Open Thread For January

On my mind at the moment are Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Poland and Junior going to Japan to study.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

307 thoughts on “Open Thread For January”

  1. Joe Rogan: “What is dark energy?” Brian Cox: “Dunno.”

    Well, I’m glad they got that one out of the way. I don’t know either.


  2. This is quite interesting.

    I’m not sure I’m sold on it, though. I’d be interested to know how big women’s holes are compared to men’s holes. I imagine they are at least somewhat smaller, but maybe the ratio of hole size to brain size is the same for both, which is what I would expect because there is no difference in intellligence between women and men. But it’s something I think maybe they should have addressed in that piece, because it’s a pretty obvious question to ask. But then, anyone who suggests there are *any differences at all* between women and men gets dog piled these days, so maybe it’s a question they would avoid answering, just for the sake of trying to protect their careers.


  3. Speaking of hole size, if you have ever had a urinary catheter inserted up your penis (or even worse, when they yank it out again, because the ones they use for men are bloody gigantic – when some female nurses yanked one out of me, to my very obvious discomfort, correction agony, they both fell about laughing; bloody sadists), and know how comparatively tiny the ones they use for women are (I know, because I asked, so they showed me – all I can say is that there’s no bloody justice in this world), what it tells you is that women’s wee wee holes must be waaay smaller than men’s. But maybe you can’t say that in public now either.


    1. Maybe that’s why they only need really small catheters for women, while the ones they use on men are BLOODY HUGE!!! I guess so they can feed it all the way up the urethra, I mean.

      I have no recollection of them inserting it, I guess I was unconscious at the time. But when they take it out, well the way they did it with me, the only time I remember (and I’ve had so much diabolical stuff done to me I don’t even remember why I had it in) was one nurse got a good grip on the tubing, the other nurse held me down, and then the nurse gripping the tubing went 1-2-3-YANK!!! It makes your eyes water, that’s for sure.


  4. This made me laugh, and a lot of Native Americans probably back then did too, but maybe they wouldn’t be able to screen it now.


    1. I never have been comfortable with the usage of the term “Native American” to refer exclusively to the descendants of people who lived in the Americas before Columbus arrived. I recognize that a new term was needed, since “Indian” should properly refer to those whose ethnic origins are in the south Asian country, but they replaced one ambiguous term with another, since “native” in the US also implies something about your nationality, and the Constitution specifically requires the President to be a native born citizen of the United States, as opposed to somebody who acquired citizenship via naturalization. The Canadians came up with “First Peoples”, which IMO better represents the situation (those groups were here before Europeans arrived).

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Yes, I agree that First Peoples is actually a lot better, because it is strictly accurate. The problem is compounded in Australia, with such people being referred to generally as indigenous, when a lot of Aboriginal people object to the term being applied to them (because it also includes Torres Strait Islanders, who look different and are clearly genetically differentiated and are culturally very different, even from islands close to the northern tip of Queensland – which has always puzzled archaeologists and anthropologists, but I’m going off on a tangent – but for general interest, TIs had horticulture and the bow and arrow, whereas mainland Aboriginal people had neither, so either the two groups were always antagonistic and avoided contact, or else the Aboriginal people didn’t want those things because they regarded them as useless to them, which could be right – bringing down a kangaroo with a bow and arrow is a lot harder than with a heavy hardwood spear thrown hard and accurately with a spear thrower, which has a lot more knockdown power, and the mainland climate is mostly not favourable to horticulture).

      The weird thing in North America (both Canada and the USA) is that a lot of First Nations people actually prefer or at least don’t mind being referred to as Indians. Buffy Sainte-Marie doesn’t mind it at all and uses the term herself. Often the most vocal and aggressive of activists, the ‘noisy’ people, don’t represent the views or feelings of a majority of the people they claim to speak on behalf of. The ridiculous thing in Australia is that the most vocal people who claim to be Aboriginal, and to speak on behalf of Aboriginal people, look phenotypically European because they have little (or possibly even no) Aboriginal ancestry, when people who clearly look Aboriginal often don’t agree with them, but don’t get asked and are reticent about speaking out – because that’s the way Aboriginal people are; they’re naturally shy and reticent. And when their views are widely canvassed, they often have wide disagreements with each other, because they are not a single unified people and never were, as evidenced by the very large number of Aboriginal languages that exist, or existed at the time of European colonisation.

      Aboriginal people in Australia want themselves recognised in the Constitution as Australia’s First People, and to me that’s a slam dunk – it’s just an obvious observation of fact, and it should just happen without argument, but it has been argued about, endlessly, despite just being an indisputable fact – opponents argue that it is “divisive”, as if Aboriginal people have ever been treated the same as other Australians, when they haven’t. The longer that time passes, the more fraught the whole thing gets. They also want representation in the national parliament in a consultative/advisory capacity, and to me that’s also a slam dunk, but it is strenuously resisted by the current government and isn’t going to happen.


  5. The jury has delivered its verdict – coal has no future, not because of concerns about climate change, but because financiers now know that financing new coal fired power stations is too high risk to contemplate. Energy from renewables is now cheaper than fossil fuels when contemplating new plants. It’s even cheaper than energy from existing plants, but there is the issue of sunk cost for existing plants – at what point do they decide to write those costs off and shut them down?

    The future of coal has already been decided in boardrooms around the globe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The writing has been on the wall for coal for decades now. It’s expensive to mine and expensive to transport. That is a major reason why Pittsburgh became so associated with steel: that city is close to the coal mines which provided both the fuel for the blast furnaces and the coke component of steel.

