Could nearly half of those with Covid-19 have no idea they are infected?

David Cox in The Guardian:

Epidemiological studies are now revealing that the number of individuals who carry and can pass on the infection, yet remain completely asymptomatic, is larger than originally thought. Scientists believe these people have contributed to the spread of the virus in care homes, and they are central in the debate regarding face mask policies, as health officials attempt to avoid new waves of infections while societies reopen.

But the realisation that asymptomatic people can spread an infection is not completely surprising. For starters, there is the famous early 20th century case of “Typhoid Mary”, a cook who infected 53 people in various households in the US with typhoid fever despite displaying no symptoms herself. In fact, all bacterial, viral and parasitic infections – ranging from malaria to HIV – have a certain proportion of asymptomatic carriers. Research has even shown that at any one time, all of us are infected with between eight and 12 viruses, without showing any symptoms.

More here.

How Double-Entry Bookkeeping Changed The World

Keith Devlin at the website of the Mathematical Association of America:

What’s your reaction when you see the term “double-entry book-keeping”? Do you associate it with cool, societal-changing innovations like the Internet, Google, social media, laptops, and smartphones? Probably not. Neither did I—until I was asked to write a brief article about the fifteenth century Italian mathematician Luca Pacioli, to go into the sale catalog for the upcoming (June) Christie’s auction of an original first edition of his famous book Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita (“Summary of arithmetic, geometry, proportions and proportionality”), published in 1494, which I referred to in last month’s column. (I also gave a talk at a public showing Christie’s organized in San Francisco on April 24, which gave me an opportunity to examine the book myself.)

More here.

Sean Carroll’s Mindscape Podcast: Olga Khazan on Living and Flourishing While Being Weird

Sean Carroll in Preposterous Universe:

Each of us is different, in some way or another, from every other person. But some are more different than others — and the rest of the world never stops letting them know. Societies set up “norms” that define what constitute acceptable standards of behavior, appearance, and even belief. But there will always be those who find themselves, intentionally or not, in violation of those norms — people who we might label “weird.” Olga Khazan was weird in one particular way, growing up in a Russian immigrant family in the middle of Texas. Now as an established writer, she has been exploring what it means to be weird, and the senses in which that quality can both harm you and provide you with hidden advantages.

More here.

The last of his kind: ‘Jewish Arab’ Albert Memmi leaves a vital message about Zionism

Joel Swanson in Forward:

Albert Memmi, the great Tunisian-born French Jewish intellectual, passed away in Paris last Friday at the age of 99. He was arguably the last surviving member of a generation of great mid-20th-century Francophone intellectuals.

Sadly, few in the English-speaking world seemed to notice. While major FrenchGerman and Hebrew news sources reported on his passing, for the most part, English language news sources have not. Memmi has not received an obituary in The New York Times or the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal. A man once considered so important to midcentury French intellectual life that no less than Camus and Sartre wrote introductions to his earliest works is gone, and the English-speaking world has barely taken notice.

How did this happen? How did a man who was once the darling of the French existentialist left, and who was once considered as foundational for early post-colonial theory as Frantz Fanon and Edward Said are today, come to be so thoroughly forgotten in the United States?

More here.

Protest, Uprisings, and Race War

Tim Wise in Counterpunch:

The moralizing has begun.

Those who have rarely been the target of organized police gangsterism are once again lecturing those who have about how best to respond to it. Be peaceful, they implore, as protesters rise up in Minneapolis and across the country in response to the killing of George Floyd. This, coming from the same people who melted down when Colin Kaepernick took a knee — a decidedly peaceful type of protest. Because apparently, when white folks say, “protest peacefully,” we mean “stop protesting.”

Everything is fine, nothing to see here.

It is telling that much of white America sees fit to lecture black people about the evils of violence, even as we enjoy the national bounty over which we claim possession solely as a result of the same. I beg to remind you, George Washington was not a practitioner of passive resistance. Neither the early colonists nor the nation’s founders fit within the Gandhian tradition. There were no sit-ins at King George’s palace, no horseback freedom rides to affect change. There were just guns, lots and lots of guns. We are here because of blood, and mostly that of others. We are here because of our insatiable desire to take by force the land and labor of others. We are the last people on Earth with a right to ruminate upon the superior morality of peaceful protest. We have never believed in it and rarely practiced it. Instead, we have always taken what we desire, and when denied it, we have turned to means utterly genocidal to make it so.

…In short, most white Americans are like that friend you have, who never went to medical school, but went to Google this morning and now feels confident he or she is qualified to diagnose your every pain. As with your friend and the med school to which they never gained entry, most white folks never took classes on the history of racial domination and subordination, but are sure we know more about it than those who did. Indeed, we suspect we know more about the subject than those who, more than merely taking the class, actually lived the subject matter.

