Open Thread For February

Did you know that Mount Everest was named for a colonial Surveyor General of India? The locals called it Qomolangma, “Holy Mother”, at least as far back as 1721.

Author: Martin R

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

333 thoughts on “Open Thread For February”


    Dr John Campbell, pulmonary specialist in the UK. Gloomy and a bit old, slow and tedious sometimes, but he’s good, he knows a lot of doctors in a lot of different countries and talks to them often, and he has his finger on the pulse globally as well as anyone – certainly better than the World Health Organisation, who have been next to useless so far in most respects.


    1. In the interests of objectivity and truthful reporting:

      1. That was not Trump personally, it was the State Department (who I am told all hate Trump and want him gone), and Trump was reported to be furious when he found out that the State Department had overridden the advice of the CDC. Goodness knows I have no reason to defend Trump, but let’s get the facts straight.

      2. Huh? Xi Jinping has said that this is the most serious health emergency that China has faced in its history as the PRC, i.e. since at least 1949, and that fighting the disease is the country’s highest priority. He couldn’t be making it sound more serious than he is. I’m not defending him or China, but let’s get the facts straight. Bending the truth is helpful to no one. Trump allegedly got that idea that “it will all be over by April when it gets hot enough” from Xi, but we only have Trump’s word for that, and we know what Trump’s word is worth. Mr Xi is not behaving like he thinks it will just magically go away in April, or July. No one knows what it will do. Separately, I will note that China has been locking down very many cities all over the country, huge numbers of people, as a way to try to control the spread of the disease, seemingly with a good measure of success, while at the same time objecting to other countries not permitting people from China to land there because “it is not effective in…blah blah blah.” Well, they need to make their minds up – either shutting down the movement of people is an effective means of infection control or it isn’t; they can’t have it both ways. Hong Kong has shut down the border with the Mainland, as far as it possibly can, and HK is part of China, and Macau has done the same, so…..yeah.

      I have no argument about the other 3 points – they could scarcely have picked a worse time to reduce the budget of the CDC.


  2. Oh this is just wonderful.

    Headline: Infected health official leading South Korea’s fight against Covid-19 is member of Shincheonji Church of Jesus doomsday cult.

    That is the cult which is responsible for a huge number of infections in South Korea. So now I begin to fully understand why that country is in such deep shit, epidemically speaking.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. For Pete’s sake – I seriously wish that people would just stop going to religious gatherings and places of religious worship. Listen, people, Jesus and the Buddha are not going to be able to protect you from this thing, and going to these places has already been shown to be a prime source of infection. It won’t make you a glorious martyr and demonstrate the depth of your devotion, it will just turn you into a walking, seething lump of infectious disease.

    Pray over the Internet or whatever, I don’t care, just do a good deed for the community you live in and don’t go there.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. One billion-year old green seaweed fossil found in China.
    This is remarkable for more than one reason. Between this seaweed and our time is a “snowball Earth” event. It was assumed that eukaryotes like algae and fungi could have survived in the topmost layer of snow and ice, like some snow found in the Antarctic.
    But this is more advanced than that. Unless macroscopic green älgar evolved twice, there must have been some refugia with open water, even at the midst of the snowball Earth period.
    And if it is difficult for nature to form such refugia, we may have found get another part of the “great filter” that has made it difficult for other worlds to generate complex life.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t watch boxing, but there is this guy named Tyson Fury who managed to make a comeback despite suffering from bipolar disorder, depression and suicidal thoughts. He is open about it in order to inspire others with mental health issues.


    1. + he’s just beaten the snot out of the world heavyweight champ. Damn that guy can hit hard and fast, despite looking like an unfit slob with a high mutational load.


  6. Harvey Weinstein has been found guilty. Good riddance to bad rubbish.
    -Someone in Germany drove a car into a crowd of people during a carnival. It is possible it was deliberate.


    1. Will his reincarnated self be attending to accept the prize in person? It could be kind of embarrassing if a rat or cockroach turns up to collect it.


  7. China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee has passed a law making it illegal to trade in or consume wild animals, to come into force with immediate effect.

    There are no ambiguities or grey areas – they have listed the wild animals it is illegal to trade in or eat, including wild animals that might have been farmed, bred in captivity, for human consumption, and a list of the domesticated animals (notably not including dogs and cats) that we are all familiar with that it is permissible to eat. Marine animals are exempted (and Chinese don’t eat cetaceans – I have heard anecdotally of fishermen around the Pearl River Delta catching and eating Souza chinensis, but it is certainly not a widespread or common occurrence).

