Unaffected by Covid? Maybe thank your Neanderthal ancestors

People who survive a bout of Covid-19 with mild symptoms or even no symptoms may be able to thank their Neanderthal ancestors, a new study suggests.

Researchers found a genetic mutation that reduces the risk of severe Covid-19 infection by about 22%. It was found in all the samples they took of Neanderthal DNA, and in about 30% of samples from people of European and Asian origin.

The genetic region involved affects the body’s immune response to RNA viruses such as the coronavirus, as well as West Nile virus and hepatitis C virus, the researchers reported Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences…

The finding could help explain why Black patients are so much more likely to suffer severe coronavirus disease. Neanderthals, who went extinct about 40,000 years ago, lived alongside and sometimes interbred with modern humans in Europe and Asia but not in Africa, and people of purely African descent do not carry Neanderthal DNA. Studies estimate that about 2% of DNA in people of European and Asian descent can be traced back to Neanderthals.

RTFA. Details on the research. And it’s certainly interesting to our household. Genetic analysis shows my wife with about 2% Neanderthal DNA. I’m actually at about 3%.

Nine of the world’s largest tech firms ain’t anywhere near Silicon Valley


FoxConn data centers

China is now home to nine of the world’s largest public tech companies in terms of market value. They include Alibaba, Tencent, Ant Financial, Baidu, Xiaomi, Didi Chuxing, JD.com, Meituan-Dianping, and Toutiao.

With well over a billion citizens and an ever-growing market, China’s rise in the tech market is understandable. Compared to the United States, the Asian country is outpacing, in leaps and bounds, the number of degrees awarded in science and engineering. This highly skilled labor force is paying off in China’s tech world and its expansion.

Just five years ago the Asian giant had only two of the world’s biggest public tech companies in market value. The United States boasted nine of the largest.

I know all of the rationales Americans – more than any Westerners outside of the UK – roll out to disparage faster and more dynamic growth in Asian countries. I worked for American and British firms sourced significantly from Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China over a few decades. Some of the crap excuses worked for a few years; but, in every case, the reason those producers ran right past their Anglo-American counterparts was higher standards, a willingness to invest time and money in education, trained staff to accomplish product development and production more efficiently.

The single best example, nowadays, would be FoxConn – a Taiwan company mostly manufacturing in Mainland China. Ask anyone with knowledge of American manufacturing and assembly experience how long it takes to completely switchover a plant from one product line to another? You’ll get an answer measured in weeks. FoxConn takes hours, perhaps a couple of days. Because they will pay 1500 process engineers to takeover that plant floor and rollout a changeover in that time frame. I don’t know any American firms that can scrape together that many spare engineering staff – or would.

And I don’t know of any state in the GOUSA that’s capable of or concerned about educating engineers or researchers ready to develop similar systems here in the US – or in the UK. Yes, cultures are different in many ways. But, I’m just offering real reasons why we don’t compete.

China’s “One Belt, One Road” project will profit most of Asia – and probably Europe


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China’s ambition to revive an ancient trading route stretching from Asia to Europe could leave an economic legacy bigger than the Marshall Plan or the European Union’s enlargement, according to a new analysis.

Dubbed ‘One Belt, One Road,’ the plan to build rail, highways and ports will embolden China’s soft power status by spreading economic prosperity during a time of heightened political uncertainty in both the U.S. and EU, according to Stephen L. Jen, the chief executive officer at Eurizon SLJ Capital Ltd., who estimates a value of $1.4 trillion for the project.

It will also boost trading links and help internationalize the yuan as banks open branches along the route…

“This is a quintessential example of a geopolitical event that will likely be consequential for the global economy and the balance of political power in the long run,” said Jen, a former International Monetary Fund economist.

Reaching from east to west, the Silk Road Economic Belt will extend to Europe through Central Asia and the Maritime Silk Road will link sea lanes to Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa [and, eventually, to The Netherlands].