      I have in my collection a couple of radio programs of The Shadow from the 1930s. The show was sponsored by a company called Blue Coal, which boasted of having “Pennsylvania’s finest anthracite”. The company urged listeners to phone their local dealer “tomorrow” (this was before the days of 24/7 operators standing by, and before toll-free telephone numbers) and ask for “a trial ton”. Domestic heating and cooking, at least in the US, has long since switched over to oil, gas, and electricity, which are far easier to transport and don’t involve the vast quantities of waste material from using a coal-fired stove or furnace. Renewables are just one more nail in coal’s coffin.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Also, new coal fired power stations are extremely costly and time consuming to construct and commission. That’s why they keep stubbornly running the old existing stations when it doesn’t make sense – the sunk cost is so high, and they need to recoup that to service the big loans they needed to build them.

        The cost of some solar cells and batteries? Meh.


  6. European Roma groups show complex West Eurasian admixture footprints and a common South Asian genetic origin.

    This paper answers quite a few questions I had about Romani people in Europe.

    It has killed the hypothesis that Gitanos in Iberia crossed direct from northern Africa. They did not. The authors identify an origin close to Punjabis; the Romani themselves believe that they originated from the Kalbelia people, a nomadic tribal group from Rajasthan, which is immediately adjacent to the Punjab, so that actually seems likely – an origin myth that has proven not to be mythical. They are at least somewhat endogamous, I suspect mostly as a consequence of cultural practices, e.g. many girls are betrothed at a young age and married off very young in arranged marriages, but that has obviously been very leaky in the past as they migrated across Asia and into Europe, with the Indian genes being progressively diluted as they went (but that implies people marrying into them, which shows up in the Y chromosomes, rather than leaving them, although no doubt that happened a lot too, but those folks will have disappeared into the woodwork.) They still have a sizeable proportion of Indian ancestry, as can be visually detectable in many Romani today to varying degrees, but the majority West Eurasian component of ancestry is highly heterogeneous. Despite that, they are somewhat inbred due to continuing endogamy of fairly small communities after reaching final destinations in various countries in Europe, and culminating ultimately in Iberia.

    Most interestingly to me as an unlikely to become (but still trying because the journey and the learning process are enjoyable and good for me) accomplished Flamenco musician, some of the cultural elements in music and dance appear to have survived from the Kalbelia and are detectable in Flamenco Puro from Andalusia, albeit pretty heavily attenuated – actually more easily identifiable in dance than music. It fills in the gaps, as it were – Flamenco evolved from the melding of Arabic music (the Romani arrived in Iberia when Spain was under Moorish occupation, and it stayed that way especially in the south for a long time before the Reconquista was finally complete – the Kingdom of Granada was the last to capitulate under siege in 1492), Spanish folk music and the Romani’s own musical traditions, and it’s possible to track those across Egypt, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and France before landing in Spain.

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  7. Prince Andrew does not want to talk with FBI about Epstein. You know, after 9/11 the authorities kept saying “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about”.
    If Andy har been west indian he would have been trussed up and shipped away by now.


  8. I read the Milankovic cycle created a “resource gradient” across Africa and the levant/arabian peninsula ca…I forget , about a hundred thousand years ago. This happens every 20.000 years.


    1. As one HK Chinese guy commented to me during the SARS epidemic: “Hong Kong people have become rats.” That was when no hotel in London would accept people from HK, and when one of my long time English colleagues in HK flew to London to have an important meeting with people from his company there, they refused to meet him in person and had the meeting by video-conferencing. He could have stayed in HK and done that.

      The thing is, people are being prudent to be wary for the time being, particularly of Mainland Chinese, and later maybe of other people if it spreads very much, HK included (we’re 4.5 hours from Wuhan, or were – we’re not any more, and HK is keeping out as many Mainland people as it can in order to try to control the spread). That’s not racist, it’s just risk avoidance and understandable when faced with a new and poorly understood threat, and this new coronavirus almost certainly did emerge because of some Chinese people’s food buying and eating habits. They just need to bear in mind that seasonal influenza kills between 250,000 and 650,000 people globally every year. Context is not always absolutely everything, but it’s at least relevant.


      1. It’s one thing to be wary of mainland Chinese, especially if they are from or have recently traveled to Hubei. But not everybody who looks East Asian is Chinese, and even those who are ethnic Chinese are not necessarily from China. For instance, the author of the Guardian piece has the surname Phan, which tells me he is probably an ethnic Chinese whose family came from Vietnam, and he claims to be a British subject. But people who see him on the street or the metro do not know this about him; they just see an East Asian male and treat him like a potential virus carrier simply based on his appearance.

        I myself cannot reliably tell by sight alone whether a given person is Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or Vietnamese. As I mentioned above, knowing the person’s name often provides a clue. I also cannot tell by sight alone the difference between mainland Chinese, Hong Kong/Taiwan/Macao Chinese, ABCs, or Chinese from a third country (I know people in all four of those categories), though of course hearing them speak is sometimes a clue depending how old they were when they came to the US and their country of origin. It is reasonable to be suspicious of somebody traveling from mainland China, especially if they are coming from Wuhan. It is not reasonable to be suspicious of somebody who merely appears to be of East Asian ancestry.


