July 25th, 2021

David Stairs

While China installs a nationwide video surveillance system, people in the West fret about the potential damage to their privacy by CTV cameras. But, apart from high profile failures, like Toronto’s “smart city” project, we’ve actually been normalizing surveillance for decades. Just consider reality television.

For almost a quarter century CBS summer TV has been colonized by the roughly three hundred individuals who have subjected themselves to the tribulations of Big Brother. The premise is simple: sixteen people are sequestered in a closed environment competing for $750,000. No contact with the outside world is permitted for three months. This fishbowl, visible to millions of viewers three nights each week, or 24/7 for those willing to pay for full access, places the competitors under continual video surveillance. Ostensibly an experiment in a controlled social environment, the Orwellian experience allows viewers to see the contestants, with all their moral warts and bruises, as they backstab, blindside, and betray their way toward the three-quarter million dollar prize.

The point arrived at year in year out is that human beings have strengths and weaknesses. Some are charismatic, others are just sly. More than a few have cried their way into the hearts of America with searing revelations made in the “Diary Room.” But it would take a very forgiving, or perhaps BB obsessed fan to be taken in by the foibles of these carefully vetted made-for-tv twenty to forty-something personalities. They were custom-designed for an era of surveillance. And in a vicarious society, where mediated experience is rampant, remote voyeurism becomes socialized behavior.

Another, even more egregious example of our collective tendency to be peeping toms would be the more recent Love Island. Like Big Brother, Love Island originated in Europe and was imported to the US. Unlike BB, LI has a narrower demographic. While carefully checking all the appropriate boxes for racial balance, Love Island tightly focuses on matchmaking cisnormal under-thirty bathing beauties and muscle-heads. To a relentless background track of sappy pop tunes, Islanders spend most of their time in their villa wearing bikinis and swim shorts, showing off their pects and tans, sharing toasts and cocktails, and enduring six weeks of nocturnal temptations as they slime their way toward their “soulmates.” The carefully scripted footage regularly shows contestants lifting weights or applying make up, and “pulling” one another for innumerable “convos,” but never reading, drawing, playing music, or journaling. Where in Big Brother the viewer gets the notion that all people are deceitful, on Love Island, where the main criterion for success is being “smokin’ hot,” the participants appear too shallow for serious deceit.

Outside the hothouse confines of Love Island fandom wikis, none of these people matter. While a few may be angling for wider media attention as models or online influencers, the mediocrity that brought most of them to the show in the first place is on full display in a series of contrived kissing contests. And their success off the island is a good example of this type of empty. None of the finalist couples from Love Island summer 2020 were still together by April 2021. This speaks volumes about the resistance of the human heart to being force-fed love.

Meanwhile, the Big Brother House 2021 is re-populated with sixteen earnest victims, willingly exposing themselves to our perverse curiosity, required to perform in an endless round of self-humiliating “evictions,” while Love Island is playing host to about thirty new beautiful-but-dim youths who have accepted the terms of exposure and embarrassment for the sake of momentary acclaim, coupling and re-coupling in earnest compliance with their contracts.

Thirty-seven years beyond Orwell’s famous date, we have more than casually accepted the terms of his dystopic vision. In 2021 constant surveillance has all the dire-sounding frisson of a belly flop down the waterslide into the Love Island swimming pool.

David Stairs is the founding editor of the Design-Altruism-Project.

June 25th, 2021

David Stairs

UPDATE:

As of July 23rd, 2021, following Anthony Fauci’s recent congressional testimony, this story is now being reported by the BBC.


A double arginine codon inserted at the S1/S2 furan cleavage site of the SARS CoV-2 virus’s genome

It was once the best of times……. except now we are coming to know the truth about how it became the worst of times……. and it begins with human folly compounded by deceit that results in a catastrophe.

Donald Trump was widely panned for claiming that Covid 19 was a Chinese invention, the “Kung Flu” as he often referred to it. The liberal press painted this as the worst sort of conspiracy theory, the China-bashing an embattled candidate for reelection might peddle to convince his base he was tough on foreign affairs. Only it turns out he was right, even if for the wrong reasons.

In a May 5th 2021 essay in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, science writer Nicholas Wade makes a compelling argument for why Covid likely did not emerge from a zoonotic exchange between humans and bats in a Chinese wet market. The most likely scenario, unthinkable only a few months ago, is that researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were playing fast and loose with bat viruses and, in a breathtaking turn of irony, were funded by the very agencies overseen by America’s infectious disease gurus.