    You could argue, and I would not disagree, that they should have done this sooner. OK, but they have done it now.

    It would be kind of interesting to see what would happen if governments in other countries tried to pass a similar law.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Good thing. BTW the bushmeat trade in Africa is what brought the SIV virus in contact with humans (too bad if you had an open wound when carrying a carcass), leading to the HIV variants.
    For John: Arthur Dent is the well-meaning, luckless protagonist in the Hitch-Hiker pentology by Douglas Adams. He serves the same role as Rincewind in the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett.



      Are ethical values innate in humans, or do we need to be taught them? If the latter, in accordance with whose rules? Some cultures and civilisations have behaved in ways that horrify us now, and some of those were really not very long ago. The argument I have heard from Christians is that humans would have no moral compass if not for religious teachings (transcendental moralising gods), which I simply cannot accept, but then I am at a loss to explain cultures which have behaved in notably brutal ways completely lacking in empathy for people who fall in the wrong categories, or which have even gone to great lengths to set up a system to supply large numbers of human victims.

      Not keeping an ox in check could be a very serious lapse. As a small boy I narrowly escaped being gored by a very large bull at the annual agricultural show that got away from its handler.

      Being drunk in charge of a horse is still an offence in Australia. The law has been expanded to include being drunk in charge of a bicycle.


    2. I guess the answer is in the sense of in-group justice that you have perceptively referred to, Arthur.

      So it becomes a matter of who you consider to be in your in-group. When you have expanded your perception of your in-group to include all sentient life forms in the Universe, you have achieved Nirvana and may be permitted to cease to exist. POOF!!! Gone.


  9. Anonymous no more: Combining genetics with genealogy of the dead.
    When this technology becomes mature and cheap, I hope it can be applied to the mass graves from WWI and WWII and the countless other conflicts.
    One day much of the world’s population will have parts of their genomes sequenced in search of disease-related genes, and by then it is just a matter of processing power to detect realtions among the dead.


    1. While I was flogging myself on the treadmill in the gym this afternoon, I watched a very interesting and inspiring programme about some very clever scientists in Mexico City who have invented a system that extracts pollutants including PM2.5 from the air, and turns them into biofuels, so it will be economic to plant these systems all over the city and more than pay for them from the use of the biofuels, while achieving a dramatic improvement in air quality.

      I really hope those people make a go of it, because there would be huge application for their system in China and other countries.


    1. Yes, Sardinians are the nearest modern proxy we have to Neolithic farmers in Europe.

      The function of those strange nuraghes is still not well understood though, so far as I can tell from reading.


    1. “An abundance of caution” has become a common catch phrase in the coronaviratical era.

      Out of an abundance of caution, I think I might not get out of bed tomorrow morning. Who knows, I could slip while putting on my cosy winter slippers, fall and fracture my pelvis and several vertebrae. On the other hand, staying in bed until all my muscles atrophy (which happens disturbingly quickly) does not seem like a very attractive option. Life is full of really difficult risk-balancing decisions.


    1. The latest photo published of him is truly distressing; it really upset me. I don’t care what the poor guy is supposed to have done, China needs to explain this.


  10. Covid 19 Update

    Some interesting and useful data plots here:

    Very hopeful plots are cases in Northern Hemisphere (winter) vs Southern Hemisphere + tropics (summer), which give some grounds for optimism that it could die down a lot, if not disappear completely, when the Northern Hemisphere summer comes. It happens with seasonal influenza and colds, it happened with SARS, so I don’t see why not.

    My interpretation – China has beaten it. It has taken a huge effort, they need to stay careful, and the battle is still raging in Hubei, but in the rest of the country they have it beaten. Even in Hubei, it is evident that it is peaking, and may have already peaked. The Hubei numbers were kicked on a bit because there was a sudden big outbreak in a prison there, but by definition they are a captive population. It’s not that they don’t matter, but logically they should not be lumped in with the general population for counting and assessing trends. If you subtract those out, Hubei has clearly peaked.