      2. Not reasonable, but understandable.

        2019-nCoV is now in every province, region and municipality in China, as well as HK, Macau and Taiwan and other parts of E and SE Asia. The number of confirmed infected people in the Mainland has now exceeded in 2 months the total number of people infected with SARS in the Mainland in 9 months. I read that to mean that the new coronavirus is a lot more infectious that SARS was, although it is much less infectious than measles, which is mind bogglingly infectious (unless there are a lot more cryptic cases of people who are infected with the new coronavirus but have only mild symptoms, which could yet prove to be the case – there is one known case of a 10 year old boy who is infected but had no apparent symptoms, but a CAT scan revealed he had pneumonia damage to his lungs, and it is not yet known whether or not people are infectious during the incubation period – it seems to be, which SARS appeared not to be).

        We can rationalise it and say that so far it has killed only 132 people, all in the Mainland and all but 7 in Hubei, which puts the current fatality rate in the Mainland at 2.2%, and outside of the Mainland at 0%, while seasonal influenza kills hugely more people every year. But human psychological reactions to sources of risk are not rational, and it is futile to try to shoehorn them into being rational. Well, not completely – careful and detailed explanations work on many or even most people, at least for a while.

        But in a situation where no one can tell the difference between one E Asian and another (my wife is mistaken by literally everyone in Japan for being Japanese) and with a relatively infectious disease which is not yet well understood, I don’t blame people for taking a precautionary approach. After all, the Precautionary Principle is applied to very many things, including environmental impact assessments, and is generally accepted as the right way to approach things.

        It is not racism. Well, there could be an element of racism, but it is impossible to separate that from people’s aversion to certain cultural practices which in this case have very likely visited on the world a new infectious disease which could yet turn into a global pandemic for which there is not yet any means of treatment or vaccination. Researchers in HK have already developed a vaccine for 2019-nCoV, and groups in the Mainland and other countries are also racing to develop a vaccine, but it will be years before an effective but safe vaccine can be available for mass vaccination of people due to the required testing protocols and the logistics of mass production and administration of vaccines.

        It is really not helping that some Chinese people with symptoms of illness have been concealing them in order to avoid detection while traveling in Europe and elsewhere, and then boasting on social media about how clever they have been to avoid being refused entry or put into isolation. Two Mainland people who presented with symptoms of illness to a public hospital in HK tried to run away when told they would need to go into isolation, and they have subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus. (Equally, having spent time in an isolation ward myself, in very unpleasant conditions and with the risk of cross-infection, I don’t blame people for wanting to avoid it, and avoid their family members and other close contacts from being quarantined, which is no fun either.)

        So I don’t blame people for being ticked off with Chinese in this case, and their reactions are understandable. Mr Phan should quit being outraged long enough to understand the psychology of why people in the UK are reacting the way they are. No one is going to ask to see his passport before deciding whether to avoid him or not.


      3. Eric, the mainstream media internationally are also really not helping by latching onto the stock phrase “the deadly coronavirus”, which it does not appear to be, particularly. Just this morning, one journalist in the South China Morning Post wrote “The death rate from the new coronavirus continues to grow”, which is maybe an understandable but very unhelpful and alarmist lapse, when what he should have written is “the number of deaths continues to grow.” By my calculation, the death rate appears to have dropped, from upwards of 3 % to currently 2.2%, maybe as a consequence of the Mainland having mobilised a lot more resources to Hubei to help deal with it, but who knows. Mainland officials appear to have tried to offer some comfort by saying that most people who have died from it have been over 60 years old and with a prior health condition, but it’s pretty cold comfort – most is not all, and the developed world now has a huge number of people over 60, a high proportion of whom have at least some prior health condition, and who have no wish to die, particularly in isolation and without the comfort of having their loved ones with them when they do.

        Treatment currently consists of trying to keep people alive long enough for their own immune systems to fight it off. While the death rate is currently pretty low, it does make a much higher % of people severely ill for a prolonged period, including filling their lungs with fluid, so they need to be put on oxygen for weeks to keep them alive. If the number of infected people really blows out quickly everywhere, which it has done so far in Hubei, large numbers of infected people could overwhelm the capacity of health care systems to keep them all alive, at which point I presume the death rate would increase to a much higher level.

        Meanwhile, on 12 February, I am supposed to report to a large public hospital for a check-up following the mysterious pneumonia I contracted in June last year. I have absolutely no idea why this check-up is necessary. My lung function has returned to normal, and I have had no symptoms or signs of recurrence since being discharged from hospital. This check-up appears to me to be purely procedural and totally unnecessary (but maybe I am missing something that no one has bothered to explain to me – I did ask why when they told me to schedule this appointment, but they didn’t answer me). The last thing I want to do right now is go and sit for several hours in some desperately overcrowded, freezing cold public hospital waiting area, in close contact with a very large number of geriatrics, most of whom will have or have had symptoms of respiratory disease, and a high proportion of whom will be currently infected with seasonal influenza, and some likely to have symptoms which could indicate they might be carrying the new coronavirus, for all I know.

        My current feeling is that I am just going to skip it – in my perception, the risk of going far outweighs the risk of not going which means, the way the public health system here works, that I will not be given another appointment postponed to a later date. There is no system for rescheduling, even though the heavily overworked public doctors might very well prefer me to do that on this occasion, and agree with my logic on risk balancing. The advice from my daughter (who herself is deeply pissed off with the current situation and a lot more concerned about it than I am, and she understands these things a lot better than I do) is not to go – she thinks I would be crazy to turn up, and she has some skin in the game. She’s currently home with us over the Chinese New Year break, and she has no desire to either be infected by me or quarantined due to close contact with me. And that doesn’t mean she doesn’t love me; she obviously does, despite my many failings.

