Of ancient plagues and really, really ancient extinctions

Of ancient plagues and really, really ancient extinctions July 31, 2020


Istanbul from space
A satellite view of greater Istanbul, one of the most interesting places on Earth. At the bottom is the Sea of Marmara. It’s connected by the waterway called the Bosporus to the Black Sea, which appears at the top of the photograph. (Approximately 56.927% of all Turkish restaurants outside of the motherland are called “Bosporus” or “Bosphorus.”  The long inlet over toward the left is the famous Golden Horn. And the small peninsula between it and the Sea of Marmara is the site of the Old City, which was first called Byzantium, and then, when Constantine made it the capital of the Roman Empire, first “Nova Roma” or “Nea Roma” and then “Constantinople.” Finally, when the Ottoman Turks took it in 1453, it became “Istanbul.”

(NASA public domain photograph)


The latest installment of my bi-weekly Deseret News column went up yesterday.  I’m just really slow in posting a link to it.  But here’s the link:


“How ‘trivia,’ ‘alma mater,’ ‘liberal arts’ and religion are tied to the medieval roots of modern higher education”




Here’s a bit of interesting science news, linking my deeply uninformed interest in astronomy with my remarkably ignorant enthusiasm for geology and palaeontology:


“Did a supernova trigger the late Devonian extinction?”


Think of the process as a sterilization, something of a cosmic hand sanitation.




Plagues are historically interesting, but not quite as fun to live through:


“Ancient trash heaps reveal the Plague of Justinian’s economic toll: Israeli sites show how the plague impacted the fringes of the Byzantine Empire.”

“[T]he Plague of Justinian: the bubonic plague’s first-known visit to Europe, in 541 CE. The first wave of plague killed 20 percent of the population of Constantinople. Infection also devastated the trade port of Alexandria. Over the next 160 years, wave after wave of plague may have carried away up to half the population of the Byzantine Empire.  ‘Religious texts of the period suggest a heartfelt doomsday atmosphere.'”


And, speaking of extinctions, let’s talk for a moment about the coronavirus:


“Coronavirus outbreak at a Georgia overnight camp infected over 200 kids and staff: Nearly half of children younger than 10 contracted the virus”

“[C]hildren of all ages are susceptible to [coronavirus] infection and, contrary to early reports, might play an important role in transmission.”


“‘A huge experiment’: How the world made so much progress on a Covid-19 vaccine so fast”


It’s a relief to see some sanity on this subject:


“Mask-Wearing and the Common Good”


“A popular heartburn medicine doesn’t work as a COVID-19 antiviral: New findings don’t rule out the chance the antacid might help in other ways”



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