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Life on Earth, Pandemics and the Covid-19 disaster

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Prof. Chandra Wickramasinghe

University of Buckingham, UK and

National Institute for Fundamental Studies, Sri Lanka

Dr. Sarath C. Witana, MD Dr. Ananda Nimalsuriya, MD

Philosophers and political thinkers down the ages, Locke, Kant and Russel among others, have all stressed the importance of preserving personal and individual liberty as a prime goal of any civilised society. Limitations of liberty are of course necessary but only in so far as they prevent violence and demonstrable harm to others. The limitations of our freedoms being enforced on us in relation to the current pandemic have no rational basis whatsoever, and in our view constitute a flagrant denial of our human rights.

The Earth teems with life of all kinds, lifeforms ranging from the simplest microorganisms to the most complex of life forms – plants, animals, humans. Microbial life forms – bacteria and viruses – are present not only on or near the Earth’s surface, on land and in the oceans – but also in the deep ocean floor, kilometres below the surface, and at least 10 kilometres in the atmosphere. We humans – Homo Sapiens – are perched atop this pyramid of Earthly life declaring ourselves to be in command of all we survey.

Over the past century biologists have unravelled the mind-blowing complexity of life at a molecular level as well as its super-astronomical information content as is clearly manifest for instance in the arrangement of amino acids in crucial enzymes. At the same time astronomers are unravelling a universe that is every bit as complex, informationally rich and as magnificent as life itself. For too long, however, we have failed to appreciate that there must exist an intimate and inextricable connection between life on the Earth and the vast external cosmos. Only by acknowledging this link would it ever be possible to fully understand the world in which we live.

For well over a century the concept of life starting by a process of “spontaneous generation” on the Earth in a primordial soup of organics has been firmly locked into the cannon of science. Attempts to synthesize life from non-life have continued in the most advanced biotech laboratories for well over half a century. With the passage of time all such hopes have turned out to be utterly illusory. Every attempt that has been made thus far to replicate the process of spontaneous generation in the laboratory has ended in dismal failure.

 

Four decades ago, the late Sir Fred Hoyle and one of us (CW) had already accumulated enough supportive evidence to state with confidence that terrestrial life must be inextricably linked to the cosmos at large. The main connecting link was comets and cometary debris that continually gains entry to the Earth’s environment. Supportive evidence came from many different scientific disciplines – astronomy, space science, biology and geology. The conclusion that was evident for over four decades was that life is not and cannot be a planet-based phenomenon, but can only be understood as a truly cosmic phenomenon, the Earth being just one of billions of sites on which life has taken root and evolved. The evidence in support of this cosmic theory of life is everywhere around us, but few have had the courage of link it all into a coherent story. This reminds us of the American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay whose sonnet “Huntsman, What Quarry?” says it all:

“Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour,

Rains from the sky a meteoric shower

Of facts . . . they lie unquestioned, uncombined.

Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill

Is daily spun; but there exists no loom

To weave it into fabric. . . .”

There can be little doubt that the world is now facing a crisis more serious than any it has seen over the past several decades. The Covid-19 pandemic is an indisputable fact, but to face it squarely and deal with the problem in an honest way is of paramount importance for our survival, and indeed the survival of billions of people around the world. This is a pandemic caused by a new virus. But our human species has faced many millions of similar pandemics in the past. Recorded history is in fact full of accounts of past plagues – the plague of Athens, the plague of Justinian, the Black Death come to mind, and there were many others that punctuated our past.

With the dawn of the new millennium in 2001 the unravelling of our genomes – human DNA, as well as the DNA of primates – has shown clearly that as much as 10 percent of our silent (non-coding DNA) has an origin in viruses. The evolution of our primate line leading from early anthropoids to humans have been marked by a succession of viral pandemics each one of which may have been a close call to extinction. However, a small proportion of survivors were left after each such pandemic and it is likely that the viral information carried through the evolving line at times contributed to the development of new traits and biological functions. This radical point of view in relation to scientific orthodoxy, but one that has to be faced.