Shi Zheng-li, the Chinese scientist at the center of the controversy, has been claiming for months that there was no possibility Covid originated at or escaped from her lab in Wuhan. But as with so many things human, the more horrific the truth, the greater the efforts to distort it. And this is not just another matter of a CCP cover-up, but absolutely a tale of two cities, Washington and Beijing.

As it turns out, in 2015 Madame Shi received NIAID money through the Eco Health Alliance, an initiative of Peter Daszak, to collect bat coronaviruses from Yunnan caves. She then teamed with UNC coronavirus expert Ralph Baric to “enhance” the ability of bat viruses to infect the cells of the human airway. These enhancements were arrived at through what is known as “gain of function” research. NIAID is the institution overseen by Dr. Anthony Fauci, by now a household name in America.

In an interview that took place in early December 2019, just before Covid 19 became newsworthy, Peter Daszak talked about the reprogrammed spike protein and the untreatable coronaviruses that resulted from it. Such research was ostensibly conducted in the name of being able to predict when and where coronaviruses might emerge in an effort to prevent outbreaks like the ones that occurred with SARS1 and MERS.

Two months later, in February 2020, a group of virologists led by Daszak published a letter in The Lancet claiming the natural origin of SARS CoV-2, the formal name of Covid 19. This supported the Chinese government’s contention that the virus arose in a Wuhan wet market. But thus far, 16 months later, there is no proof of transference from nature. And the Lancet article claimed that its authors had no conflict of interest, even though Daszak’s institute had been the conduit for research money from NIAID to Wuhan.

In March 2020 the wagons circled even tighter when Kristian Andersen of the Scripps Institute published an article in Nature Medicine stating that “SARS CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct.” This would have been difficult to determine given modern seamless methods of gene splicing. It appears mainstream virologists were determined to quash any suggestion that SARS CoV-2 resulted from a laboratory release, yet powerful circumstantial evidence to the contrary exists.

SARS-1 mutated through at least two species and more than a dozen variations before it broke into human subjects. This is the pace of natural selection— slow and steady, with many dead ends. SARS CoV-2 burst onto the scene already well-adapted to human cells, or as Wade writes, seemingly “pre-adapted to human transmission,” in a large modern city 1500 kilometers distant from the Yunnan bat caves. The range of the horseshoe bat is 50 kilometers. Shi Zheng-li collected thousands of samples from Yunnan bat caves, and identified at least 100 separate bat-derived coronaviruses back in her lab at Wuhan.

Bats have been around for 64 million years. They are the only mammal adapted for flight. This ability enabled bats to not only migrate, but to colonize large areas of the planet, as well as to evolve many different species. Their unique ability to inhabit many different environments has also enabled them to evolve antiviral immune response genes and anti-inflammatory responses to viruses. Bats are also extremely social, living in densely-packed colonies where virus spread is inevitable. Thus, bats and viruses have co-evolved, making bats an important source of zoonotic viruses.

But an anomaly of the natural emergence argument is that SARS CoV-2 is the only coronavirus with a furin cleavage site. Such sites are naturally occurring protein cutting sites. In humans, airways are lined by ACE2 receptors (angiostentsin converting enzyme 2), an 805 amino acid transmembrane protein. The S1 and S2 units of the amino acid codons that target then fuse to a cell’s membrane are split apart at the furin cleavage site.

SARS CoV-2 has a 12-nucleotide insert precisely at the S1/S2 junction with a double CGG-CGG side by side pair of nucleotides. CGG is the human-preferred version of the arginine codon (as opposed to a bat-preferred version). According to Wade, when Nobel laureate of Medicine David Baltimore “first saw the furin cleavage site in the viral sequence, with its arginine codons, I said to my wife it was the smoking gun for the origin of the virus.”

One of the truly frightening aspects of this story is the conditions under which bat coronavirus research was conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The institute had a Biosafety Level 4 lab facility, but a State Department report claimed it was staffed by insufficiently trained people. Scientists do not prefer to work in BSL-4 labs, where they must wear restrictive inflated body suits and work through glove boxes. According to Shi Zheng-li, most of her bat coronavirus research was conducted in BSL-3 or BSL-2 labs. A BSL-2 lab has the biosafety level of a standard US dentist’s office.

The WHO sent a committee to Wuhan in early 2021 to investigate. According to CBS’ 60 Minutes, team members spent the first two of their six week trip in quarantine. They spent a mere three hours at the Wuhan Institute of Virology where they were unable to see any records or visit the labs. They spent a lot of time investigating a chain of transmission theory— from bats to farms, and from there to a market in Wuhan— propounded by Peter Daszak, a member of the WHO team. The Chinese government has sealed the Institute’s records, and has concluded that any further investigations into the origins of SARS CoV-2 should be conducted in other nations.