        One infectious disease expert in the Mainland has predicted that the spread of the coronavirus will peak in a week to 10 days from now. I have no idea what he is basing that on, aside from wishful thinking. Scientists in HK who have been running numerical models on it, for whatever they are worth, are saying they predict it will peak in late April to early May. That sounds similar to what happened with SARS in HK – it peaked around April and burned out in late June, when the weather got hot enough for the coronavirus not to be able to survive outside of the human body, so the chain of transmission was broken. At least, that was what was said in HK at the time.


      4. There is one thing that I really don’t understand, though, and it has got me furiously head-scratching. If 2019-nCoV is as infectious as I think the reported numbers indicate, we should have seen far more spreading of it outside of Mainland China by now. Not only I think that, this lady thinks the same:

        We should have seen a lot more cases in HK by now, including by person to person transmission within HK, which hasn’t yet happened as far as anyone knows – no local person has been infected in HK by a visitor, only people who had traveled to Wuhan and back. The Mayor of Wuhan said 5 million Wuhan residents had left the city before it was locked down. HK is the second most popular travel destination for people from Wuhan after Thailand, because it is (was) reachable so quickly by high speed rail, which delivers them right into the very densely populated heart of the tourist belt favoured by Mainlanders. HK is currently full of people from Wuhan who have arrived well after the epidemic was spreading rapidly in Wuhan. The government is trying to trace them all, but it hasn’t got a hope.

        So where are all of the disease cases that we should be seeing in HK but aren’t? We still have only 8 confirmed cases, plus 2 probables, an elderly couple from Wuhan who arrived here by train before the travel ban was put into effect, and it’s clear they both had symptoms of illness before traveling here. After arriving, they stayed in a hotel and got around to some crowded shopping malls. According to me, they should have infected at least some other people by now, but it seems like they haven’t.

        Thailand also still has only 8 confirmed cases.

        There is one bus driver in Japan, a Japanese guy who has been infected because he was driving around two busloads of tourists from Wuhan. But he is the only one so far. The only other case I know of in Japan is a Chinese guy working there who had been to Wuhan and back again.

        Admittedly there are currently 103 ‘suspected’ cases currently in quarantine in HK, but we have previously had a lot more suspected cases than that, and most have tested negative, and/or the 14 day maximum incubation period has elapsed without them developing any symptoms, and been released. To be suspected, you only need to have certain symptoms (fever, dry cough or difficulty in breathing), some self-declared travel history to Wuhan or close contact with a person known to be infected. If the past pattern continues, most if not all of those 103 people will test negative from multiple tests and will be released.

        People in the Mainland are a lot more mobile now than they were in 2002/2003, when the SARS epidemic occurred, both because they are far more free to travel and because of China’s now very extensive high speed rail network, and frequent flights between multiple airports, and lots of people have been traveling during the lead up to Spring Festival, so that explains the spread of the disease around the Mainland (but not really the numbers – there should be a lot more infected people in major centres like Beijing and Shanghai by now than there are). But people are now also much more free to travel to HK and abroad than they were in 2002/2003, have more disposable income, and the last figure I saw is that now 180 million Mainlanders travel overseas every year – the world is flooded with Mainland Chinese tourists. So, as the lady Professor of Global Biosecurity has written: “if the Wuhan coronavirus was highly contagious, we would expect to already have seen widespread transmission or outbreaks in other countries.” And we haven’t.

        Something doesn’t add up. There’s something I’m not getting, and I don’t think she gets it either.


  9. Another puzzle is that they have still not been able to identify the source animal that the coronavirus has come from. It is very likely that it originated in bats like SARS did, but I mean the intermediate animal in markets selling live animals that enabled the coronavirus to jump into humans (in the case of SARS, that was civets which were being sold live in markets and which people were eating). Actually, in the very first known case of 2019-nCoV, a woman who became ill and sought medical treatment for it on 1 December last year, she said she had never been to the suspect market. They have the genome, and researchers in Australia have reported that they have successfully reproduced the genome in the lab, so they should be able to identify it fairly easily in animals, but so far they haven’t been able to. I am beginning to wonder if the source of the coronavirus is not the suspect market or markets plural after all, that there is something else going on, and that the source is still around in Hubei and still infecting people. That, or some other ongoing source of infection, could explain the rapidly rising number of infections in Mainland China that we are not seeing (yet) anywhere outside of the Mainland.

    Maybe they have a plague of small bats in Hubei which are biting people in their sleep. I dunno. It happens – people have contracted rabies by being bitten by bats in their sleep, and didn’t even know they had been bitten. That’s my own whacko theory and worthless because I know nothing, but I kind of like it. I have others.

    One little mystery I can tell you about, from someone who knows a lot more than I do – my daughter (who is a geneticist and biochemist) tells me that there is a portion of the genome of 2019-nCoV that has never been seen in any coronavirus ever found in any animal, including in bats. She says it looks like it has been inserted. She’s not suggesting deliberate sabotage or anything like that, but it has got her mystified.

    Meanwhile, here is something that I actually find ridiculous. The current seasonal influenza includes three strains, one of which is H1N1 swine flu, which is bad – it caused a global pandemic in 2009, and it is still bad. Now focus on this next fact: more people have died so far in the state of California alone from H1N1 during the current winter ‘flu season than are reported to have died in the whole of China from 2019-nCoV (and no one outside of Mainland China has died from it (yet)). Based on that, Californians would be better off flying to Wuhan and staying there (if they could get in, which they can’t).

