Saturday, May 24, 2003

I wonder if Natalie has any idea what this means?

This is undoubtedly the strangest Google search to ever end up here.

Update: No, I certainly don't know what it means. That was why I was asking.
Cricketing Update

New Zealand ended up winning the one day tournament in Sri Lanka. In the final against Pakistan, the Pakistanis scored 198 thanks to 70 not out from Younis Khan. This would not normally be a good score, but by the standards of this tournament it is okay. New Zealand appeared to be scoring the runs without the slightest difficulty when they were 2/151 with Fleming on 65 and Styris on 22, but both batsmen were suddenly out and Pakistan looked to once again have a chance. Wickets continued to fall as the match went on, but Pakistan couldn't quite take them fast enough. New Zealand won the match by scoring 6/200 off 45.2 overs, in the end a comfortable win, to take the tournament.

This is only the second time in their history that New Zealand have won a one day tournament of three sides or more. Part of the reason for this is that New Zealand tend not to hold such tournaments at home, which is not their faul, but it is also that they haven't always had the best cricket team in the world. My compliments on their effort in this tournament. They played good cricket against good opposition.

All around, this was a pretty good tour of Sri Lanka for New Zealand, although undoubtedly they would have preferred to get a result in the test series.

In the first test between Zimbabwe and England, England scored a perfectly fine 472 in their first innings, largely thanks to 137 to Mark Butcher and 69 to debutante Anthony McGrath, who looked absolutely delighted when interviewed after the innings. Zimbabwe were then bowled out for a deeply unimpressive 147. What was encouraging for England was the bowling. Hoggard bowled extremely well for 3/24 and Anderson took 5/73 on debut, including two wickets off successive balls (both bowled), and both bowlers were very accurate. Four of Anderson's five wickets were out bowled, and so far it's a very impressive debut. Following on in their second innings, Zimbabwe are doing better at 1/62, but it doesn't matter now. Unless there is a lot of rain (possible but not likely) the match is lost.

Finally, Australia are today playing the fourth one day international against the West Indies in Trinidad. Michael Clarke has been retained after his 75 in St Lucia the other day. Australia won the toss and batted, and are off to a great start. At present, Hayden has 40 and Gilchrist 26, and Australia are 0/72 off 16.2 overs.

Update: Australia won that one day international, thanks to another unbeaten half century from Michael Clarke. Just when we thought that Australia did have a chance of a clean sweep in the series after all, the West Indian batting came out firing the next day. Thanks to a fast 80 from Brian Lara and 79 from Wavell Hinds, the West Indies ended up with 5/290 off their 50 overs. This was too much for the Australians, who kept losing wickets, were never quite able to keep up with the runrate, despite an excellent 77 from Andrew Symonds (who seems a completely different player to the one he was before the World Cup). Australia ended up with 9/251 off their 50 overs and lost by 39 runs. The Australian winning streak ended, but at an still amazing 21 matches.

On the other hand, in the England v Zimbabwe test, Zimbabwe collapsed feebly soon after I wrote what I did, being bowled out for 233 in their second innings to lose by an innings and 92 runs. Butcher somehow took four wickets and McGrath three. Neither would be considered test standard bowlers by most people, so Zimbabwe were pretty pitiful. Still, credit to England, who did play quite well in this match.
A follow up observation

Natalie Solent observes the following

I don't really think that there have been any Arabs or Ashanti for many decades who wouldn't recognise a pair of trousers. Who is there left? A few tribes in Papua New Guinea, perhaps. About ten to fifteen years ago I saw a film of such a tribe being contacted for the first time, but I haven't heard of any such event since then. In our lifetimes the world finally did or will become one. Future historians will be able to state the exact day it happened.

Guns, Germs and Steel author Jared Diamond told a story in one of his other books about setting out to the most remote corner of some Pacific island or other, to meet what he thought were the most isolated people in the country, and possibly in the world. After a couple of days of pushing through dense jungle, he reached his destination, and was greeted warmly by a local. Diamond's sense of achievement at reaching this place was dampened somewhat by the fact that the person who greeted him was wearing a University of Wisconsin sweatshirt.

