One of the most distinctive masks worn during the Carnival of Venice is “Il Medico della Peste,” or “The Plague Doctor.” But the distinctive bone-white mask and black clothing was actually the 17th century equivalent of a biocontainment suit. Albeit one based on very shaky science.
So what is wrong with listening to the drumbeat, to the endless calls to protect ourselves against the coming plague – against Ebola from Africa and bird flu from Asia? Is it possible that a huge pandemic could erupt from some as-yet unknown pathogen? Is apocalypse lurking out there, among rats or monkeys, or bats or flying squirrels or birds? The Black Death shows that you can never say never: there might be an animal pathogen out there that, under the right circumstances, can evolve and maintain both virulence and transmissibility among humans as well as animals.
Plague is a new social networking app that spreads information like a contagious disease. You see a post from someone who is geographically close to you. Swipe up to spread it to the users nearest to you, swipe down to not share it. The more fun part is posting your own content and watching it travel around globe. These articles explain with more detail.
Alkebu-lan 1260 AH (higher resolution) is an alternative history map of Africa in AD 1844, taking as its point of departure from our timeline an even deadlier medieval Black Death, killing almost all Europeans. It is made by Swedish artist Nikolaj Cyon, who explains some of his sources and thinking in this Prezi presentation. Cyon's thinking about alternative history is partly inspired by playing the computer game Civilization, and he has made a mod where you can play the medieval kingdom of Kongo
Alison Atkin is a Ph.D. student in osteoarchaeology at the University of Sheffield, studying plague cemeteries. Her research is presented in this quirky, hand-drawn poster. Don't miss GIFs of the interactive panels at her blog, Deathsplanation.
Research on DNA extracted from the skulls of Black Death victims has revealed that the plague was not spread by rat fleas after all, and instead must have been airborne. [more inside]
A month after its release, Naughty Dog's sweeping interactive epic The Last of Us is being hailed as one of the best games of all time, with perfect scores even from notoriously demanding critics. Inspired by an eerily beautiful segment from the BBC's Planet Earth, the game portrays an America twenty years after a pandemic of the zombiefying Cordyceps fungus (previously), leaving behind lush wastelands of elegant decay teeming with monsters and beset by vicious bandits, a brutal military, and the revolutionary Fireflies. Into this bleak vision of desperate violence journey Joel, a gruffly stoic Texan with a painful past, and his ward Ellie, a precocious teenager who may hold the key to mankind's future. Boasting tense, immersive gameplay, compelling performances from a diverse cast, a movingly minimalist score from Oscar-winning Gustavo Santaolalla, and an array of influences from Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, it's already being slotted alongside BioShock Infinite and Half-Life 2 as one of modern gaming's crowning achievements. And while it's hard to disentangle plot from action, you don't have to buy a PS3 to experience it -- YouTube offers many filmic edits of the game, including this three-hour version of all relevant passages. And don't miss the 84-minute documentary exploring every facet of its production. [more inside]
It's debatable whether the troubled World War Z signals the end of the ongoing zombie craze, but the film that started it all is much more clear: Danny Boyle's bleak, artful cult horror-drama 28 Days Later, which saw its US premiere ten years ago this weekend. From its iconic opening shots of an eerily abandoned London (set to Godspeed You! Black Emperor's brooding post-rock epic "East Hastings") to the frenzied chaos of its climax, Boyle's film -- a dark yet humanist tale of a world eviscerated by a frighteningly contagious epidemic of murderous rage -- reinvented and reinvigorated the genre that Romero built (though many insist its rabid, sprinting berserkers don't really count). And while sequel 28 Weeks Later with its heavyhanded Iraq War allusions failed to live up to the original (despite boasting one of the most viscerally terrifying opening sequences in modern horror), and 28 Months looks increasingly unlikely, there remains a small universe of side content from the film, including music, short films, comics, and inspired-by games. [more inside]
In 2003, the BBC reported that a population explosion of Great Gerbils had destroyed more than 4 million hectares of grasslands in China's north-western Xinjiang region -- an area about the size of Switzerland. By 2005 the damage covered 5 million hectares, and the Xinjuang Regional Headquarters for Controlling Locusts and Rodents were reported to be breeding and attracting pairs of golden eagles to curb the gerbil population. So McSweeney's Joshuah Bearman was assigned to the story. His report: An Investigation Into Xinjiang's Growing Swarm of Great Gerbils, Which May or May Not be Locked in a Death-Struggle With the Golden Eagle, With Important Parallels and/or Implications Regarding Koala Bears, The Pied Piper, Spongmonkeys, Cane Toads, Black Death, [and] Text-Messaging..