    South Korea has a huge fight on their hands, and it is not looking good for them. Not at all. It is out of control. HK and Israel, and no doubt lots of other countries/regions, have now banned Koreans from entering, and Israel has forced all S. Koreans in the country to leave (lots of them, because a lot of S. Korean Christians go on pilgrimages to sites in Israel – one group that toured a lot of sites were found to have 29 infected members when they got back to Korea, so Israel said fuck it, we don’t need this and has kicked all of them out). (Similarly, last year HK got more than 1 million tourists from S. Korea. They won’t this year.)

    North Korea is in dire straits but is not admitting it.

    Iran likewise is in dire straits but is not admitting just how badly. Iran could seriously become a humanitarian disaster.

    Italy has, I am informed, a very good health surveillance system, so they have become a self-selecting sample as it were – other countries could have similar or worse numbers but not know it. I am informed that Italy’s health care system is equally good, and they are taking aggressive containment and control actions, so it seems like a good bet that they will ultimately beat it like China has, but they have a fight on their hands.

    Japan – kind of similar to Italy on total cases; depends on what they do in relation to containment and control. I am not seeing any news coming out of Japan about that. The latest numbers don’t look like they are rocketing up, though, so maybe they have got a grip on it. I hope so.


  11. Coronafuckeration cont’d.

    Italy is using the same (lack of) logic as China – it has locked down a dozen towns, preventing people from entering or leaving. Fine. Control the flow of people into and out of regions which have high rates of infection. Doing that in China has prevented all regions of China other than Hubei from descending into the Scenario B hell that Wuhan was in. Well, I assume it has, and it seems very likely.

    But then Italy says that suspending the Shengen rules would be the wrong response.

    What am I missing?


    1. The difference is between controlling entry and exit to all of Italy (which is what could be achieved by suspending the Schengen rules), and controlling movement to/from/through the affected parts of Italy while allowing access to the rest of Italy (which is what they are apparently trying to do).

      I don’t know whether the latter could be implemented effectively, but if it could, I would probably prefer that to locking down a whole country because of an outbreak in one part of the country. Particularly because the affected region includes Milano, Italy’s primary business center, so if the lockdown turns out to be a case of locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen, the virus is as likely to have spread to other countries in the EU as to other parts of Italy, so it’s not obvious what would be gained at this point by suspending Schengen rules.


      1. All borders are porous, and all quarantines leak. They always do. The point is not to exclude every single person – that is always going to fail. The point is to control the flow of people so your healthcare services and other services are not overwhelmed, to stay in the Scenario A that I have described, and not be plunged into Scenario B.

        If the logic holds for controlling the flow of people within a country, it holds equally for controlling the flow from one country to another. The people in China and Italy who have said that closing a country’s borders to people from a country which has a high number of infections is wrong, or the wrong approach, have at no point explained why it is wrong. The WHO, who so far have been inept and reactive, and who have said the same thing, have not explained why it is the wrong approach, while praising China for its very aggressive approach in controlling the flow within the country.

        If it is the right approach to lock down Wuhan, why is it the wrong approach to lock down China? If it is the right approach to lock down Venice, why is it wrong to lock down Italy? No one is talking about locking it down forever, the consequences of that would be far worse; just long enough so that other countries have time to prepare and are not overwhelmed.


      2. After the emergence of the coronamoster in Wuhan, Italy was the very first country to slam the door on China, prohibiting all travelers from China to land in Italy.

        (Thing is, Italy has a lot of illegal Chinese workers, mostly in the textiles industry. So for those people to get back from China to Italy after the Spring Festival, they just traveled back via third countries, and the Italians didn’t think of that, so slamming the door on China didn’t work. That’s tangential. But it could explain why Italy is the first European country to get self-sustaining epidemics in the worst affected towns – they were right to try to exclude travelers from China, they just weren’t smart enough to realize that the sneaky Chinese would just use back door routes to get in.)

        So now, a lot of countries are slamming the door on Italy. So now the Italians are saying that is the wrong thing to do.

        Well, is it or isn’t it? They need to make up their minds, because at the moment they look like massive hypocrites. I happen to think it is the right thing to do, but that means the Italians need to take a dose of their own medicine. It’s shaping up to be a shitty year, for everyone, one way or another, so they’d better get used to it.

