Pre-Columbian syphilis in Europe

There’s an article out in Current Biology suggesting that syphilis may already have existed in Europe before 1492 – mentioned in Science.

They’re almost certainly wrong. Can you see why?





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Pu-244 is a relatively long-lived isotope of plutonium, with an 80 million year half life. Once upon a time,someone suggested that the Cretaceous extinction might have been caused by a nearby supernova: if so, we should see some Pu-244 around, or so it was thought.  We don’t.

But that needs to be revised: it now looks as if Pu-244 is _not_ made in a supernova.  Instead, it is probably generated by colliding neutron stars.  So nearby supernova over the past couple hundred million years are not ruled out, although they are a priori unlikely.

The asteroid/comet explanation for the Cretaceous extinction is still good.


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Uplift War

We will uplift dogs as a key step in the cold war against China.

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Premature Birth

It’s way down under lockdown/social distancing etc, down 90% in Denmark. There is an obvious likely explanation, or there would be, if the zombies hadn’t already eaten almost everyone’s brain.


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The Pork Road

It now seems clear, from genetic evidence,  that Polynesians from the Marquesas visited the western coast of the Americas – somewhere ( or maybe several places) between Peru and Mexico.

But what paid the freight? Why did they do it, and, I would guess, keep doing it for some time?  It’s feasible, but it’s a long voyage, not without risk.  And interacting with strangers has its own risks, not least when you’re a bunch of warlike cannibals. Taboos get broken.

The Polynesians needed something to trade that was highly valued by the Amerinds & could not be easily duplicated by them. They had some different crops, but nobody likes taro or breadfruit all that much, while the Amerinds had plenty of crops of their own.   High-tech exports?  The Polynesians  didn’t have anything really impressive other than their outrigger canoes.

But they had pigs, and the Amerindians did not. Imagine that sharp Polynesians traded pigs for various valuata ( cornmeal, manioc, sweet potatoes, chocolate, maybe decorative metal objects) .

Male pigs. The Polynesians, being a bit more sophisticated than contemporary Ivy League graduates, understood that generating piglets requires both boars and sows.  Actual, biological, males and females: identification is not enough.

If you only trade boars, the market lasts indefinitely .  American chieftains involved in this trade could have offered their high-ranking followers bacon.  Trade continues until people get tired of it, and of course that never happens.

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At the Mountains of Madness

Just as Robert E. Howard’s take on prehistory was closer to the truth than the one promulgated by archaeologists  in the past few decades,  H.P. Lovecraft’s views on insanity were more realistic than the common ones in American popular culture – where people are thought to be driven insane by trauma, where your mum and dad fuck you up by their actions, rather than their genes. Lovecraft worried about hereditary taints ( like being descended from from an ape or the Deep Ones), rather than experiencing poor toilet training or ‘poverty’ that entails richer material circumstances than those of ancient kings.

Lovecraft’s personal experience may have shaped his views: both of his parents died in the same asylum.  He thought the truth would drive a man crazy, but maybe it was the other way around.

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AIDS follies

Was thinking about similarities and differences between the reaction to AIDS and to  SARS-2.   AIDS hit much more slowly, of course.  It was way more dangerous per customer, but it was obvious early on that it was only spreading in a small fraction of the population.

The health authorities such as the CDC didn’t believe in quarantine then,  either, and they prevailed. They were wrong, of course.  They spent a lot of effort trying to convince the public that HIV was a significant threat to straight men and women: that was a lie.  Presumably it was  motivated by the probably-correct notion that people wouldn’t give a shit unless they were personally threatened, or possibly just because.  Wiki is still doing its part to further nonsense on this topic:  ” Announcements by various celebrities that they had contracted HIV (including actor Rock Hudson, basketball star Magic Johnson, tennis player Arthur Ashe and singer Freddie Mercury) were significant in arousing media attention and making the general public aware of the dangers of the disease to people of all sexual orientations.” Arthur Ashe got a bad transfusion: as for the others, what do you think? 

Although it really did manage to spread in the general population in Sub-Saharan Africa – but not much elsewhere.

I don’t remember if the CDC bought into this particular bit of madness, but some local health types argued that gay bathhouses should be kept open because it allowed efficient distribution of educational leaflets, which presumably had an effect like saltpetre.

It took time for people to realize what was causing the disease: nobody had much experience with retroviral infections, or with immunosuppression caused by a contagious disease. Molecular biology was much less advanced than it is today.

