deadly if it spreads to the Southern Hemisphere and back.

So far the mortality rate stands at 0.6%, which is nowhere near that of Spanish Flu, and is roughly equal to the annual death rate in Australia. That’s actually a lot of deaths, but still nothing to be particularly worried about. It needs to be borne in mind that most of the deaths occurred in Mexico, which does not have the same underlying health, demographics and climate as most of the developed world. Update: 17/5/09 – It is estimated that more than 100,000 infections have occurred in the U.S, and given the death rate so far.

If Dr. Gibbs is correct, which it appears he is, then it should be possible to find out exactly which laboratory produced the pathogen. Possible, of course, does not mean easy. Those working in biological research laboratories, especially those working with dangerous organisms, are in a particularly vulnerable situation. Not only do they need to be very careful how they handle the microbes, but they must take special care with the information they collect and be mindful as to how that information is likely to be used. No profession is without ethical dilemmas.

Bloomberg’s article goes on:

In addition, his research found the rate of genetic mutation in the new virus outpaced that of the most closely related viruses found in pigs, suggesting it evolved outside of swine, Gibbs said. Some scientists have speculated that the 1977 Russian flu, the most recent global outbreak, began when a virus escaped from a laboratory.

Gibbs said he has no evidence that the swine-derived virus was a deliberate, man-made product.

“I don’t think it could be a malignant thing,” he said. “It’s much more likely that some random thing has put these two viruses together.”

Well, everybody is innocent until proven guilty. It is also quite correct to say that this virus is unlikely to be a biological weapon, because its lethality is so low. Nonetheless, this virus has the potential to cause as much death and morbidity as did the Chernobyl reactor disaster of 1986 – an event that partly triggered the collapse of the Soviet Union. Should the origins of this virus turn out to be one of an established superpower, or an emerging one, it could well spur some seizmic shifts on a political level.

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No Nukes in Iran – Another Low Hanging Fruit?

February 14, 2009 Leave a comment

Frank Barnaby

What is said by the talking heads may or may not be utter garbage, with about 50% probability, regardless of which side they are on at the time.

If one recalls some of the allegations made by the U.S. Government against Saddam Hussein and his alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction programme, then it is no surprise that all the recent huffing and puffing about Iran’s nuclear weapons capability is similarly without merit and substance, as reportedly said by Dennis Blair, new US intelligence chief, in his comments to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Although we do not know whether Iran currently intends to develop nuclear weapons, we assess Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop them. … US intelligence assesses that Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapon, and does not yet have enough fissile material for one

Just recapping some of what has been said on the topic purporting the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme:

In 2005 it was alleged that Iran had been building a secret network of underground tunnels in order to manufacture and store nuclear weapons. Admittedly this came from Alireza Jafardazeh, who would is about as opposed to the Iranian government as anyone can get, yet his opinion was given great prominence at the time. What he said then has proven to be crap. So what about all the other things he alleged, such as Iran’s role in supporting the Iraqi insurgency? True or not, it would seem that this man is far too complex to take seriously.

In a very interesting statement, back in 2002, a Russian general stated that Iran already has a nuclear bomb.

Iran does have nuclear weapons … Of course, these are non-strategic nuclear weapons. I mean these are not ICBMs with a range of more than 5,500 kilometers and more. But as a military man, I see no danger of aggression against Russia by Iran. As for the danger of Iran’s attack on the United States, the danger is zero”

In 2003, the Time Magazine hinted at Iran’s nuclear ambitions. This was shortly before the US invasion of Iraq.

In 2006 The Guardian reported on an assessment by European intelligence agencies:

The assessment declares that Iran has developed an extensive web of front companies, official bodies, academic institutes and middlemen dedicated to obtaining – in western Europe and in the former Soviet Union – the expertise, training, and equipment for nuclear programmes, missile development, and biological and chemical weapons arsenals.

And the spin was still going at full bore in late 2008 at the New York Times:

“They clearly have enough material for a bomb,” said Richard L. Garwin, a top nuclear physicist who helped invent the hydrogen bomb and has advised Washington for decades. “They know how to do the enrichment. Whether they know how to design a bomb, well, that’s another matter.”

Yet now we see that it was probably all bluff. The US, it now seems, knew all along that Iran was miles away from making “the Bomb”, but it was politically expedient to paint the opposite picture at the time. It was noticeable how the language of reporting has changed on the topic as well. The public has already been conditioned to equate the term “nuclear Iran” with “the Bomb”, yet “nuclear Iran” is no different to “nuclear Germany” in that both have nuclear power stations.

Is this new admission believable? The US doesn’t look like it wants war with Iran just now. It does seem that things haven’t quite been going according to plan lately with regards to the economy and military. Major events are happening off schedule and the invicible ones are suddenly appearing rather weak.

It’s probably true that Iran has no nuclear weapons. Could we be having another Peace Crisis? We all know that can’t last for long. What are governments going to do with all the unemployed? In the past they managed to get rid of quite a few of them by sending them to the Front. The answer will probably come sooner rather than later.