 

Biosphere reaching to the sky

Before coming to matters directly related to the present pandemic let us note that tons of viruses are actually swept daily into the sky from all across the world. This happens via tornadoes, dust storms and oceanic spray, and the same viruses (along with others from space) continually fall back to ground in mist and rain. Several independent studies carried out over the past three decades have all shown that a variety of bacteria, viruses and fungi can actually be recovered from the stratosphere from heights of up to 40km. These microbial entities are generally similar to those found on Earth’s surface, the obvious inference being that they are transferred from the ground level to the stratosphere. Other investigations including one conducted by balloon sampling of stratospheric air have led to estimates of an infall rate from space of the order of tonnes of microbes every day.

Recently an international team of scientists placed collectors high in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Spain to collect the shower of viruses that falls from the sky. The number of viruses falling upon the mountain tops was mind-boggling – amounting to a staggering 800 million individual viruses that are deposited daily on every square metre of the planet’s surface. These results when combined with earlier studies that show the existence of some ten million viruses in every single drop of ocean water clearly points to the existence of a vast virosphere (an ecology of viruses) high in the sky which continually mixes with our well-recognized ground level biosphere and microbiomes. Scientists have speculated for some time that there is a stream of bacteria and viruses continually circling the planet above the planet’s weather systems, and this is only recently coming to be established as a fact.

In the light of all the available scientific evidence we can imagine a feedback cycle involving interchange of viruses (and bacteria) between two reservoirs – a stratospheric virosphere at and a ground level and atmospheric biosphere that includes plants animals and humans. Both biospheres, at ground level and in the sky, are interconnected and are involved in the onset and continuation of epidemic and pandemic diseases in our view. As early as 1979 Fred Hoyle and one of us published all the relevant data pointing to this connection in the book “Diseases from Space” (a revised edition of which has just been published.)

 

Tropospheric cloud viral reservoir and COVID-19

One of us along with a team of colleagues have studied all the data relating to the origin and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic began and came to a conclusion that the facts are markedly different from the generally accepted orthodox views of this pandemic. We think President Trump came the closest to articulating the truth about the pandemic when he told Bob Woodward in February 2019 that the virus was in the air and people became sick by breathing the virus laden air.

The bare facts are that in late 2019 a large load of SARS-CoV-2 virions (the causative virus) was somehow introduced into the atmosphere in the environs of the Wuhan in Hubei province of China. There have been many theories of the new Corona virus (genetically related to the viruses that caused SARS-1, MERS some years earlier and also to some prevailing zoonotic viruses) came into existence at this moment in time. Our preferred view is that the causative virions first entered the stratosphere/troposphere/atmosphere from an external cosmic source above this region of China from a comet fragment. This was probably related to the Jilin fireball that exploded over northern China in late October 2019.

Whatever happened is now only of academic interest, but the facts are clear. The evidence points overwhelmingly to the introduction of a vast quantity of the Covid-19 causing virus in the Hubei province of China that began to lead to cases of acute disease and death from November 2019 onwards. It is reasonable to conclude that the atmosphere over many thousand square kilometres of the Earth’s surface became thick with the primary infalling virus as well as with secondary replications from human infections over a very short time. Much of this kept recycling through upward currents back and forth into the tropospheric jet steam. Subsequent breakthroughs from the tropospheric jet stream back to ground level are responsible mainly if not entirely for the subsequent sporadic in falls defining hotspots of infection around the world. Person-to-person spreading of course occurs, but the primary cause is viral infall from the streams of fast flowing gas that makes up the tropospheric jet streams.

The initial first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic is well recorded to have occupied nearly a full calendar year, infalls of virus from the troposphere being essentially controlled by local weather conditions. As in the case of other respiratory viruses this process has a seasonal cycle particularly in the north and south temperate latitudes. We believe it is this cycle that we are now witnessing as a second wave of COVID-19 around the world.