For a while, some suspected that it might be an effect of some newly popular drug used by gay men – this never seemed likely to me, but in the first few months, when information was scarce, the idea wasn’t crazy.  Peter Duesberg, noted virologist, bought into that and never let go – but then, he was crazy. Still is.

Crazy, because after a while there were transfusion cases, which clearly showed that  AIDS was caused by a communicable agent.  Some famous people died that way, like Isaac Asimov and Arthur Ashe.   These cases were made more likely by blood banks that refused to ‘discriminate’ against homosexual donors –  I understand they all went bankrupt after being sued into oblivion, but the damage was already done.  Political correctness is triple-distilled foolishness.  There oughta be a law.

The Duesberg story was a semi-interesting example of people being confused by credentials – mostly people that already wanted to be confused. I remember a friend asking why he should believe me, rather than a a tenured expert that was member of the National Academy of Sciences: answer, because of those transfusion cases, cases in hemophiliacs, contact tracing, etc. Simple, clear evidence. As I recall, my arguments didn’t have much effect. Now when the triple therapies showed up and worked, that had an effect.  It almost cured the disease, and that did change people’s minds.

Were there ‘conspiracy theories’? Sure: but comical ones, that involved the CIA having vast malice (probably not) and superhuman competence ( it is to laugh  !)  used to invent a new supervirus aimed at killing off various undesirables. I say comical, but  not sure they can compete with Bill Gates’ chunky-style COVID-19 vaccine, now with microchips !


















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Live Mice

Deng Xiaoping once quoted the old  proverb: “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, if it catches mice it is a good cat.”  He was endorsing what worked, capitalism in that case.

By 2020 standards, that is a profoundly un-American statement.  The only thing that matters is whether the cat is black or white.

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Time Dilation

I’ve noticed that people’s sense of time, including my own, is all messed up.

A comparison: in the US, the number of Cov-19 deaths has gone from about 300 to ~95,000 in two months.

The 1918 flu: First noticed on March 11, Fort Riley. Maybe a few hundred deaths in the spring of 1918. Really took off in September (12,000 deaths) – six months later, not two.

It looks as if covid-19 has a higher R0 than 1918 influenza when allowed to run free, while transportation and movement are considerably faster today than in 1918.

The idea that it must not really be very infectious, since it has only infected ~4% of the US in two months –  not very infectious compared to what?






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How far we’ve come

Not very. So, far cov-19 has mostly not infected a terribly high percentage of the population , with the exception of some places in Lombardy where it likely reached saturation( > 60%). NYC, about 20%.

Spain: 5%. Major League Baseball employees : 0.75%.

Indiana: 2.8%

Percentage infected in the US has to be lower than in Spain: I’d guess something like 3%. So far,  > 80,000 dead out of that 3%. What can we expect if A. we let it rip and B. herd immunity is at ~70% ?


The people arguing that it had already spread very far and had a very low mortality were wrong, like I said a while ago.  Obviously wrong, to me, and to a few others that could actually do the required back-of-the-envelope calculations.   This means, by the way, that the IFR was > 1% in Spain.  Not obvious to the authors of that Stanford study, though: I thought that surely they had been paid off, but they were apparently just dense.

But old bullshit is being replaced by new bullshit, due to popular demand.  The new notion is that a more detailed analysis of viral propagation ( roughly, considering networks of fast-spreaders) suggests that it is possible to achieve herd immunity at far lower percentages infected than simple SIR theory predicts –  instead of something around 70%,  more like 15 or 20%.

Sometimes people are saying something not altogether crazy: like saying that we could achieve herd immunity at fairly low % infected if we made significant social changes (masks , distancing, Scotchguard everybody) that interfere with viral transmission and stuck with those changes indefinitely.   When repeated, people usually leave out those behavior-change details and suggest that,  soon,  we will all be dancing in the streets. Swinging, swaying, records playing.  Or, they’re saying that a more complete analysis predicts 60%, instead of 70%: might be so. But we know that simple SIR models have worked decently in the past – they can’t be too far off.

But mostly they’re just saying that herd immunity has to be possible at low incidence because it’s GOTTA be, the same reason they knew that Cov-19 was ‘just another flu’.  The Swedish government is saying that Stockholm is close to herd immunity: they’re lying.

The numbers in Lombardy falsify this.  But, go ahead, explain that Italians are special, not subject to same principles as other human populations.

These low numbers show that we’ve controlled the spread to a very  significant degree.  But we surely seem to be getting ready to stop doing so:

Guess what happens then!










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