    That has not stopped panic buying of face masks and hand sanitizer in HK, and those items are now unprocurable. I have been trying to buy some, not because I really think I need them, but if you don’t wear a face mask when you go out, people treat you like a pariah. Actually, the hand sanitizer really is a good idea – hand washing or cleaning them with alcohol is the single most effective preventive measure in avoiding being infected. I have a couple of bottles of rubbing alcohol at home (that really stinks, but it’s all I’ve got) and I might start making my own foul smelling hand sanitizer – should have the side benefit that the smell will keep people away from me.

    And there has been panic buying of food in Supermarkets – shelves are being stripped bare. it’s mass hysteria, and it happens when there is inadequate information for people to properly understand the risks and what is happening. That is going to go on for quite a while, because nobody properly understands this thing – observations are puzzling and contradictory, which convinces me that everyone is missing something.

    People want to the government to completely close the border with the Mainland, and I’m sympathetic to the idea, but there are a number of major problems with that, one of which is that HK gets most of its fresh food from the Mainland.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Four skulls discovered that are 13000 and 8000 years old indicate the initial population of North America was more ethnically diverse than previously thought.


    1. Feeling mildly skeptical. Skulls are pretty plastic. I wouldn’t be making pronouncements on a sample of four skulls that far apart in time. Genetics says that Native Americans are the least genetically diverse of all of the major geographical population groups (ethnicities, races, whatever).

      That’s why people were theorizing that Kennewick Man must have been ‘European’ (or ‘Caucasoid’ – stupid classification), because his skull shape is like some modern Europeans rather than modern Native Americans. But when they finally got to genotype him, he was definitely Native American, not European.


    1. Watching the whole population of HK pointlessly panicking, I enjoyed that piece.

      Not entirely people’s fault though. Infectious disease ‘experts’ at the local universities are advising people to wear face masks, even though a clinical study in the UK has shown that, for uninfected people wearing them, they make absolutely no difference to the rate of infection. They will catch droplets from coughing or sneezing, but virus-bearing aerosols, which travel further, will just sail straight through. (People who are ill and have symptoms like coughing or sneezing should wear them, to avoid infecting other people by hitting them with droplets.) Some masks, like the N95 mask, which keeps out airborne virus bearing aerosols as well as droplets from coughing and sneezing, are worse than useless, because ordinary members of the public don’t realize that they need to be custom fitted to your face so they don’t have big gaps that virus can just sail through, and because they are difficult to breathe through, they keep taking them off and putting them back on again, so if there is any virus on the mask, they will just infect themselves by doing that. Plus, unless you also wear protective goggles, the virus can enter through the mucous membranes in your eyes (not through your eyeballs, as one idiot journalist at the South China Morning Post wrote).

      People, including infirm elderly people, are now queuing up in the cold for 5-6 hours out in the open outside of shops in our currently very cold weather to try to buy masks, only to be told that supplies have run out. So they go back again the next day. And the next. And the next. Rinse and repeat. With a big crowd of people around them, of course. It’s a great way to ensure they get sick, in which case they will not have any masks to help prevent them from infecting other people.

      Me, I’m saying fuck it and going to the gym. I don’t touch my face with my hands when I’m in there, and I clean my hands properly when I have finished, which is the most important thing. Today the gym manager gave me 3 masks from his own personal supply to wear if I need to go out to very crowded places (not in the gym, which lately has been virtually deserted, apart from the occasional person from Wuhan or wherever LOL), because I told him that I had been unable to buy any anywhere, and while I was exercising he got onto the hotel’s mask supplier in Europe and ordered another shipment of masks so he can get me a box full or whatever. He’s a nice guy. I appreciate him. Irritating but nice. He keeps nagging me about keeping myself warm enough and all of that stuff, but he’s just being Chinese and he thinks I’m old (which I’m obviously not).


    2. I hear anecdotally that in some places in the US panic buying of face masks is making it difficult for people who actually need face masks–people including but not limited to painters and woodworkers whose work generates significant amounts of dust that they need to avoid breathing in–to obtain them.

      The one time I felt a need to wear a face mask was in the summer of 2018 when I traveled to southern Oregon at a time when multiple wildfires were burning in the region, and air quality was seriously bad–as bad as what I saw in Beijing–due to smoke and ash in the air. But that’s the sort of thing an N95 face mask is designed to stop. It’s not perfect–as John says, commercially available masks generally do not fit properly–but it does work as intended.


    3. Right. So anyway, the government is telling everyone they should wear a mask when they go out, and that people who can’t get masks should just stay home. That’s fine, except for trivia like needing to buy food to feed your family; buying toilet paper, toothpaste and luxury items like that; some people need to go out to work or they don’t get paid (usually the mostly lowly paid and impoverished people); people need to get to urgent medical and dental appointments – trivial stuff like that.

      So, headline: “China coronavirus: more than 32 million masks on their way to Hong Kong as government seeks to stem tide of panic buying.”

      32 million. So that means, like, 4 or 5 masks for each of us. These are single-use disposable masks that should not be worn for longer than 8 hours maximum, and then ‘properly’ disposed of. And if you take your mask off, you are not supposed to put it back on again (which makes sense); you should dispose of it and put a new one on.

      So if everyone stays home a lot, that means that everyone will get enough masks to last for *one week*. That is assuming that some people don’t buy whole boxes of them (see “panic buying” above), so that a lot of other people can’t get any.