When white folks ask, “Why are they so angry, and why do some among them loot?” we betray no real interest in knowing the answers to those questions.

More here.

Fire, pestilence and a country at war with itself: the Trump presidency is over

Robert Reich in The Guardian:

You’d be forgiven if you hadn’t noticed. His verbal bombshells are louder than ever, but Donald J Trump is no longer president of the United States. By having no constructive response to any of the monumental crises now convulsing America, Trump has abdicated his office. He is not governing. He’s golfing, watching cable TV and tweeting. How has Trump responded to the widespread unrest following the murder in Minneapolis of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for minutes as he was handcuffed on the ground? Trump called the protesters “thugs” and threatened to have them shot. “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he tweeted, parroting a former Miami police chief whose words spurred race riots in the late 1960s. On Saturday, he gloated about “the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons” awaiting protesters outside the White House, should they ever break through Secret Service lines.

Trump’s response to the last three ghastly months of mounting disease and death has been just as heedless. Since claiming Covid-19 was a “Democratic hoax” and muzzling public health officials, he has punted management of the coronavirus to the states. Governors have had to find ventilators to keep patients alive and protective equipment for hospital and other essential workers who lack it, often bidding against each other. They have had to decide how, when and where to reopen their economies.

…In reality, Donald Trump doesn’t run the government of the United States. He doesn’t manage anything. He doesn’t organize anyone. He doesn’t administer or oversee or supervise. He doesn’t read memos. He hates meetings. He has no patience for briefings. His White House is in perpetual chaos. His advisers aren’t truth-tellers. They’re toadies, lackeys, sycophants and relatives. Since moving into the Oval Office in January 2017, Trump hasn’t shown an ounce of interest in governing. He obsesses only about himself. But it has taken the present set of crises to reveal the depths of his self-absorbed abdication – his utter contempt for his job, his total repudiation of his office. Trump’s nonfeasance goes far beyond an absence of leadership or inattention to traditional norms and roles. In a time of national trauma, he has relinquished the core duties and responsibilities of the presidency.

He is no longer president. The sooner we stop treating him as if he were, the better.

More here.

Sunday Poem


I find myself noticing you again
eight years later,
you coming out of the earth, pale,
erect, shadow over men.
You can’t be buried.
You are Washington, White
House manicured lawn,
Navy band in starched bleach and crease.
Timid flowers all form neat rows before you,
lines cleaner than a border,
sharp as the mark you cut against the sky,
a man’s quill tip
engraving his name. Yes,
you must insist upon yourself,
white as a presidential slogan
stitched against a red, red rage.

Once I read all over the Roman Empire
were obelisks
stolen out of Africa. In America
they construct their own,
name them for a man who owned
Africans, built a white nation
(always insisting upon itself).
Here, man wants to make himself monument,
peak gleaming as a Klansman’s hood
rising into night,
an elevation he thought was always his,
ghastly return of his mind’s making,
a making: America
over and over again.

by Daria-Ann Martineau
Split This Rock

Does Historical Analogy Matter?

Peter E. Gordon and Sam Moyn debate if and how the “fascism” label is appropriate for Orbán, Erdoğan, Modi, or Trump, over at the NY Review of Books. Gordon:

Among all the terms that are available to us for historical comparison today it is hard to see why “fascism” alone should be stamped as impermissible. No differently than other terms, fascism now belongs to our common archive of political memory. Exceeding its own epoch, it stands as a common name for a style of institutionalized cruelty and authoritarian rule that recurs with remarkable frequency, albeit in different guises. In the United States, it would no doubt take a different form. As the historian of European fascism Robert Paxton has observed, “the language and symbols of an authentic American fascism would ultimately have little to do with the original European models.” In an American fascism, he writes, one would see not swastikas but “Christian crosses” and “Stars and Stripes.”

The true signs of fascism’s resurgence, however, would not be merely the symbols it deploys in its propaganda but its treatment of those who are most vulnerable. This is why the spectacle of migrants in cages should alarm us all, and why we cannot take comfort in the thought that things are not as bad as they once were.


America’s Resistance after the election of Donald Trump turned to analogy to abnormalize him: the US teetered on the edge of fascism, and with a Hitler on the make now at the helm.

That comparison requires a careful ethic is the lesson three years on, for the sake of understanding and mobilization alike. It is surely fodder for some future ironist that, after our era of fearing Trump’s actions, he appears set in the current pandemic to go down in history for a worse sin of inaction. For all his abuses of the powers accorded the presidency in the prior generation, his failure to deploy them now seems more glaring. His hijinks in flouting the rule of law, though inexcusable, have not concealed the continuity of American governance, for good and for ill. (The Republicans have gotten their conservative judges and tax cuts, just as before.) William Barr is the reincarnation of Carl Schmitt, the evil genius of National Socialism, wrote Tamsin Shaw in these pages, except that our attorney general has done his worst by letting some louts out of their lies and pursuing causes with roots deep in American history. No analogy to Hitler or fascism is needed to explain these results.