This, in our view, is the only model of the pandemic that can explain many facts:

1. The emergence of new expanding hotspots of infection after the intial Wuhan outbreak straddle a narrow latitude belt centred on 30 degrees North (the location of the northern jet stream)

2. Within each “hotspot” clustering of cases over a wide range of distance scales point to patchiness of incidence at ground level. The pattern is similar to a virus laden mist/dust falling to the ground crossing various length scales of atmospheric turbulence.

3. The many instances of infections with no first cause (first case) identifiable, such as in ships at sea or remote islands.

4. Mysterious clusters called community spread, or attributed to unidentifiable “superspreaders”

5. Medical facts point to the availability of a well-defined protocol for early diagnosis and isolation, followed by regimes of treatment that have been attested to alleviate acute inflammatory responses and serious illness that might follow.

All these facts are now clearly staring us in the face and yet we refuse to take note of them. The devasting consequences of a wrong theory of the pandemic that involved huge curtailments in our personal freedom, lockdowns around the world, causing disastrous effects on every walk of human life are now becoming amply clear.

It is of paramount importance that we take note of the facts as we have presented them in this article, and spur governments to act in the best interests of everyone.

Humanity in 2020 deserves no less. The long march to freedom from tyranny must begin – the tyranny of wrong science, and the tyranny of the governments who are being misled.



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Breathtaking new paintings found at ancient city of Pompeii

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The frescoes depict Greek mythology: Paris kidnaps Helen which triggers the Trojan War (BBC)

Stunning artworks have been uncovered in a new excavation at Pompeii, the ancient Roman city buried in an eruption from Mount Vesuvius in AD79.

Archaeologists say the frescoes are among the finest to be found in the ruins of the ancient site.

Mythical Greek figures such as Helen of Troy are depicted on the high black walls of a large banqueting hall.

The room’s near-complete mosaic floor incorporates more than a million individual white tiles.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe The Black Room

The black room has only emerged in the last few weeks. Its white mosaic floor is almost complete (BBC)

A third of the lost city has still to be cleared of volcanic debris. The current dig, the biggest in a generation, is underlining Pompeii’s position as the world’s premier window on the people and culture of the Roman empire.

Park director Dr Gabriel Zuchtriegel presented the “black room” exclusively to the BBC on Thursday.

It was likely the walls’ stark colour was chosen to hide the smoke deposits from lamps used during entertaining after sunset. “In the shimmering light, the paintings would have almost come to life,” he said.

Two set-piece frescoes dominate. In one, the god Apollo is seen trying to seduce the priestess Cassandra. Her rejection of him, according to legend, resulted in her prophecies being ignored.The tragic consequence is told in the second painting, in which Prince Paris meets the beautiful Helen – a union Cassandra knows will doom them all in the resulting Trojan War.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe One of the "black room" frescos discovered in Pompeii, showing Apollo trying to seduce the priestess Cassandra

The god Apollo is depicted on one of the frescos trying to seduce the Trojan priestess Cassandra (BBC)

The black room is the latest treasure to emerge from the excavation, which started 12 months ago – an investigation that will feature in a documentary series from the BBC and Lion TV to be broadcast later in April.

A wide residential and commercial block, known as “Region 9”, is being cleared of several metres of overlying pumice and ash thrown out by Vesuvius almost 2,000 years ago.

Staff are having to move quickly to protect new finds, removing what they can to a storeroom.

For the frescoes that must stay in position, a plaster glue is injected to their rear to prevent them coming away from the walls. Masonry is being shored up with scaffolding and temporary roofing is going over the top.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Fresco protection

A plaster glue must be injected behind a fresco or it is likely to come away from the wall (BBC)

Chief restorer Dr Roberta Prisco spent Tuesday this week trying to stop an arch from collapsing. “The responsibility is enormous; look at me,” she said, as if to suggest the stress was taking a visible toll on her. “We have a passion and a deep love for what we’re doing, because what we’re uncovering and protecting is for the joy also of the generations that come after us.”