      One of the reasons that masks are simply unprocurable in HK right now is because the government has commandeered the whole existing stock of masks for its own use, and local suppliers can’t get any more shipped in because the countries of origin of the masks are stockpiling them all for use by their own citizens and not exporting any.

      Enough masks for one week. It’s so great to see our glorious government in action, taking care of the needs of the community. [Spit.]

      Fuck ’em. I’m going out without a mask – my health, both physical and mental, is a lot better when I exercise in the gym every day, instead of sitting immobile in a small flat staring at a computer screen all day every day. I have more chance of being run over by a bus than I have of being infected with 2019-nCoV.

      If they don’t like it, they can arrest me. I’ll call my doctor as a witness, and she can tell the court what a bunch of fuckwits the government are, starting with our glorious Chief Executive Fuckwit (who chose to remain in Davos hobnobbing with the big nobs instead of coming back to HK to deal with the ‘crisis’, which meant that no one in the government was willing to do anything until she came back after Davos was over, which meant that nothing was done about stemming the flood of people from Wuhan into HK because they thought they would get better health care here when they got sick with the coronavirus – trivial stuff like that).

      HK just got hit by a whopping 10% increase in the number of infected people. Massive jump – from 10 to 11. That’s 0.0001467% of the population. I’ll take my chances with getting hit by a bus. Oh, except the buses aren’t running because no one is supposed to go anywhere. 1 in 10,000 per year counts as “tolerable risk” according to internationally accepted risk tolerability criteria (actually, that’s meant to be fatalities, and we haven’t had any, just like every other place outside of Mainland China, and in the Mainland almost all of the 170 fatalities have been in Hubei – which is weird, but I’m going tangential again). If it skyrockets to 1 in 1,000 in HK, I’ll reevaluate.


    1. Doctors don’t know anything about biochemistry anyway. That’s not what they learn in med school. The people who do are called biochemists.

      “The extra joke on top is that many of these fake paper mill emissions tout the alleged powers of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to cure cancer and other maladies, all because the nation’s President Xi Jinping himself is such a big fan of TCM. The Communist Party of China is merely getting what it ordered, again and again.”

      This is pure unadulterated bullshit – it’s a mindless piece of a deliberate hit piece. Clinical research on TCM has been going on for decades. One woman won a Nobel Prize for it. Universities in Hong Kong have been engaged in it since long before HK returned to Chinese sovereignty, when no one in HK had ever heard of Xi Jinping, and those universities even now have absolutely no regard for the Chinese Communist Party.

      This papermill issue is one of the reasons I am in favour of open access publication of preprints, so that *everyone* in the field can peer review papers and tear them to shreds if they are bogus long before they get anywhere near to publication in journals.

      The unfortunate thing is that this article is part genuine and pointing out a very serious problem, but then they can’t stop themselves from engaging in stupid ideological point scoring and seriously devaluing their own article. IOW, they are not being objective and researching properly themselves. Pity.


  11. Birger – reproducing a comment from another blog in full: – “Early North Americans may have been more diverse than previously suspected”

    This is kind of interesting because it points to a bit of diversity in cranial shape in skulls from Mexico from 7000 – 11000 BCE. (“The oldest skull showed strong similarities to North American arctic populations, while the second-oldest skull was consistent with modern European populations. The third skull showed affinities with Asian and Native American groups and the fourth had affinities with arctic populations in addition to having some modern South American features.”)

    However, we probably know this doesn’t point to a very divergent or variable founding population of the Americas, as the ancient dna of about this vintage seems pretty decisive on this (see by Reich lab).

    We also know that Native Americans with distinct skull shape have previously come back as being essentially of the same genetic clade with respect to the rest of humanity ( – see Pericues and Fuegians)

    On the other hand, we also know that some variants like Northeast Eurasian EDAR, were not quite at fixture in the founding population of the Americas, and that Native Americans may have been derived from a relatively recent admixture event between Ancient North Siberians (Yana Upper Paleolithic) and East Eurasians, not too long prior to the founding of the Americas.

    So I wonder if perhaps there was still quite a bit of phenotypic diversity in some features in the founding population of the Americas, which responded in slightly different ways to selection when moving into a variable set of environments in the Americas, with lots of splitting and subsequent isolation of subpopulations, and an explosion of differentiation. (For an example, we know that facial morphology in Andean populations seems to have responded in quite a clear way). Then this may have been homogenised a bit by some of the relatively recent expansions Reich lab talks about (in the paper I’ve linked above). But certainly before this, perhaps Native Americans punched above their weight in terms of diverse phenotypes and adaptations relative to autosomal diversity.


  12. Long story short – they were not diverse genetically, but maybe exhibited diverse phenotypes wrt skull shape because they derived from a mixed population.


  13. Plus adaptations to a very wide range of environments (e.g. Inuit body shape adaptation to living in a very cold climate, with thick bodies and short arms and legs, and adaptation to a diet that would kill most people).

    Before Lakota war chief Crazy Horse had proved himself sufficiently in battle to earn his father’s name, he was called Curly Hair, because he had relatively fine, wavy hair, maybe because he didn’t have expression of the NE Asian EDAR gene variant that causes coarse straight shiny black hair, among numerous other traits.


  14. “US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross has said the deadly coronavirus outbreak in China could be positive for the American economy.” By creating more jobs in the USA with companies relocating from China back to the USA because of the epidemic. It’s an ill wind, I guess.


  15. Identifying and Interpreting Apparent Neanderthal Ancestry in African Individuals.

    It looks legit.