While China’s authorities aren’t calling their Silk Road a new Marshall Plan, that’s not stopping comparisons with the U.S. effort to rebuild Western Europe after World War II.

With the potential to touch on 64 countries, 4.4 billion people and around 40 percent of the global economy, Jen estimates that the One Belt One Road project will be 12 times bigger in absolute dollar terms than the Marshall Plan. China may spend as much as 9 percent of gross domestic product — about double the U.S.’s boost to post-war Europe in those terms.

…There’s no guarantee that potential recipient nations will put their hand up for the aid…Still, at least China has a plan.

“The fact that this is a 30-40 year plan is remarkable as China is the only country with any long-term development plan, and this underscores the policy long-termism in China, in contrast to the dominance of policy short-termism in much of the West,” said Jen.

Sitting in a state – in a country – politically incapable of repairing crumbling infrastructure much less building new, I can only sit and wonder what it might feel like to watch any level of government demonstrate sufficient care and willingness to plan decades ahead.

New Asian infrastructure development bank approves their first loans

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A new Chinese-led development bank has approved its first loans and expects to suffer no impact from Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, the bank’s president said Saturday at its first annual meeting.

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, launched in January with 57 member governments, already has received expressions of interest from possible additional members, said Jin Liqun at a news conference. He said observers from 24 other nations attended the meeting.

The bank reflects China’s rapidly growing financial might and desire for a bigger voice in global finance, which is dominated by the United States and Europe.

Despite initial U.S. opposition, the AIIB attracted unexpectedly wide support from American allies including Britain, France, Australia and South Korea.

Washington and Japan have refrained from seeking membership…

No doubt Obama is happy at least one client state is obedient.

The bank’s board approved a total of $509 million in loans Friday for a power project in Bangladesh, slum-upgrading in Indonesia and road-building in Pakistan and Tajikistan, according to Jin, a former chairman of China’s sovereign wealth fund…

China, the world’s second-largest economy, has the bank’s biggest voting stake with 26 percent of shares and has pledged to put up most of its initial $50 billion in capital but has no veto power. India has the second-largest voting stake at 7.5 percent and Russia is third with 5.9 percent.

“AIIB is owned by all its members,” said Jin. “This is not China’s bank.”

China has chosen not to borrow from the AIIB to avoid “crowding out” other borrowers but might do so in “special cases,” Jin said…

The AIIB initially was seen as a potential rival to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank…But the Asian bank forged cooperative relations with them and pledged to adhere to global standards.

In a reflection of that cooperation, the World Bank contributed to the Indonesia project. Money for the Pakistan project also came from the ADB and the British government. The Tajikistan project is co-financed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Golly. Cooperation working somewhere. Which is not a surprise, of course, unless all your news only comes from sources inside the Beltway around Washington, DC.

Asia is the new Europe

Can you visualize how the world economy has changed over the last 35 years?

Unless you’re a macroeconomist, that’s probably a pretty difficult task. But the 20-second video below will give you some quick insight. Howmuch.net, a website that helps people calculate the cost of doing home repairs, created this super-short and simple guide to understanding how the world has changed over the last 35 years…

You can see that the U.S. economy remains pretty dominant throughout, though its size as a proportion of the global economy rises and falls. It grew in relative terms through 1985, then shrunk through 1995, then grew again through 2002, then contracted until about 2009. Overall, the U.S. economy went from 25.7 percent of global Gross Domestic Product in 1980 to 22.5 percent in 2014…

Overall the biggest change that the graphic shows is probably the rise of Asia. In 1980, Asia accounted for about 20 percent of global economic activity, and Europe accounted for 32 percent, the site says. By 2012, those positions were reversed.

Our economic inertia becomes ennui. Not that politics as indoor sport inside the Beltway in Washington DC will change that for the better.

