Dead Hour Canoe

Wiki Contributions


I'd be very uneasy about any of the scholarship in a book that from your description (and I think at least one other review that I've read) just ignores reality on the Kandiaronk stuff, and some of the other things it discusses. If you know you can't trust them on things they obviously get wrong, can you trust them on any of it? It seems much more likely that if you got experts to review the bits of the book relevant to their areas of expertise, the conclusion would be that a lot of it was worthless, actively misleading, or not even wrong.

Your description of the book makes me want to read it. It sounds fascinating, and stimulating. I just feel like I might learn more by reading a series of rebuttals of their arguments from people who know what they're talking about. 

George Mikes ( told the story of a friend of his in Hungary who was convinced that war was imminent in 1939. Someone had told his friend that some substance, I think it was red lead, was essential to fighting wars, so even though he had no idea what red lead was he borrowed as much as he could, bought red lead, and became enormously wealthy in a very short space of time. Not sure if there's an equivalent substance for modern armies. 

Ah, thank you! I was completely wrong, ignore me

On Monday (21st) Putin stated, in the translation on the Kremlin website, that the setting up of the Union Republics of the USSR in 1922 (which included the three Baltic states) involved transferring the territory and "the population of what was historically Russia" to the new states. He described the principles used as "not just a mistake; they were worse than a mistake", and as "odious and utopian fantasies". He lamented "the collapse of the historical Russia known as the USSR". He does go onto discussing Ukraine specifically, but on the basis of that speech he thinks that the Baltic states should still be part of Russia. I understand he has said similar things previously, though I haven't read them myself. Still some way off stating that he will invade a NATO country, but not exactly ideal, particularly given what's happened to other countries that Putin thinks should still be part of Russia.

Interesting reading Monday's speech how much detail he goes into about how badly Ukraine is doing economically - feels a lot like projection, with the ghosts of Russia's own poor economic performance and the significantly better relative performance of the Eastern European EU states hovering in the background. Easy to imagine him obsessing about the Polish growth miracle as compared to his failure to create a Russian economy that isn't dependent on exporting natural resources. 

Think it misses the point a bit to say that the EU and UK don't care enough to deploy their own troops in combat roles against Russia. Whether they care enough to do so isn't relevant; Ukraine isn't part of NATO, and Putin has threatened to use nuclear weapons if NATO troops support the Ukrainian army. So deployment of NATO troops was never on the cards. General assumption seems to be that Ukraine will lose the war relatively quickly. 

Sanctions will only make a difference if they are significant enough to harm EU/UK/US as well as Russia. Not sure anyone knows how extensive they will be. A lot depends on German public opinion, I think, given that Germany's close economic links with Russia would mean that Germany would bear a lot of the pain, and that it has previously been more pro-Russian than any other large country. I know nothing about German public opinion, though the website of Bild, Europe's highest circulation newspaper, is interesting this morning.

If sanctions are too weak to make a difference, Putin will have won. He has said that he will keep on trying to recreate the Russian empire, which now includes several NATO states. Listening to what he has said he will do has been a pretty good guide to his actions in the past, so the assumption should be that he will continue to try to do what he has said he will try to do. Clear risk of nuclear war if Putin invades a NATO state.

If sanctions are meaningful, they'll tank the Russian economy, but difficult to see how Putin can back down, or be removed from power. And he has control of a lot of nukes.

Either way, we are significantly (weasel word) closer to nuclear war than we were yesterday. As you say, this is the sort of news that matters.

This is another field, along with human challenge trials and the vaccination of young children, where the current fixation in medical ethics on not causing harm to an individual might be mistaken. Less clear cut, but still up for discussion. I can think of two areas where slowing viral evolution to greater deadliness might be a policy aim, although in the second alongside the aim of slowing transmission more generally:

1.Should we be using treatments on a small number of the critically ill that are likely to extend their lives, but risk causing the emergence of more deadly variants? I believe there's a real possibility that variants have emerged as a result of patients being treated with monoclonal antibodies and as a result of lengthy infections in the immunocompromised (I would post links to the papers I've just googled, but I'm not sure if the spam filter would let them through and to be honest I can't evaluate them beyond having heard of the journal they're published in). If this becomes the consensus, should we be limiting the use of monoclonal antibodies, and reducing any previously prescribed immunosuppressants, in Covid patients, even where this increases the risk of the individual patient dying?

