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There are a hundred trillion bacteria in your body as you read this, and a bunch of these guys in those bacteria.

The surface it is standing on would be, I assume, the interior of the exterior of a bacterium, being that bacteriophage viruses invade and then replicate within bacteria, taking proteins from the bacteria to create copies of itself. Sounds creepy, though the influenza virus does the exact same thing, using our cells instead of a single cell bacterium. From a virus’s unthinking and barely even alive POV, a cell is a cell. What matters is the proteins in the cell, without which there can be no baby viruses.

Dead owls

I suspect that the exponential increase in the pet cat population led to the exponential increase in urban and suburban coyotes which led to the decrease in the time cats spend outdoors which has caused the exponential increase in the urban and suburban brown rat population which has caused an increase in the amount of rat poison used which has dramatically increased the number of dead and dying rats which has led to the increased mortality in owls I read about today.

They did not have a flu shot in 1918

The 1918 influenza epidemic infected half a billion people out of global population of 1.8 billion. Somewhere from fifty to one hundred million of those people died. Nearly everyone killed by the flu was under 65, with most being between 20 and 40, in whom the body’s immune system’s reaction was so severe that lung tissue was reduced to a thick mass and the victims drowned in their own phlegm. A perfectly healthy young person could fall sick in the morning and be dead that night, as a strong  immune system made the disease all the more deadly.

There was no flu shot in 1918, which means people in 1918 were just as vulnerable as people who didn’t get the shot this year. Fortunately the flu this year is vastly less deadly, and will probably only kill a few tens of thousands world wide. It’s a roll of the dice every year, but at some point  a flu virus will evolve that drops people like flies. Could be next year, could be in a hundred years. If you get the shot you lessen the odds of dying a rather quick and ghastly death. It’s up to you.

Hominin hominin hominin

Many years ago I was reading Donald Johanson’s Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind and watching The Honeymooners at the same time. Bad idea. This one note bit popped into my head and I have not been able to shake it since. Three decades later I asked myself what would Richard Dawkins do? So I meme the thing.

Why so excited Ralphie boy, what did you find there, the jaw of a baboon?
N-N-N-Norton, I found a homina homina homina.
Calm down, Ralph, it looks like the jaw of a Pliocene baboon to me.
Homina homina homina.
But let me take a closer look.
Homina homina homina.
You’re right, Ralph, it’s not a baboon, not with these incisors.
Homina homina homina.
Good lord, Ralph, you’ve found a homina homina homina.
Homina homina homina.
Hi Ed, Hi Ralph, Alice home? Just what are you two so excited about?
Homina homina homina.
Homina homina homina.
Let me see that jaw. Why it’s, it’s a homina homina homina.
Homina homina homina.
Homina homina homina.
Hi Ralph, Hi Ed, Hi Trixie, what are you three babbling about?
Homina homina homina.
Homina homina homina.
Homina homina homina.
Let me see then. Why it’s a hominin!
Hominin hominin hominin.
Hominin hominin hominin.
Hominin hominin hominin.
I’ll call it Lucy.
Ralph!
I’ll call it Alice then.

Human extinction, or not.

(This was a Twitter thread)

There are very few examples on planet in human history where human societies or civilizations completely vanished. Even in times of catastrophic change–creation of the Sahara, 90% fatal pandemics in Amazon, volcanic devastation–human beings have stayed, even if reduced from large scale societies to hunter gatherer bands. Society changes, civilizations collapse, but the species does not go extinct. Indeed, our very evolution has been achieved by dealing with continuous stress and change including population crashes to as few as one thousand or less individuals for the entire species for as long as 100,000 years. We survived, evolved and thrived under extraordinary pressures that would have driven most species–indeed all other hominid species–to extinction. We are extraordinarily adaptable and virtually everything about us is designed to allow us to survive under extremely stressful conditions. That’s why we are here and not a single other human species remains. Society, culture, civilization are all dispensable, it is our extended family that is the default unit that allows Homo sapiens to survive almost anywhere under any conditions. The point of this is that no matter how severe climate change is, no matter if civilization collapses and our numbers are reduced to 1/100,000,000th of today’s population, Homo sapiens will survive. It would take something much more drastic–a giant asteroid, perhaps, or a nuclear war involving thousand of warheads–to completely annihilate the species forever. Both of which are possible, of course. But we will survive even the worst case global warming. It will not be comfortable, the impact on nearly all the world’s ecosystems will be devastating, and it’s hard to imagine a more dystopian future, but it will be livable for just enough of us to keep the genome going.

Axolotl

Weird how cultural perceptions change over time. When I was a kid, axolotls were really freaky looking, almost science fiction, even scary, like aliens. As bizarre looking a creature as you could find in earth. Even the name, a Nahuatl word (they are found in lakes around Mexico City), meant water monster. A little foot long water monster, pink (a relatively rare color in the wild, they are typically brownish) and exotic and weird, especially with those bizarre juvenile gills retained in adulthood. Now in this adorable educational video, fifty years later, they are seen as positively cute. They look cute to me even. How can anyone not love that anthropomorphized smile? Ripley (distinctly not a Nahuatl word for water monster) seems to have a personality, like an anime character (though in Japan, where giant salamanders are five feet long and without the neotenic gills, salamanders are more unnerving than cute and even show up in a Godzilla movie). Somewhere over this past half century there’s been a fundamental shift in what is freakish and what is cute, a shift that even changed my own perceptions. Who knows how this works. Collective thinking. We have barely scratched the surface of the surface of the surface in understanding our brains, and not gotten anywhere at all in figuring how all our brains work together. We stumble through existence with this unparalleled device in our heads, clueless, almost, as to what it is making us think and see and do and remember.

Instant Towering Inferno

My neighbor Chris was doing some online digging into the London hotel fire:

As far as I can tell from poking around online, the cladding on Grenfell Tower is in general a composite of a core material (for stiffness?) sandwiched in aluminum. While aluminum itself isn’t going to catch fire, it will of course conduct heat like the dickens. The manufacturers’ product specs I look at offer non-fire-rated (polyethylene a/k/a PE a/k/a resin) and fire-rated (not sure the material) cores. I’m gonna guess Grenfell’s owners didn’t spring for the fire-rated type.

He went on to point out that the hotel that burned in Dubai last year also used the non-fire-rated cladding in the outside panels. It too went up like a torch. As would most of the towers in Dubai, all made of same material. Depending on how many of today’s skyscrapers were built to the same low standard to save on construction material costs, there could be more fires just like this to come.

And one more grim point. Basically, every one of these buildings can be weaponized simply by starting a fire in the right place. Instant Towering Inferno. No need to fly a jetliner into a building or park a truck full of nitrates next to one. Just the right incendiary device and bam, you have annihilated a whole vertical community. They believe it was an overheated refrigerator motor that began yesterday’s conflagration. It could be something as insignificant as a tossed cigarette next time. It’s hard to imagine terrorists or saboteurs not taking advantage of this. Builders buy this non-fire retardant polyethylene wholesale from numerous manufacturers. There’s definitely a very competitive market for it and building codes can be very lax, even it turns out, in the middle of London. The city forgot the incendiaries that set it ablaze in the Blitz.  One wonders where else they’ve forgotten, or just didn’t give a damn. There are probably hundreds if not thousands of towers around the globe wrapped in the stuff, hidden beneath shiny aluminum exteriors that reflect the sky and the clouds and the setting sun.

Grenfell Tower3

Grenfell Tower