    Africans have some Neanderthal ancestry due to back migration from West Eurasia into Africa, after West Eurasians split from East Eurasions (they say specifically the populations ancestral to Europeans and East Asians because those are the reference genomes that they used).

    The original assumption that there was no Neanderthal ancestry in Africans, and the use of African reference genomes to estimate the % of Neanderthal ancestry in non-African populations, led to some errors:
    (1) Actually, there is some Neanderthal ancestry in Africans (less than all populations outside of Africa, but not trivial) and, given mixing either between populations in Africa more recently, it is likely to be in all Africans.
    (2) The elevated % of Neanderthal ancestry in East Asians compared to Europeans. It’s not real. This likely means there was a single main admixture event after the main OOA migration, although they can’t rule out some other isolated instances of mixing between Neanderthals and some populations. But the most parsimonious explanation was that there was only one mixing event.

    There’s other interesting stuff in the paper, so reading at least the discussion section is worth it and not onerous. Their findings do appear to confirm that there was introgression from modern humans into Neanderthals due to older migration of modern humans out of Africa before the main OOA event. (Actually can’t tell this was the ‘main’ event in terms of numbers, only the most recent, and it resulted in a severe bottleneck in the population that migrated out during the OOA event. It looks like people migrating out in older migrations did not survive, because they do not appear to have contributed anything to the modern gene pool. But nothing is certain.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I heard people express, only half in jest, regrets that President Obama never took a public stand against drinking bleach. The idea is that the reflexive Obama haters would react as Daffy does here.


  16. I was wrong about 2019-nCoV. Given what is now known, the following is the only explanation that I can think of to fit the data. Other thoughts would be welcome.

    2019-nCoV is (somewhat but not hugely) less infectious that SARS was. The reason we are seeing a lot more cases in a much shorter time is that, unlike SARS, it is infectious during the incubation period, and younger infected people have much milder symptoms or could even be completely asymptomatic, such that they might not even seek medical treatment, but they are still infectious. Trying to screen, detect cases of infected people and isolate them is far more difficult than it was with SARS once they realised and admitted the problem, and ultimately futile. So a lot more people are infected than known about, and are going to get infected. The saving grace is that the fatality rate is a lot less than SARS, although ultimately the absolute number of fatalities could end up being greater depending on the total number of older people with pre-existing health conditions who get infected, and people who have severe illness but survive could have permanent disability like permanent lung damage or other life threatening conditions from it like coronary disease.

    China thinks it can control it by locking down Hubei Province, but it is already in much bigger cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, in much smaller known numbers so far than Wuhan but still considerable, and it can’t lock those down. So, while I hope they can reach a point where they can control it, and there is an element of hope that they could do it by limiting travel both within and outside of China, my feeling is that I don’t think they will be able to. I hope I am wrong. I am now thinking that the researchers at Hong Kong University who estimated from numerical modeling that about 45,000 people should be infected in the Mainland by now might not be too far wide of the mark, with a lot of those with either mild symptoms or asymptomatic. If correct, that is actually good news, because it would mean that the fatality rate is actually far lower than is currently suggested by the fatality rate of known cases.

    My other thought: it will need to get massively worse world wide before it kills anything like the number of people killed by seasonal influenza every year, including in countries like the USA and Australia (and presumably Sweden), and except in very rare cases like the 1918 pandemic, that disproportionately kills old people with pre-existing health conditions. And it won’t kill a lot of young people or little kids (unlike seasonal influenza which also kills very small children), not unless it evolves a lot into something much worse.

    There are still things I don’t really understand, like we should be seeing more known cases outside of Hubei by now than we are seeing. They are mounting, but slowly. The large majority of known cases are still people from Hubei, people who have recently traveled to Hubei, or people who have had direct close contact with people from Hubei (there are known chains of transmission four people long, but not many). That’s weird. Maybe it’s just a lag effect because it can have an abnormally long incubation period (somewhere between 2 and 14 days) and it’s really not that infectious outside of very close contact, but it’s still weird. And still few deaths outside of Hubei, and none outside of Mainland China. This is informative:

    A lot of people in HK are now obviously very worried about it, obsessing about it – I can see it in their faces, and a lot of people are talking to me about it in an obsessive manner. It has almost become politically incorrect not to constantly obsess about it, or suggest that it might not be as bad as they have convinced themselves that it is (not entirely their fault, by any means). Our news is full of it, constantly. That is not doing them any good at all, and is impacting adversely on their lives. Constant prolonged stress without cutting off from it will kill you just as surely as a lot of other things.

    Life is full of risks. The only thing more risky than getting out of bed every morning is not getting out of bed every morning. All you can do is take whatever sensible precautions that you can take to limit your risk without that impacting on your life too much, and then whatever happens, happens.


    1. Cutting funding to the CDC is a seriously bad idea. During SARS they were well behind the curve and far less informative than some very good microbiologists and epidemeologists in HK at that time, but they seem to have improved a lot since then.


      1. There is a perverse political logic to it. The people likely to be affected by the coronavirus are not white evangelicals and therefore not part of the Republican base. Since they are not part of the white evangelical tribe, many evangelicals don’t consider them fully human. (I am not sure that this is an exaggeration.)

        That infectious diseases do not care whether a given human is ethnic Chinese or European seems not to matter to these people, except when their fears are being deliberately stoked, as was the case with the 2014 Ebola outbreak.


    2. Of course, no one in America would believe anything that HK scientists said during SARS, when their own scientists were much less well informed or informative about it. Of course they wouldn’t. Damned Chink com-mew-nists.