2. In a future epidemic, should it be policy that patients with a serious infection of the novel disease shouldn't be taken to hospital even where doing so is likely to extend their lives? We're getting pretty close to nailing up the doors of the sick territory, so surely not unless things are really desperate. But should we have a policy setting out what really desperate means here? And potentially create a list of volunteers who would agree to go to look after the sick in such circumstances, with the understanding that they would be agreeing to isolate with the sick patient in their home throughout the course of the infection and for 30 days afterwards? Or have ambulance staff wear hazmat suits, and transport the potentially infected to repurposed sports halls or other large buildings in the community for basic care by volunteers who agree not to leave the building, with the understanding that these patients are more likely to die than if they went to hospital? A number of countries constructed covid hospitals very rapidly, but I'm not sure anywhere had a policy of moving the infected to places that weren't hospitals where the volunteer staff would isolate along with the patients. 

I'm sure there are other possibilities. As an aside, looking at stuff for this comment I realised that I'd never thought about where the word quarantine comes from. For those similarly ignorant and incurious, quarentena is medieval Venetian for "forty days", a quarantine period they first imposed as a result of the Black Death.

I'm not sure deadliness is orthogonal to reproducibility. You're correct that the statement you provide is false, but I think I would defend a similar statement as follows:

1. Causing humans to get sick is very likely to make a virus less transmissible, as the host stops moving around as much, or dies. This generally happens in the short term, but if not then in the long term - for example, if a virus transmits solely through relatives touching the corpses of the dead, it may initially be more transmissible the more lethal it is, but once the human populations that maintain this custom have been replaced by those that don't, then killing its victims rapidly will become a disadvantage. 

2. The disadvantage for a virus in causing humans to have symptomatic illnesses in is in tension with the fact that to succeed, viruses need to make human cells stop doing what they're supposed to do, and start reproducing the virus, which is by definition going to mean our bodies working less well.

3. All viruses face both of these evolutionary pressures. Together they mean that the deadliness of a viral disease in a human population isn't random but, for a particular virus in a particular population, has an optimal level.

4. When we notice a virus starting to be transmitted between humans, and becoming endemic in the human population, we do so because that virus is more dangerous than all or nearly all other viruses currently in circulation. By virtue of the fact that we have noticed a virus, it is likely that on the "cause less/more sickness" axis it is further towards the "more sickness" end than is optimal.

5. So the new viruses that we are aware of tend to evolve to become less dangerous.

The most obvious weasel words in the above are "for a particular virus in a particular population". Given that humans evolve, and human customs and immune systems change, in response to viruses, then it could well be the case that in general the effect of viral evolution is dwarfed by the effect of humans evolving, and human societies and immune systems changing, in reaction to the presence of the virus in humans. So viral evolution might not matter much. Even if it does, other evolutionary pressures on the virus, such as avoiding the human immune response, might be far greater than the pressure to become less dangerous to humans. But I would still expect to see new viruses that we are aware of tending to evolve to become less dangerous.

One angle to look at invention from is the curious fact that so many things are invented by different people in different countries; and that if you look into it you generally find that most of these multiple inventors have a point (rather than, as in Star Trek, Russians just being adorable idiots).

Just from your list, and from a British perspective/quick wiki'ing, Swan invented an electric light bulb that worked well enough to make him a lot of money before Edison - and Turing built the first computer, as opposed to calculator. And I'm sure there are French/German/etc equivalents that are just as accurate, and just as partial. Though even though I rationally know this, and have no conscious desire to defend my nation's scientific honour, here I am writing this comment.

So invention as an idea (and as it's normally thought of) is suspiciously connected to tribalism and identity. It may not be much use for describing or investigating how discovery works.