Uncle Sugar’s try to stop China-sponsored AIIB was a fiasco and a failure


Click to enlarge — No one from the GOUSA in this photo

The Obama administration’s vain attempt to prevent allies from joining China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is feeding a growing perception that U.S. influence in Asia is declining and America is losing its 70-year grip on global economic institutions…

The administration’s campaign against China’s new investment bank stands in contrast to its push for greater regional leadership to battle Islamic extremists, remedy climate change and address other global issues. And while administration officials argue that domestic economic realities limit America’s ability to police the world, they’re trying to resist the reality of China’s growing economic clout, said a U.S. official who requested anonymity to speak frankly.

The U.S. “knows only too well that China is rising and that it wants to reshape the global order, and it is trying to prevent this from happening.” said Tom Miller, senior Asia analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics…

That’s leaving the U.S. increasingly isolated.

Although the administration has refused to join the $100 billion AIIB and urged others to follow suit, allies such as Australia, the U.K., South Korea, Germany and France are among the more than 40 countries that have joined the new bank, which will fund infrastructure in Asia and be fully established by year’s end…

The most damaging part of this at the moment is the reaction of the allies; it’s a real snubbing,” said Mathew Burrows, a former U.S. intelligence analyst who’s now director of the Strategic Foresight Initiative at the Atlantic Council, a Washington policy group. “I think we fumbled badly, but I’m not convinced that there was any way to get the Chinese to back down on this institution.”

RTFA for lots more fact and forecasting – though it tag ends with shortsighted foolishness from a White House flunky.

The body of the article takes you all the way back to the end of World war 2 and US assumption of the mantle of Imperial Superpower. For all the factors involved in the end of the Cold War – our military-industrial complex presumed nothing else in the world was changing. And that was a critical financial mistake. For the fact remains that bodies like the IMF so long dominated by American political capital can’t even get minimal reforms past Congressional reactionaries – with or without Obama’s leadership. And probably would have been too late, anyway.

The rest of the world has already noted the change even if our tame media won’t say so without permission.

Uncle Sugar continues to fall behind in affordable broadband

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America’s slow and expensive Internet is more than just an annoyance for people trying to watch “Happy Gilmore” on Netflix. Largely a consequence of monopoly providers, the sluggish service could have long-term economic consequences for American competitiveness.

Downloading a high-definition movie takes about seven seconds in Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Zurich, Bucharest and Paris, and people pay as little as $30 a month for that connection. In Los Angeles, New York and Washington, downloading the same movie takes 1.4 minutes for people with the fastest Internet available, and they pay $300 a month for the privilege, according to The Cost of Connectivity, a report published Thursday by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

The report compares Internet access in big American cities with access in Europe and Asia. Some surprising smaller American cities — Chattanooga, Tenn.; Kansas City (in both Kansas and Missouri); Lafayette, La.; and Bristol, Va. — tied for speed with the biggest cities abroad. In each, the high-speed Internet provider is not one of the big cable or phone companies that provide Internet to most of the United States, but a city-run network or start-up service.

The reason the United States lags many countries in both speed and affordability, according to people who study the issue, has nothing to do with technology. Instead, it is an economic policy problem — the lack of competition in the broadband industry…

For relatively high-speed Internet at 25 megabits per second, 75 percent of homes have one option at most, according to the Federal Communications Commission — usually Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T or Verizon. It’s an issue anyone who has shopped for Internet knows well, and it is even worse for people who live in rural areas. It matters not just for entertainment; an Internet connection is necessary for people to find and perform jobs, and to do new things in areas like medicine and education.

In many parts of Europe, the government tries to foster competition by requiring that the companies that own the pipes carrying broadband to people’s homes lease space in their pipes to rival companies. (That policy is based on the work of Jean Tirole, who won the Nobel Prize in economics this month in part for his work on regulation and communications networks.)

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission in 2002 reclassified high-speed Internet access as an information service, which is unregulated, rather than as telecommunications, which is regulated. Its hope was that Internet providers would compete with one another to provide the best networks. That didn’t happen. The result has been that they have mostly stayed out of one another’s markets.