Fanon on Colonialism

David Runciman over at the Talking Politics’ History of Ideas podcast:

Frantz Fanon was a psychiatrist who both experienced and analysed the impact of colonial violence. In The Wretched of the Earth (1961) he developed an account of politics that sought to channel violent resistance to colonialism as a force for change. It is a deliberately shocking book. David explores what Fanon’s argument says about the possibility of moving beyond the power of the modern state.


A Curator’s Search for Justice

Stephen Nash in Sapiens:

In October of last year, I found myself with my family in the heart of a sacred forest of the Mijikenda people of Kenya. One of the elders there told me that seven funerary statues had been stolen from his homestead in the preceding decades. He didn’t cry; he didn’t get angry. He just stared at the ground with a glazed look in his eyes. It was the look of a man who had come to terms with his loss but who had not forgotten the harm or gotten over the pain. It was overwhelming to hear his story, and I’ll never forget that moment.

Sadly, 30 similar statues had been held since 1990 at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (DMNS), where I work. It had taken me more than a decade to get them shipped back to Kenya. Now I had the chance to visit them at the Fort Jesus Museum in Mombasa; it was amazing to see them again, so close to their home, where they belong.

This is the story of their decadelong journey.

Most people in modern society enjoy the right to decide what happens to their bodies, as well as those of their loved ones, when they die. As Chip Colwell, my former DMNS colleague and editor-in-chief of SAPIENS, noted so eloquently in his book Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits, this has not been the case for Indigenous populations under colonial rule, with tragic effects. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990 helped to rectify this situation in the United States by providing a legal framework under which federally recognized tribes may formally request the return of their ancestors’ remains, sacred objects, and other materials. NAGPRA has no bearing on international repatriations, however.

More here.

‘Brown Album’ by Porochista Khakpour

Houman Barekat at The Guardian:

Of the many tens of thousands of Iranians who emigrated to the west after the 1979 revolution, the majority settled in California. Among them were Porochista Khakpour’s parents, who moved to the US with their young daughter in 1981. As employees of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, they had enjoyed a relatively privileged life; in their new incarnation as refugees they lived a more modest existence, inhabiting “a tiny crummy suburban apartment” in a lower middle-class neighbourhood in Pasadena. Khakpour’s father, a nuclear physicist, took a teaching job at a university. “They had deep accents, slim savings, and a resistance to assimilation. Like many, they believed their stay in the United States was temporary.”

more here.

Computers don’t give a damn: The improbability of genuine thinking machines

ISTANBUL, TURKEY – MAY 06: People view historical documents and photographs displayed in a high tech art installation at Salt Galata on May 6, 2017 in Istanbul, Turkey. The “Archive Dreaming” installation by artist Refik Anadol uses artificial intelligence to visualize nearly 2 million historical Ottoman documents and photographs from the SALT Research Archive. Controlled by a single tablet in the center of a mirrored room the artist used machine learning algorithms to combine historical documents, art, graphics and photographs to create an immersive installation allowing people to scroll, read and explore the archives. The SALT Galata archives include around 1.7 million documents ranging from the late-Ottoman era to the present day. The exhibition is on show at SALT Galata art space through till June 11, 2017. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Tim Crane in the TLS:

The achievements of actual AI – that is, the kind of technology that makes your smartphone work – are incredible. These achievements have been made possible partly by developments in hardware (in particular the increased speed and miniaturization of microprocessors) and partly because of the access to vast amounts of data on the internet – both factors that neither Simon nor Dreyfus could have predicted. But it means that enthusiastic predictions for AI are still popular. Many believe that AI can produce not just the “smart” devices that already dominate our lives, but genuine thinking machines. No one says that such machines already exist, of course, but many philosophers and scientists claim that they are on the horizon.

To get there requires creating what researchers call “Artificial General Intelligence” (AGI). As opposed to a special-purpose capacity – like Deep Blue’s capacity to play chess – AGI is the general capacity to apply intelligence to an unlimited range of problems in the real world: something like the kind of intelligence we have. The philosopher David Chalmers has confidently claimed that “artificial general intelligence is possible … There are a lot of mountains we need to climb before we get to human-level AGI. That said, I think it’s going to be possible eventually, say in the 40-to-100-year time frame”. The philosophers John Basl and Eric Schwitzgebel are even more optimistic, claiming it is “likely that we will soon have AI approximately as cognitively sophisticated as mice or dogs”.