BBC Map showing excavations in Pompeii

Region 9 has thrown up a detective story for archaeologists.

Excavations in the late 19th Century uncovered a laundry in one corner. The latest work has now revealed a wholesale bakery next door, as well as the grand residence with its black room.

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Reception Hall

In the reception hall, rubble in the far right corner is from renovation at the time of the eruption (BBC)

The team is confident the three areas can be connected, physically via the plumbing and by particular passageways, but also in terms of their ownership.

The identity of this individual is hinted at in numerous inscriptions with the initials “ARV”. The letters appear on walls and even on the bakery’s millstones.

Dr Sophie Hay explained how a rich politician left his mark on the buildings

“We know who ARV is: he’s Aulus Rustius Verus,” explained park archaeologist Dr Sophie Hay. “We know him from other political propaganda in Pompeii. He’s a politician. He’s super-rich. We think he may be the one who owns the posh house behind the bakery and the laundry.” What’s clear, however, is that all the properties were undergoing renovation at the time of the eruption. Escaping workers left roof tiles neatly stacked; their pots of lime mortar are still filled, waiting to be used; their trowels and pickaxes remain, although the wooden handles have long since rotted away.

Dr Lia Trapani catalogues everything from the dig. She reaches for one of the thousand or more boxes of artefacts in her storeroom and pulls out a squat, turquoise cone. “It’s the lead weight from a plumb line.” Just like today’s builders, the Roman workers would have used it to align vertical surfaces.

She holds the cone between her fingers: “If you look closely you can see a little piece of Roman string is still attached.”

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Plumb line

It’s possible to see a remnant piece of string around the neck of the plumb line (BBC)

Dr Alessandro Russo has been the other co-lead archaeologist on the dig. He wants to show us a ceiling fresco recovered from one room. Smashed during the eruption, its recovered pieces have been laid out, jigsaw-style, on a large table.

He’s sprayed the chunks of plaster with a mist of water, which makes the detail and vivid colours jump out.

You can see landscapes with Egyptian characters; foods and flowers; and some imposing theatrical masks.

“This is my favourite discovery in this excavation because it is complex and rare. It is high-quality for a high-status individual,” he explained.

BBC/Jonathan Amos Ceiling fresco

The archaeologists have had to piece together a ceiling fresco that was shattered during the volcanic eruption (BBC)

But if the grand property’s ceiling fresco can be described as exquisite, some of what’s being learned about the bakery speaks to an altogether more brutal aspect of Roman life – slavery.

It’s obvious the people who worked in the business were kept locked away in appalling conditions, living side by side with the donkeys that turned the millstones. It seems there was one window and it had iron bars to prevent escape.

It’s in the bakery also that the only skeletons from the dig have been discovered. Two adults and a child were crushed by falling stones. The suggestion is they may have been slaves who were trapped and could not flee the eruption. But it’s guesswork.

“When we excavate, we wonder what we’re looking at,” explained co-lead archaeologist Dr Gennaro Iovino.

“Much like a theatre stage, you have the scenery, the backdrop, and the culprit, which is Mount Vesuvius. The archaeologist has to be good at filling in the gaps – telling the story of the missing cast, the families and children, the people who are not there anymore.”

BBC/Tony Jolliffe Mosaic floor
There are certainly more than a million tiles in the mosaic floor, possibly up to three million (BBC)
BBC/Tony Jolliffe Roman lamp
Boxes full of artefacts: One of the many oil lamps recovered during the excavation (BBC)
BBC/Tony Jolliffe Fresco showing Leda and the Swan
Another fresco depicts Leda and Zeus in the form of a swan, whose union would lead to Helen’s birth (BBC)
BBC/Tony Jolliffe A piece of moulded cornicing painted in bright colours
Brilliant colours: Ornate cornicing was also preserved under the volcanic debris (BBC)
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Democracy continuing to be derailed in South Asia

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A scene from Sri Lanka’s ‘Aragalaya’ of 2022.

