Doctor, Doctor! I have great news! That malevolent earworm has subsided. I don't have to worry 24/7 about what he is stealing, what he is breaking. I have more time for other things -- like reading.
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We can’t get enough of our long-lost neighbors. At least, I can’t. And the growing study of Neanderthals tells me this is a collective curiosity.
With a flash of recognition, we see something of ourselves in them, as they tried to survive,
As the earth thaws, as our science grows, we are learning more about the people who co-existed with “us” until about 40,000 years ago.
Many “humans” stare at renderings of what Neanderthals may have looked like, based on recent findings of Neanderthal bones. Sometimes the adults are pictured holding a child, just like us.
The latest source of my fascination is a book, “Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art,” by Rebecca Wragg Sykes, published by Bloomsburg Sigma in November, and already greedily devoured by this reader.
Sykes is a scientist who took eight years to write this book. She was still finishing it last spring when the pandemic began, which motivated her to compare our lot with the demise of a previous people. (Just like the Neanderthals, we have some contemporaries with no clue about what is killing a lot of us.)
The author gives us the romance of a lost people, still kicking around in some DNA. I am jealous that I do not seem to have a trace while two friends have 1 or 2 percent..
The more I read, the more my admiration grows for Neanderthals, named for one of the early discoveries in the Neander Valley near Dusseldorf, Germany. Sykes describes in great detail how they chiseled tools out of rocks, knowing what they were doing, and how they made spears and arrows to hunt the fat-laden animals that would sustain them.
Sykes details how these Neanderthals migrated with the seasons and shifts in climate, how they seemed to know, to remember, where the water was, where hiding places were, where they could cook, congregate, tend to their tools and garments, care for children, and sometimes bury their dead.
Other people existed in the same regions – Homo sapiens up from Africa, Denisovans across Asia, both groups encountering Neanderthals as they made their last stand in southern Europe.
Sykes saves the best part for the end – the mystery that has made Neanderthals an appealing subject.
Married, with two young daughters, living in mid-Wales, Sykes helps the reader understand a people that got squeezed out, many perishing in the caves and crannies of Spain and France.
As we unworthy survivors pollute the only world we have, Sykes points out one benefit of our pollution: Soon we will discover more Neanderthal bodies emerging from the melting permafrost.
Twelve hours after I read her prophesy, I found a recent story about an ancient baby wolf that has been found intact in the Yukon.
Before we expire, we may understand more about our complex ancestors as they roamed the earth, at least three separate species, standing on two legs, encountering each other on their search for food and shelter and, when they got up close, sometimes doing what came naturally.
I don’t think I am giving away too much to reveal Sykes’ final words, which confirmed to me the current aura of these people who were “just like us.” Sykes’ penultimate chapter ends:
“Neanderthal. Human. Kindred.”
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(my previous post on Neanderthals)
(The recent NYT review of Sykes’ book)
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.