      The funny (but not really) thing, as you might pick up from the video I posted, is that the US government has flown 200 US citizens (mostly consular staff) out of Wuhan and back to the US, and they are quarantining them at some disused airforce base for 3 days while they monitor them for symptoms, before releasing them to travel all over the US. That means that if any of them are infected but still asymptomatic (which they could well be, given that the incubation period could be as long as 14 days) they will just be spreading the infection all over America. One of them has already tried to escape and had to be forcefully detained.



    Our glorious Chief Fuckwit demonstrating how not to wear and use a mask; gets a lecture from a medical practitioner (an anti-government one, so he’s rubbing it in a bit, but he’s still right – using it the way she does, she is better off without one, just like most people are, but that is currently not politically correct, even though it is medically correct. My ENT doctor told me during SARS in 2003 that members of the public wearing masks is a waste of time or worse, and that hasn’t changed).


  18. Anti-Chinese sentiment is spreading around SE Asia, in Australia, Canada and Europe as well, and various ethnic Chinese people are being outraged by it. My daughter is shrugging it off: “So some newspaper in Denmark published a cartoon. So what? They have free speech. They can publish whatever they want.”

    The thing to get is that *within* China, there is now rampant discrimination against people from Wuhan, and a lot of resentment towards them for spreading the coronavirus all around China.

    All of this might not be fair, but it is understandable. In all of the cases of known infection in HK so far, there is some link to Wuhan. People from Wuhan have spread it around China and to the world. That is not much comfort to some Australian born Chinese who have never been anywhere near Wuhan or had any contact with people from Wuhan, who are now getting people staring at them on public transport or making nasty comments as they pass them in shops or whatever, but they are not getting physically attacked or locked up.

    During SARS, a medical professor (!) from HK who had been to Guangzhou and who had evidently eaten civet while he was there (!) was a super spreader once he returned infected by SARS and sick to HK (he vomited in a crowded elevator in a hotel and infected all of the people in the elevator), and the people he infected spread SARS to Canada and other countries. So that one guy was directly implicated in spreading SARS outside of China to, in effect, the rest of the world, and in an epidemic in HK which killed 299 people. He died from it, which might have been the best outcome for him – he is definitely not remembered fondly in HK; 8 medical staff, including one very highly regarded female doctor and one female senior nurse, died during the early stages of the epidemic. People still mourn them and curse his memory.

    So, this new coronavirus is reinforcing something that had already happened with SARS, evidently via the same mechanism. China needs to learn permanent lessons from this, not just impose temporary bans on things which will be forgotten once the current crisis is over. They had the chance to learn the big lesson from SARS and didn’t. They need to learn it this time. The world is getting fed up with it, and I don’t blame people for that – having lived through SARS and now having to repeat the experience, I’m fed up too, and so are my Chinese wife, half Chinese daughter and a very large number of Chinese people I know in HK, and in the Mainland.


  19. Homologous recombination within the spike glycoprotein of the newly identified coronavirus may boost cross‐species transmission from snake to human.

    “Results obtained from our analyses suggest that the 2019‐nCoV appears to be a recombinant virus between the bat coronavirus and an origin‐unknown coronavirus..” This is what my daughter has been saying. The new coronavirus is very like some in bats, and fairly like some in snakes, but there is a segment in its genome which has never been seen in any animal – “origin unknown”. Very weird.

    From the paper: “Unlike SARS-CoV, the 2019-nCoV appeared to initially cause mild form of viral pneumonia and have limited capability for person-person spread.” “Snakes are cold-blooded reptiles with lower temperature than humans. Accordingly, the 2019-nCoV will likely be attenuated upon infection to humans. However, there is a concern about its adaptation in humans that may acquire the capability to replicate more efficiently and spread more rapidly via close person-person contact.” Well, let’s hope not. Actually, if it attenuates enough, it doesn’t matter how quickly it spreads.

    I’m now very close to being convinced that a much larger number of people are or have been infected by the coronavirus, but that they are asymptomatic or have such mild symptoms that they have not felt the need to seek medical attention, so they are not being counted. It seems to be much more mild in younger people. If that is the case, the fatality rate could be very much lower than the 2% that is occurring among patients who have tested positive. It might even be that a lot of older people have been infected but have only mild symptoms. A study by scientists at Hong Kong University suggests that as many as 75,815 people in Wuhan may have been infected, but there are nowhere near that number presenting to hospitals with influenza-like symptoms, so that could well be – a much larger number of infected people, but many with much milder symptoms.

    Call me an optimist or guilty of wishful thinking, but that is the way it looks to me.

    I have also been looking at a graph of the daily number of confirmed cases in total in Mainland China since early January, and of course it has been rising every day, but it looks like the curve is starting to flatten out to me; i.e. the rate of increase is slowing. My daughter thinks I might be right, but we need to watch the data closely over the next few days to confirm that is happening. If so, it could only mean that the Chinese medical authorities are starting to get on top of it.

    Keep your fingers crossed.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. There is a horror film named “Poultrygeist; Night of the Chicken Zombies”.
    I am not making this up. People paid money to see it.
    Fuck this. People actually deserve to get eaten by the facehugger or the underpants gnomes*
    *if you don’t get that reference, you need to watch more cartoons.


  21. This youtube film dissection is actually a fun way to spend one hour fifty minutes.
    “GAM 232 The Boondock Saints ”
    Film about how the Lord loves irish-american serial killers.


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