Sections of progressive opinion in Sri Lanka are currently commemorating the second anniversary of the country’s epochal ‘Aragalaya’, which brought down the dictatorial and racist Gotabhaya Rajapaksa regime. April 9th 2022 needs to be remembered especially as the date on which Sri Lankans in their tens of thousands, irrespective of ethnic, religious and language differences rose as one to impress on the country’s political class and rulers that their fundamental rights cannot be compromised or tampered with for whatever reason and that these rights should be realized henceforth.

During the ‘Aragalaya’, Sri Lanka attained nationhood, since the totality of the country’s social groups, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, spoke out for equity and equality among them, from the same platform. Thus was Sri Lankan nationhood born, which is quite different from statehood. It is left to progressives to ensure that Sri Lankan nationhood, thus born out of the ‘Aragalaya’, does not prove to be stillborn.

To express it briefly, political ‘Independence’ or statehood is believed by most Sri Lankans to have been attained in 1948 but this is not tantamount to achieving nationhood. The latter is realized when equity and equality are established among a country’s communities.

Of course, we are a long way from achieving these aims but the historic significance of the ‘Aragalaya’ consists in the fact that the ideals central to nationhood were articulated assertively and collectively in Sri Lanka as never before. The opinion climate conducive to nation-building, it could be said, was created by the ‘Aragalaya’.

It is left to the progressives of Sri Lanka to forge ahead with the process of realizing the ideals and central aims of the ‘Aragalaya’, without resorting to violence and allied undemocratic approaches, which are really not necessary to bring about genuine democratic development.

The ‘Aragalaya’ was a historic ‘wake-up’ call to the country’s political elite in particular, which, over the years could be said to have been engaged more in power aggrandizement, rather than nation-building, which is integral to democratic development. Given this bleak backdrop, it amounts to a huge joke for any prominent member of the country’s ruling class to make out that he has been ‘presiding over the only country in Asia where democracy is completely safeguarded.’

To begin with, a huge question mark looms over Sri Lanka’s true constitutional identity. It is not a fully-fledged parliamentary democracy in view of the substantive and sweeping powers wielded by the Executive Presidency and this issue has been discussed exhaustively in this country.

On the other hand, Sri Lanka is not free of strong theocratic tendencies either because there is no clear ‘separation wall’, so to speak, between religion and politics. The fact is that Sri Lanka’s rulers are constitutionally obliged to defer to the opinion of religious leaders. Therefore, Sri Lanka lacks a secular foundation to its political system. This columnist is inclined to the view that in terms of constitutional identity, Sri Lanka is ‘neither fish, flesh nor fowl.’

Moreover, the postponement of local and Provincial Council polls in Sri Lanka by governments alone proves that what one has in Sri Lanka is at best a ‘façade democracy’.

derailing democracy in Sri Lanka goes Religious and ethnic identities in particular continue to be exploited and manipulated by power aspirants and political entrepreneurs to the huge detriment of the countries concerned.

Needless to say, such factors are coming into play in the lead-up to India’s Lok Sabha polls. They are prominent in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as well. Statesmanship is a crying need in these societies but nurturing such leaders into existence will prove a prolonged, long term project, which also requires the interplay of a number of vital factors, many of which are not present to the desired degree in the countries concerned.

However, of the ‘South Asian Eight’, India is by far the most advanced democracy. It has a Constitution that explicitly enshrines the cardinal rights of the people, for example, including the very vital Right to Life. Such a right is non-existent in the Sri Lankan Constitution, for instance, and this is a huge drawback from the viewpoint of democratic development. Among other things, what this means is that the Sri Lankan state exercises substantive coercive power over its citizens.

On the other hand, the Indian Supreme Court has time and again creatively interpreted the Right to Life, so much so life-threatening conditions faced by Indian citizens, for instance, have been eliminated through the caring and timely intervention of the country’s judiciary. Sri Lanka needs to think on these things if it intends to entrench democratic development in the country. Thus far, the country’s track record on this score leaves much to be desired.

