Remember that ticked-off world traveler – carrying his squash racquet, of course -- doing a double-take at the airport commercial?
“So easy a caveman can do it?”
That got his attention.
The terms blur in modern usage, but either way, the passenger takes exception to his ancestors being used in a derogatory fashion.
And he has a point.
A lot of contemporary “humans” carry vestiges of Neanderthal genes, from quickie hookups back in the day. The more I read about Neanderthals, the more I think this is something to brag about. Some people have the random 1 percent – meaning they are descendants of a race that ran in family packs, began to use some of the world’s natural goods, was able to improvise. (Friend of ours has a smidgen of Neanderthal, DNA -- and that lady is a lawyer.)
The latest discovery of Neanderthal accomplishment was by scientists who found sharpened shells in ancient ponds in Italy, meaning Neanderthals were able to dive in water over their heads, and fashion shells into cutting tools and spears for hunting.
The research was written up in the Times in this week’s Tuesday Science Section, although the essence had already been posted on the Web:
I have been fascinated by Neanderthals since I read the article by Carl Zimmer in the NYT Magazine in February of 2018, describing the talents and range of Neanderthals before they ran out of space and time, losing out to vastly superior homo sapiens.
As a journalist, I was hooked by Zimmer’s lead:
"It’s long been an insult to be called a Neanderthal. But the more these elusive, vanished people have been studied, the more respect they’ve gained among scientists."
That NYT article prompted me to read “Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past,” by David Reich. (Pantheon.) Here I learned about the species called Denisovans.
A Google search revealed a trove of contemporary forensic constructions of Neanderthals, many of them looking like faces you could see around the world.
As for the irate dude with the squash racquet, he has made a recent comeback in other Geico commercials, still feeling slighted by modern society, where superior homo sapiens can learn and remember and reason. (Wonder what he thinks, watching the impeachment “trial.”)
* * *
(The music on the commercial: "Remind Me," by the very modern Norwegian duo, Royksopp.)
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.