        (Incidentally, I happen to know Italy also has a lot of illegal Filipina workers (some males, so Filipinos or Pinoy in Tagalog, but mostly females, so Filipinas or Pinay in Tagalog), working as carers taking care of elderly people, because Italy has a very ageing population. Their total fertility rate is 1.45, well below replacement. Japan’s TFR is 1.42, and they have the most ageing population in the world, and Italy is very close behind. But the Philippines doesn’t have the coronabastard – only 3 cases. Well, that they know of. But the Philippines is one of the world’s most densely populated countries, it is very impoverished, doesn’t have a health care system to speak of – so how would they know?)


  12. The deputy health minister of Iran has also fallen sick from the virus. Which suggests the authorities there have no control over the situation.
    You know, if the variant in the holy city of Qum really is more virulent I hope it will kill off the old priests in the reactionary Guardian Council before it moves off to decimate the rest of us.


  13. The Swedish actor Olof Thunberg has died (incidentally, he is the grandfather of Greta Thunberg).
    India: Twitter is full of comments about how a visiting president mangled the language.
    USA apparently considered poisoning Julian Assange when he was inside the Equadorian embassy.


  14. Good piece by Razib Khan on the ancestry of Afrikaners in South Africa.

    So, the difference between an Afrikaner and a so-called Cape Coloured? Physical appearance. Past a certain point in history, if you could pass as white, you did. And then you discriminated hugely against those who couldn’t.

    OTOH, if you are a white from New England (I mean originating from there, not a transplant from Florida like Eric), it means you have zero non-European ancestry.

    Very many white Australians with long genealogical histories in the country have some invisible amount of Aboriginal ancestry. I’m very far from unique (and actually not that invisible, if you know what to look for).


  15. Earth has had two moons for the past three years, but no one noticed.

    Oh OK then, the second one is just an asteroid 1.9 to 3.5m in diameter, and it has been captured by earth’s gravity only temporarily. But it has been there for three years.

    I think we need to send a “please explain” to Birger.


  16. There was a bronze-age centre at Dhashkalios, very near the island Keros in the cyclades archipelago. It predated the Minoan places by 500 years, and the shape of the site might have inspired the legend the gods lived on top of a mountain.


  17. The small, temporary moons are near-Earth asteroids momentarily stuck in the weak boundary region, where the gravity of the Earth and the sun compete.
    This zone extends 1-2 million km from Earth.
    This is an easy-come easy-go process; there are always *some* small asteroids in this zone, but not the same ones.
    Since meteorites found on Earth are altered by heating, water and oxidation, and organic molecules contaminated by living organisms, these small objects are an obvious stopping point when NASA is ready for proof-of-concept translunar missions.
    If not the leading time for planning automated probes was longer than the time these objects stay, we would probably already have collected samples.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. What I really want is a water- and carbon-rich lump of a few hundred tons sitting in a temporary orbit. That mass is small enough for a rocket with current technology to give it enough delta-v to be trapped in a more permanent orbit.
    Then you let robots harvest it for water and elements needed in space stations. Ordinary gravel is great for radiation protection.


  19. Trump is angry with the CDC in the USA for making public statements about how it is not a question of if the USA will have a coronavirus epidemic but when it will, which caused the stock market to tank.

    So he has instructed that all public statements on the subject are to go through Pence.

    People can now stop lecturing me about how none of the information about the coronavirus coming out of China can be trusted. I live in China, and have a lot of good friends living in parts of China, who are talking to me directly by telephone about it frequently. The people who have been lecturing me don’t, despite knowing far less about what is happening in China than I do.

    And Americans can now place zero trust in any statements about the coronavirus coming from the US government. The USA has a good agency in the CDC, although it is now clear the country is woefully under prepared for this. American friends are reporting to me how difficult it is to get someone tested for Covid 19, and how long it takes. But the CDC at least has been maintaining good surveillance of the situation over the whole country, as far as they are able.

    But the USA CDC are now being censored.


  20. Sunday, Sweden will have the Vasa ski race, (Vasaloppet) a ski race open to anyone who likes to ski for …I think it is nearly forty miles in a go.
    It is the world’s greatest ski race, I forgot how many tens of thousands that participate. Italy has something similar in southern Tyrolen, but I doubt they get enough snow these days.


  21. I just finished reading the second book of Jonathan L Howard’s “Carter & Lovecraft” series.
    His previous books about Dr Johannes Cabal were funny and well-written pastiches of Horror and Dieselpunk, but this series is scary as f%@€ck.

    Liked by 1 person

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