More here.

Justifying Lockdown

Christian Barry and Seth Lazar in Ethics and International Affairs:

Throughout most of the world, significant restrictions have been placed on freedoms to move about, to associate in public, and to be in many public spaces. These practices are often collectively referred to as “lockdown.” Few of us enjoy lockdown, and a small minority is furiously protesting against it. In the United States, which currently has many more COVID-19 infections than any other country in the world, some protestors have been gathering to call for these lockdowns to end, and for a return to work.1 And in most places governments are indeed beginning to relax, to varying degrees, the very substantial restrictions that lockdown has involved.

For many, a first reaction to the protests was shock at how reckless they seemed, given the continued prevalence of the virus there.2 There are clear and legitimate concerns about whether the relaxation of lockdown restrictions is premature in the Unites States and many other parts of the world. But the question such protestors and others are raising—how the often very significant costs that are being coercively imposed upon populations can be justified—is a sensible one that deserves a reasoned response. Without such a response, we will not be able to think clearly about the conditions under which relaxing these restrictions is justified, or about when, should things take a turn for the worse, they should be reinstated. Our aim in this brief essay is not to defend a particular policy or attitude toward lockdown measures in the United States or elsewhere, but to consider the scope and limits of different types of arguments that can be offered for them.

More here.

A Feud in Wolf-Kink Erotica Raises a Deep Legal Question

Alexandra Alter at the NYT:

To untangle the Omegaverse fight, it helps to understand its origins in a parallel literary universe — the vast, unruly, diverse, exuberant and often pornographic world of fan fiction.

After getting its start decades ago in “Star Trek” zines, fanfic mushroomed when the internet made it easy for especially dedicated consumers of pop culture to find and create stories for one another. There are now subgenres upon subgenres, from “slash” (where two male characters pair up romantically, such as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson), to odder fare like “mundane AU” (an alternative universe where magical characters live in the real world — e.g., Harry Potter goes to a regular boarding school and has normal teen problems).

more here.

Science without Validation in a World without Meaning

Edward Dougherty in American Affairs Journal:

Physicist Richard Feynman had the following advice for those interested in science: “So I hope you can accept Nature as She is—absurd.”1 Here Feynman captures in stark terms the most basic insight of modern science: nature is not understandable in terms of ordinary physical concepts and is, therefore, absurd. The unintelligibility of nature has huge consequences when it comes to determining the validity of a scientific theory. On this question, Feynman also had a concise answer: “It is whether or not the theory gives predictions that agree with experiment. It is not a question of whether a theory is philosophically delightful, or easy to understand, or perfectly reasonable from the point of view of common sense.”2 So put reasonableness and common sense aside when judging a scientific theory. Put your conceptual models and visualizations away. They might help you formulate a theory, or they might not. They might help to explain a theory, or they might obfuscate it. But they cannot validate it, nor can they give it meaning.

Erwin Schrödinger made a similar critique of the simplified models widely used to explain scientific concepts in terms of everyday experience, such as those used to illustrate atomic theory:

A completely satisfactory model of this type is not only practically inaccessible, but not even thinkable. Or, to be more precise, we can, of course, think it, but however we think it, it is wrong; not perhaps quite as meaningless as a “triangular circle,” but much more so than a “winged lion.”3

“Do the electrons really exist on these orbits within the atom?” Schrödinger asks rhetorically. His answer: “A decisive No, unless we prefer to say that the putting of the question itself has absolutely no meaning.”4

Feynman and Schrödinger were concerned about the extremely small scale, but what about the extremely large scale? A single human cell has more than twenty thousand genes. Therefore, assuming one protein per gene, the number of different non-modified proteins exceeds twenty thousand. Add to that the many more different proteins resulting from alternative splicing, single nucleotide polymorphisms, and posttranslational modification. No conceptual model is conceivable for the interactions among all of these genes and proteins, or for even a tiny portion of them, when one considers the complex biochemistry involved in regulation. What is the meaning of the intricate and massive pathway models generated by computer algorithms? Is this even a meaningful question to ask? And the human body contains on average an estimated thirty-seven trillion cells!

More here.

The History Behind ‘When The Looting Starts, The Shooting Starts’

Barbara Sprunt in NPR:

President Trump told reporters Friday evening that he didn’t know the racially charged history behind the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Trump tweeted the phrase Friday morning in reference to the clashes between protesters and police in Minneapolis following George Floyd’s death. It dates back to the civil rights era and is known to have been invoked by a white police chief cracking down on protests and a segregationist politician.

In 1967, Miami police Chief Walter Headley used the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” during hearings about crime in the Florida city, invoking angry reactions from civil rights leaders, according to a news report at the time.

More here.