Tuberculosis, which kills around 1,000 people a day in India, has acquired a deadlier edge. Forty years ago, the world thought it had conquered TB. [more inside]
"There is a parallel between what amphibian taxonomists do these days and what homicide detectives do. Both arrive at scenes of mayhem. Maybe they solve the crime, but they are powerless to undo it." A fungal plague is killing the world's amphibians. Hundreds of species are already gone. There is no vaccine and no cure. There is, however, an ark.
DNA from the teeth of medival corpses confirm that the Black Death was caused by Yersinia pestis. [more inside]
"One must be very naïve or dishonest to imagine that men choose their pants independently of their situation."
Demon Denim. Feeding off a earlier column in the WSJ by Daniel Akst, who wrote, "no fabric has ever been so insidiously effective at undermining national discipline," conservative columnist George Will takes up the (denim-free) banner in the crusade to rid America of "the plague of that ubiquitous fabric, which is symptomatic of deep disorders in the national psyche."
Scientists Discover 21st Century Plague? Bartonella bacteria, spread by the brown rat, Europe's largest and most common rodent, are considered emerging zoonotic pathogens because they have the potential to transmit human disease worldwide, including heart disease and nervous system infections. [more inside]
Retrospectacle on the Plague. Shelley Batts is a neuroscience PhD candidate who writes the great blog Retrospectacle [Prev]. She's recently posted a series on the bubonic plague: It's real and perceived causes (1 2), the bizarre medical garb doctors used, and modern cases of Yersinia pestis* infection in the U.S. and the world.
They bite, they stain, they squeak, they pheromone. Looks like they've taken Brixton. Collect them up and send them to the Professor, or let the Harlequin Survey know. Here's what they look like and where they came from. Dammit, now we've got your ladybugs.
"Virtual Virus Sheds Light on Real-Life Behavior." A researcher at Tufts University's Center for the Modelling of Infectious Diseases, Dr. Nina Fefferman, is studying the behavior of World Of Warcraft players during the recent plague that broke out in Ironforge (discussed on Metafilter here.) But Dr. Fefferman is not the first academic to study MMORPGs seriously. Edward Castronova, an economist, arguably pioneered the field with his 2001 paper Virtual Worlds, in which he argues that the economy in Everquest produced a GNP per capita somewhere between that of Russia and Bulgaria. (He has followed up that paper with many more on similar subjects.)
Thomas Campbell Butler at 63 years of age, is completing the 1st year of a 2-year sentence in federal prison, following an investigation and trial that was initiated after he voluntarily reported that he believed vials containing _Yersinia pestis_ were missing from his laboratory at Texas Tech University.
What do HIV, breast cancer, dental plaque, and stem cells all have in common? Why, you can wear them! as a tie, a lovely scarf, or even underwear! The Infectious Awearables collection will definitely be catching...spreading like an epidemic...infectious and charming! (via Blue's News)
Bubonic plague strikes again... It seems that bubonic plague has never actually gone away with reports of occurences in Madagascar, Bolivia and now it seems, from New Mexico. Given that the disease has been diagnosed and treated outside of the host cities in the cases of the Bolivian woman and the couple in New York, I think this highlights how diseases we tend to classify as third world health problems, are merely a plane ride away from causing an outbreak here.
Mum, I’m playing a syphilitic Hackney whore being impassively tupped by a boil-faced plague-pit digger in the desperate belief that my pox will cure his plague
Mum, I’m playing a syphilitic Hackney whore being impassively tupped by a boil-faced plague-pit digger in the desperate belief that my pox will cure his plague If you didn't have the chance to see the Channel 4 programme about the Black Death don't worry, this article is much more entertaining.
Black Death Decoded: the BBC is reporting that scientists have decoded the genetic structure of the bacterium responsible for the plague. More information is available here. Meanwhile Harvard is working on an anthrax antidote.
Dot-Com Deaths = Black Plague?
Toronto Star Internet columnist K.K. Campbell takes a look at the startling simularities of the dot-com deaths and the black plague."The Dot-Com Death resulted primarily from a little parasite (Internet hypesters, Bombasticus bullroaricus) carried on the body of another parasite (Wall Street IPO underwriters, Securitus scammus maximus) on corporate stocks moving along business capital routes."
Synthetic virus nearing reality Scientists will have the technology to create a wholly artificial virus within the next five years, a major conference in the US has been told. This is the quote I like best... Prof Hutchinson added: "Am I worried about a synthesised virus? No, you only worry about it if someone does it out of malicious motives."
In 1545 and 1576, plagues swept across the Yucatan peninsual in Mexico and killed 17 million people, including 80 percent of the native Indians. The traditional view is that American Indians succumbed to European diseases to which they had no natural resistance. A new and subtle theory says that the plagues were not imported but were in fact of local origin. It doesn't let the Europeans off the hook though.