Unforeseen consequences is often the excuse offered by the corporate pimps in government. Whether getting direct kickbacks – “campaign donations” – or being obedient little trolls while awaiting the promised job opening in private industry, ain’t much to be gained by working on behalf of us ordinary working folks.

New America’s ranking of cities by average speed for broadband priced between $35 and $50 a month, the top three cities, Seoul, Hong Kong and Paris, offered speeds 10 times faster than the United States cities. In my neck of the prairie I have the choice of two of the national ISP’s. One gets me 26mbps download max for $75 all in. Their “competitor” charges about half that amount – for 7mbps.

Competition American style.

Thanks, Mike

Dinosaur known as the Chicken from Hell!


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If you’re a dinosaur with a nickname as funky as “the chicken from hell,” you had better be able to back it up…A dinosaur called Anzu wyliei that scientists identified on Wednesday from fossils found in North Dakota and South Dakota does just that.

It had a head shaped like a bird’s, a toothless beak, an odd crest on its cranium, hands with big sharp claws, long legs for fast running and was probably covered in feathers.

It is the largest North American example of a type of bird-like dinosaur well known from Asia.

Its extensive remains offer a detailed picture of the North American branch of these dinosaurs that had remained mysterious since their first bones were found about a century ago, the scientists said.

What would someone think if they encountered this creature that lived 66 million years ago?…”I don’t know whether they would scream and run away, or laugh, because it is just an absurd-looking monster chicken,” said University of Utah paleontologist Emma Schachner, one of the researchers.

Anzu wyliei measured about 11 feet long, 5 feet tall at the hip and weighed about 440 to 660 pounds (200 to 300 kg), the researchers said…

Scientists think birds arose much earlier from small feathered dinosaurs. The earliest known bird is 150 million years old.

This dinosaur’s bird-like traits included a beak, hollow leg bones and air spaces in its backbone, paleontologist said Hans-Dieter Sues of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.

Its bizarre head crest resembled that of the cassowary, a flightless bird native to Australia and New Guinea.

Mostly dark meat, I hope.

Thanks, Mike

China planning a high-speed rail network to link Asia/Europe


The world’s fastest trains ready to roll — Click to enlarge

China is in negotiations to build a high-speed rail network to India and Europe that would make a trip from London to Beijing last just two days.

The network would begin in London and extend to India, Pakistan and Beijing. It could eventually carry passengers from on to Singapore, a trip that would last three days, according to project consultant Wang Mengshu, as reported in the Telegraph (UK).

A second line would extend from Beijing northward, through Russia to Germany, linking with the European railway system.

A third line would extend southward, connecting Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Malaysia…

“We are aiming for the trains to run almost as fast as aeroplanes,” said Mr Wang. “The best case scenario is that the three networks will be completed in a decade,” he added.

According to the Telegraph report, China is in negotiations with 17 nations for the massive project, which would effectively open the Central, East and Southeast Asia to Europe (and vice-versa).

In a way, it’s the Silk Road 2.0: the rail lines would allow China to transport raw materials more directly and efficiently.

According to the report, the system wasn’t China’s idea — it was the other nations, such as India. But it took Chinese know-how and tech to get it done.

China is in the midst of completing a $735.6 billion, five-year domestic railway expansion project consisting of almost 19,000 miles of new railways.

The nation unveiled the world’s fastest train, the Harmony Express, last year. The train has a top speed of almost 250 miles per hour, and will be used between the cities of Wuhan and Guangzhou.

High speed rail isn’t unique, nowadays. Except, of course, if a system was built in the United States. We’d rather wrestle with concrete highways especially as we let them fall apart from lack of maintenance.

We should be able to count on Republicans and Blue Dog Dems to stand around next to the last crumbling interchange and bridge complex and take credit for all the money they’ve saved taxpayers over the years. While food prices triple and our stature in the world of manufacturing moves to last place.

Logistics? Who cares in the GOUSA besides UPS?

Thanks, Mike