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Covid-19 - 2

The new paper in The Lancet showing that even asymptomatic Covid-19 infection causes lifetime sterility in both men and women will be a personal tragedy for many. But hopefully this effect will slow down population growth, and convince more people to get vaccinated.


Since I am neither a virologist nor an epidemiologist, people constantly ask me to explain various things about the Covid-19 pandemic. Recently the most puzzling thing for many has been the emergence of "new variants". So let me explain.Collapse )

Nagorny Karabakh: the background

I happened to travel extensively in Azerbaijan and Armenia just before the first Karabakh War started and when it was beginning, and even happened to take part in one of the first battles. So I am a bit familiar with the story. Here it is, in short.
1. Armenians have lived in these mountains for thousands of years. They call them Artsakh. The Azeri are a Turkic-speaking people who moved into the area when it was under Mongol, Persian and Turkish rule, and displaced Armenians from the fertile lowlands. This fact by itself doesn't mean that Armenian villagers have more rights to their lands than Azeris have to theirs (at least that's my opinion).
2. Before the Russian Revolution, Azerbaijan had a lot of Bolsheviks while Armenia hardly had any. So when Bolsheviks came to power they gave NK (which at the time had 97% Armenian population) to Azerbaijan as an autonomous republic within a republic. A strip of Azerbaijani land (Lachin Corridor) separated NK from Armenia.
3. Nagorny means "highland" or "montane" in Russian; Karabakh means "black garden" in Turkish and Azerbaijani. NK is incredibly scenic, almost entirely rural, and would be a tourist's dream. But throughout the Soviet years, it was the poorest part of Azerbaijan, and was heavily subsidized.
4. When Gorbachev came to power, NK ruling council petitioned Azerbaijan for full independence. Instead of thanking them and getting this financial burden off their hands, Azerbaijanis rioted, killing many Armenians living in Azerbaijan in a series of pogroms. After a few days of a particularly nasty pogrom in Baku (the capital), hundreds of thousands of Armenians fled the country; then Gorbachev belatedly sent in the military (in modern Azerbaijani history books this is described as an unprovoked military invasion).
5. A bloody war ensued. Both sides committed war crimes. Thousands of people were displaced; there are now virtually no Azeri people in Armenia and very few Armenians in Azerbaijan (where they used to have a large diaspora). It is estimated that 200,000 Azeri had to leave Armenia, and 800,000 Armenians had to leave Azerbaijan.
6. At that time the Lachin Corridor was mostly inhabited by Kurds. Although Kurds participated in the genocide of Armenians by Turks in the early 20th century, later Armenia became the most Kurd-friendly country, with the world's only Kurd university. This paid off when Lachin Kurds allowed Armenian troops to pass from Armenia to NK, which eventually led to Armenia winning the war against all odds in 1994. Armenia took control of virtually all NK and adjacent areas, some of them with mostly Azeri population that all became refugees.
7. For the last 26 years, NK is de-facto part of Armenia, but legally it's a self-proclaimed country not recognized by anybody (not even by Armenia), and still technically part of Azerbaijan. There's never been a peace treaty, only a ceasefire. Azerbaijan dynamited or burned numerous Armenian monuments in the country, including Julfa cemetery with thousands of beautifully engraved ancient tombstones. The version of history now taught in Azerbaijani schools is completely fake.
7. Ever since, Armenia has been a democracy while Azerbaijan is a typical post-Soviet dictatorship ruled by Aliev family. The Alievs are generally reasonable people and not particularly bloodthirsty compared to some other post-Soviet leaders, but it is still a dictatorship.
Azerbaijan has large (although increasingly depleted) oil reserves, so now its military budget is more or less equal to Armenia's entire GDP.
9. For 26 years since the war, both sides heavily overused militaristic propaganda. A rational solution would be for Armenia to return the areas that had mostly Azeri population prior to the war, and for Azerbaijan to recognize Armenian sovereignty over the rest of NK. But the people of the two countries now hate each other so much that their leaders can't make any major concessions; they became hostages of their own propaganda.
10. Turkey has always been firmly on Azeri side; Iran initially sided with Armenia but now has largely switched sides to placate its huge Azeri population. Russia has been selling lots of weapons to both sides the whole time, but now makes more money from sales to Azerbaijan because Armenia is part of a defensive pact with Russia and so gets a big discount. It is already clear that Russia has betrayed Armenia and will not honor the pact. (Everybody in Armenia thinks that Russia is actually on Azeri side; in Azerbaijan everybody considers Armenia a Russian puppet.) What it all means is that Armenia has no strong reliable allies except for large Armenian diaspora in the West.
11. Now Turkey suddenly pushed Azerbaijan into a major military conflict, either to improve Erdogan's support at home or to piss off Russia which Turkey is confronting in Syria and Libya. The situation doesn't look good for Armenia, but it has a lot more at stake (Turkey is quoting Hitler calling for "the final solution" of the conflict) and tends to be better at fighting; people of NK have a reputation for being particularly militant. So even if Turkey-Azerbaijan alliance seems posed to win in case of an all-out war, it would be a very costly victory.
12. This is a stupid war that will benefit nobody. But if you live in a world ruled by dictators like Putin, Aliev and Erdogan, you get stupid bloody wars all the time.


I'll copy this here from my FB page for convenience:

Some people get offended when I say that all Republican voters (or Brexit voters, or Putin/Bolsonaro/Orban supporters, it's all the same) are idiots. You shouldn't generalize, they say. These critics just don't understand how those political movements operate. So let me explain.
Remember those stupid Nigerian spam letters? Everybody laughs at them. "How can anybody be stupid enough to get scammed like that?" Well, these letters are stupid by design. If you answer them, a human operator has to handle you, and he doesn't want to waste his time on you if you are not stupid enough to send him your money as the scam takes its course.
Republicans, Brexiteers, Putin etc. work the same way. They lie all the time, constantly change their stories as their lies become exposed, and regularly sacrifice unpopular categories of people (gays, Blacks, immigrants) to stay afloat. So they need a support base with (a) low intelligence, (b) no long-term memory, and (c) hate-based view of the world.
This is why their recruiting process is designed to pre-select hateful idiots. You have to be remarkably stupid to believe that a small government can do its job better than a big one, that you'll have a better life if billionaires don't pay taxes, that Hillary ran a child prostitution ring through a pizza joint, or that all your problems will be solved if children crossing the border will be put in cages and sold for adoption. You have to be dumb like a barnacle to think that NATO is the main threat to Russia, that invading Ukraine, Syria etc. would somehow make life better for most Russians, or that Europe is a sesspool where any visitor risks either being raped by marauding Muslim immigrants or being forcibly infected with homosexuality.
I hope now you understand why I am right when I mention that all Republican voters, Brexit supporters etc. are hateful idiots. They were pre-selected under these criteria, that's all.