As Wade’s essay compiles the science that has brought the lab-escape scenario back into scrutiny, US officials have scrambled. The Biden Administration has reopened an investigation into the origins of SARS CoV-2, and both Fauci and Francis Collins have been back on their heels in the media, trying to explain why they exempted funding for research for which there was a moratorium from 2014 to 2017. A FOIA release of Fauci’s emails shows he was made aware as early as January 2020 that the pandemic could have been caused by the possible release of an “engineered” virus by none other than Kristian Andersen! Both Fauci, speaking to Congress, and Collins in an interview with Judy Woodruff on the PBS News Hour, have said that no NIH money was knowingly granted to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for gain-of-function virus research, a statement contradicted by the Daszak December 2019 interview. Wade contends this may be a matter of splitting the definition fine hair as Fauci and Collins can take refuge in the fact that they meant “human” viruses, rather than “animal” viruses.

In this climate of universal avoidance, denial and spin, it appears that unlikely bedfellows, the US scientific community and the Chinese Communist Party, have collaborated in covering up the design of a highly transmissible disease that has thus far killed three million human beings and brought the world economy to its knees. That the Wuhan research did a much better job of creating a killer than in predicting its emergence is clear. In a world where human destruction of the environment has everything to do with the emergence of new diseases, more, much more hurt is on the way.

Before we, like Dickens’ Sydney Carton, can say “It is a far, far better thing that I do…” we’re going to need far far better control over virology research, and far more transparency from our governments. Until such time, we are all guinea pigs racing in the gerbil wheels of viral opportunism and unaccountable scientific hubris.

David Stairs is the founding editor of the Design-Altruism-Project.

May 26th, 2021

David Stairs

When Thomas McNeill was made pastor of St. Margaret’s parish in 1948, he inherited little more than a twenty-year-old mission church in a growing suburb north of Syracuse, New York. McNeill had been a Navy chaplain in the Pacific during the war, but his dream was to expand Catholic education, and he would devote the best years of his life to the work.

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April 24th, 2021

David Stairs

Another day, another mass shooting. We’re led to believe by television that Mayhem is a guy in a suit, played by actor Dean Winters, who causes mass upheaval wherever he goes. If only it were that simple.


Glock semi-automatic pistol designed by Gaston Glock

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March 15th, 2021

David Stairs


Tom Tierney’s Rita Hayworth paper doll published by Dover

As I sit by my Thermopane picture window reflecting on the wintry scene outdoors, I am distracted by the arrival of a mated pair of songbirds. A male cardinal hops onto my bird-feeder while his subtle mate shelters in a nearby bush.

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February 11th, 2021

David Stairs


Deep fake of the Queen’s Christmas address; courtesy Channel 4

A man walks into a pizza parlor in Washington, D.C. armed with an automatic rifle determined to free children he believes are victims of a peadophilic sex trafficking “deep state.” People interviewed at a Stop the Steal rally in Atlanta tell interviewers a commission is needed to investigate the Democrat’s efforts to corrupt a widely certified election. A man in Nashville (not Robert Altman’s version) destroys a city block blowing himself up at the same time in protest of AT&T’s roll out of 5G wifi service. In another era one might be tempted to agree that “the time is out of joint,” except this bizarro world is our everyday reality.

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January 9th, 2021

David Stairs

Steve Zdep is dead, that much is certain. He passed away on November 6th, 2020 from causes not revealed in his obituary.


The author in more innocent times

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December 9th, 2020

David Stairs

With states reporting record numbers of infections, there is no doubt that this Christmas season will be one many will find hard to forget. The malls and retail centers we so precipitously abandoned way back in March do not have the same attraction of earlier years. Since Covid is THE story of 2020, even overshadowing the presidential election, we’ve scrounged up a few holiday suggestions for that extra special Christmas 2020 memento of the years’ most familiar meme.


A “Clovid” orange

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November 2nd, 2020

October 26th, 2020

David Stairs

Max is over, thank God.

And by Max I mean Adobe Max, that brightshiny overripe bells-and-whistles software tradeshow masquerading as an allconsuming excuse to be pretentiously jejeune.

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August 21st, 2020

David Stairs


A wild back yard

Except for a couple of thunderstorms, it hasn’t rained much in central Michigan this summer. It has been quite hot, and as usual, very humid. After aggressively mowing the grass in late May and June, it’s growth abates and it mostly browns off. The only way to keep grass green is by watering it, and in a world of diminishing clean fresh water, there has to be a better use for it than golf green lawn grass.