A predominant challenge facing progressives of South Asia, such as the ‘Aragalaists’ of Sri Lanka, is how to forge ahead with the task of keeping democratization of the state on track. A negative lesson in this connection could be taken from Bangladesh where the ideals of the 1971 liberation war under Shiekh Mujibhur Rahman were eroded by subsequent regimes which exploited divisive religious sentiments to come to power. In the process, religious minorities came to be harassed, persecuted and savaged by extremists in the centre.

Whereas, the founding fathers of Bangladesh had aimed to create a secular socialist state, this was not allowed to come to pass by some governments which came to power after the Sheikh, which sought to convert Bangladesh into a theocracy. A harrowing account of how the ideals of 1971 came to be betrayed is graphically provided in the international best seller, ‘Lajja’ by Taslima Nasrin, the exiled human and women’s right activist of Bangladesh.

At page 60 of the 20th anniversary edition of ‘Lajja’, published by Penguin Books, Nasrin quotes some persons in authority in Bangladesh as telling the country’s Hindus during the religious riots of 1979; ‘The government has declared that Islam is the state religion. If you want to stay in an Islamic country all of you must become Muslims. If you don’t become Muslims you will have to run away from this country.’

Not all the post-liberation governments of Bangladesh have turned against the ideals of 1971 and the present government is certainly not to be counted as one such administration. But the lesson to be derived from Bangladesh is that unless progressive opinion in a secular democracy is eternally vigilant and proactively involved in advancing democratic development, a country aiming to tread the path of secularism and democracy could easily be preyed upon by the forces of religious extremism.

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Homemade…to beat the heat

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With lots of holidays cropping up, we are going to be on the move. Ok, that’s fine, but what about the scorching heat! With temperatures soaring sky high, skin issues are bound to surface.

Well, here are some beauty tips that will give your skin some relief:

Aloe Vera: Apply fresh aloe vera gel to the skin. It helps to soothe and heal sunburn. Aloe vera contains zinc, which is actually anti-inflammatory.

Papaya: Papaya pulp can be applied on the skin like a mask, washing it off after 20 minutes. Papaya contains enzymes and helps to remove dead skin cells. Add curd or lemon juice to the pulp to remove tan. Fruits like banana, apple, papaya and orange can be mixed together and applied on the face. Keep it on for 20 to 30 minutes. Papaya helps to cleanse dead skin cells. Banana tightens the skin. Apple contains pectin and also tones the skin. Orange is rich in Vitamin C. It restores the normal acid-alkaline balance.

 Lemon Juice: Lemon is a wonderful home remedy for sun tan because of its bleaching properties. You can apply lemon juice by mixing it with honey on the tanned skin and leave it for 10 to 15 minutes before washing it off .

Coconut Water and Sandalwood Pack: Sandalwood has great cleansing properties, whereas, coconut water is widely known for a glowing skin. Mix coconut water with one tablespoon of sandalwood powder to make a thick mixture and apply it all over the face. Wash it off after 20 minutes. This is a perfect cure for tanned skin.

Cucumber, Rose Water and Lemon Juice:The cucumber juice and rose water work as a cooling means for soothing the brown and red-spotted skin. To use these effectively, take one tablespoon of cucumber juice, lemon juice, and rose water and stir it well in a bowl. Use this solution on all over the face and wash it off with cold water after 10 minutes. This helps to turn your skin hale and healthy.

Milk Masks: Yes, milk masks do give glowing effect to tired skin. Just apply milk mixed with glycerin all over the face. Relax for 15 minutes and rinse with water. The treatment softens, rejuvenates and restores a natural PH balance, thus protecting the skin from the negative effects of the sun. You can also take half cup of milk and add a pinch of turmeric in it. Apply the mixture on your face and wait till it gets dry. Use this solution on a daily basis for exceptional results.

(Yes, time to take care of your skin and beat the heat!)

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