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July 3rd, 2020

David Stairs

America has finally caught mask fever, fifteen years later than Asian people. There are still many who refuse to “suit up” including Covid deniers, those suffering from claustrophobia, and some who claim medical excuses. But the possible reasons for not wearing a mask are narrowing, with major airlines rejecting travelers who renege.

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June 13th, 2020

David Stairs

I thought I was speaking truth, but now I’m not sure that it wasn’t simply “my truth” rather than something absolute. Maybe absolute truth doesn’t exist, no matter how much we’d like to believe in it. But, if this is the case, then we’re really doomed.

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May 14th, 2020

David Stairs

Courtesy Wikipedia

America’s got troubles. I don’t mean the song lyric kind, but, you know, serious troubles. And they’re not the soft purring type you might find on a now infamous classic sci-fi show. Those are tribbles, the sort that pundits and wags like to compare to Donald Trump’s hair.

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April 19th, 2020

David Stairs

Are you just about sick and tired of seeing pictures of viruses?


Courtesy NIH

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March 31st, 2020

David Stairs


A sign of our times

There are interesting new ways to mark the passage of time. I generally take account each week when I venture out of my home to grocery shop.

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March 17th, 2020

David Stairs

Informatics is enjoying a renaissance.


Courtesy LiveScience.com

If you haven’t already encountered it, this graph is bound to become the most talked about x-y axis since Al Gore’s Nobel prize-winning acceptance speech. And it represents events more immediate than climate change, if not more important.

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March 2nd, 2020

David Stairs

I suppose bookmarks are a personal thing. Some are woven; some are printed; some are just bits of stuff. My son uses a piece of red thread. I won’t say that I collect bookmarks either, but when I am in a bespoke store I will not leave without one. In honor of my favorite bookstores, I’d like to share their bookmarks.

Out west, in Portland there’s Powell’s City of Books. This venerable warehouse on West Burnside Street is always crowded and, while I’d like to say you can find anything there, the greater liklihood is that you will get lost looking. For those who like to get lost, this will not be a problem.

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January 19th, 2020

David Stairs


Paramount

“We Are the Borg.”

With these words, Maurice Hurley, writing for the Star Trek TNG episode Q Who?, unleashed one of television’s most implacable adversaries on the world. But, as with much speculative fiction, Hurley and his co-writers were only mining the literature of science and engineering probability.

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December 15th, 2019

David Stairs

Who doesn’t love a podcast?

Some weird personality or obscure ideology you need to catch up on on that long commute to work in the morning? Needing to block out ambient noise in your open space office cubicle? What better way for a busy person to stay both informed and amused?

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November 1st, 2019

David Stairs

Have you ever been in a super loud environment? I don’t mean the usual sort, like a kindergarten classroom or a football stadium on an autumn weekend— a scene of audio cacaphony— I mean a visually loud room. The Victorians were sometimes guilty of visual clutter, with their knick-knack trophies and flowered wallpaper, but they had nothing on modern commercial interiors.

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September 14th, 2019

David Stairs


Illustration by Chris Stairs, age 9

I often think about stubbornness. My son Chris is a Leo, and he can be one of the most stubborn people I know. This is not to criticize my son, or to implicate all Leos, but it is a character trait they are somewhat known for.

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August 6th, 2019

David Stairs

Affluence isn’t free.


Giraffes at a gallop on the Serengeti, Tanzania

In May 2019 the UN released a report about the state of the natural world. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services reported that species are going extinct at an unprecedented rate, and that the rate is accelerating.

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July 1st, 2019

David Stairs

Since when did coding corner the market on the definition of “smart”?

I recently attended a UCDA design conference where Helen Armstrong was one of the keynoters. Ms. Armstrong, a multiply-credentialled academic with deep ties to the AIGA, talked about Big Data, and how designers can/should employ it to their benefit.

Yellow-cyan-indigo paint scheme non-algorithmicly determined

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May 24th, 2019

David Stairs

While most people these days don’t think much about cattle when they discuss branding, they also probably don’t focus on Apple’s iconic 1984 Superbowl ad as the catalyst for a whole new generation of brand differentiation. Yet, the upsurge of interest in brand fascination is traceable to the 1980s and its emphasis on supply-side economics.


CMU’s Centennial Sculpture, by Charles McGee (installed 1992; relocated 1999; birds voluntary)

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