I doubt there are any people at this point who have had no contact with civilization. For one thing, we simply know so much more about the surface of the earth than we did even 15 years ago. Everything inch of the earth's surface is photographed and mapped in detail. This is a new condition. Until 10 to 15 years ago, once in a while we heard stories about contact between populations of people who had been cut off from civilization for a while and it looked like a first contact, but even in these cases, investigations would often suggest that the true nature of the encounter was blurrier. It would turn out that someone had left the tribe in question 40 years ago and came back seven years later with stories of civilization, or similar. People are too determined to trade with one another and to explore to stay cut off for long, unless there are truly dramatic geographical barriers in the way. I am not sure we will ever know the exact day when we all became one, because I think the process was more gradual than sudden.

It seems that the last substantial population of people to have been cut off from the rest of the world were the highland peoples of New Guinea, of who the outside world was completely unaware until the 1930s. This was a case when there were dramatic geographical barriers. There may have been small isolated groups after that, but World War II pretty much spelled the end even for these, I suspect.

Other gigs

I have a brief piece over at Samizdata on Zimbabwe and the Henry Olonga affair.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

The next Australian election

Please note that this speculation as to when the next Australian election will occur and how involves a fairly lengthy discussion of Australian constitutional and electoral law. Non-Australian readers may not be all that interested. Or maybe they will be. It depends on the individual.And yes, I am continuing to redefine "light blogging"

Ken Parish has some thoughts on an article by Ross Gittins about the timing of the next Australian federal election. Gittin claims that the next election will likely be a double dissolution, and that this is likely to be held in the second half of 2004. Ken agrees that a double dissolution is likely, but disagrees about the timing, partly for pragmatic legal reasons, partly for reasons concerning the dates in which a double dissolution can legally occur.

I actually agree with Gittins rather than Parish, but before I get to that, let's answer the question "What is a double dissolution?".

Well, as I have mentioned before, the Australian senate is one of the most powerful upper houses in the world. Senators are elected to six year terms, and half of them are up for reelection every three years. It has the right to reject any piece of legislation, including money bills. When the constitution was being written in the 1890s, the question was much raised about what should be done to provide a solution if there was a deadlock between the houses. Perhaps appropriately, this was a subject of much disagreement between various parties at the constitutional conventions of the 1890s. The resulting compromise was section 57 of the Australian constitution, which essentially says the following

If a bill is rejected by the senate, and the same bill (with or without amendments) is rejected again three months later, then the Prime Minister may call an election of both houses in their entirety - that is the whole House of Representatives and the whole Senate (rather than the normal half-senate) are up for re-election at once. (Both houses are dissolved: hence a double dissolution). If the new senate rejects the bill again then a joint sitting of both houses together may be convened, and if a majority of all the members of both houses together vote in favour of the bill, the legislation can come into force.

(Earlier in the constitutional conventions, a proposal that came close to being enacted was that in the event of a deadlock between the houses, a referendum should be held on the specific law, and that if voters were in favour of the law it should be enacted. However, the final convention ultimately decided on the version of section 57 we ended up with. However, some state constitutions (eg that of NSW) allow laws to be decided on by referendum in this way).

As the Senate has half as many members as the House of Representatives, and as the House of Representatives is elected on a single member constituency base and the Senate is elected using proportional representation, majorities are generally much larger in the House of Representatives than in the senate, and the government usually has enough votes to control a majority in a joint sitting. (For instance, at present, the numbers would be Government (Lib/Nat/CLP) 117, Oposition (ALP) 92, Other 17, meaning that the government would have a majority of at least 8 in such a vote. Opinion polls suggest that the government's majority would increase if an election was held now).

No government in more than 20 years has had a majority of the senate in its own right, and therefore the parties have had to negotiate with the minor parties (normally the left of centre Australian Democrats, although this party has now more or less self destructed). This was less of a problem for the Labor governments of 1983 to 1996 than it has been for the conservative (Liberal Party) government under PM John Howard that has been in power since 1996. Howard has still managed to get most of his legislative passed, but at times considerable compromise has been necessary. (For instance the consumption tax isn't quite as broad as Howard would have liked, and the government has been unable to get legislation through the senate to privatise the 51% of telecommunications company Telstra that is still government owned).

But, as Ross Gittins mentioned in that article Ken linked to, the policies of the parties appear to have diverged sharply in recent months. The government has higher education and healthcare reforms it wants to pass, it would seem that it would like to cut taxes some more (which would hopefully include a cut in the ludicrous 48.5% top marginal rate), and the government would like to sell remainder of Telstra. The government appears to be building up a stockpile of legislation that can be used as the trigger for a double dissolution and the application of section 57 above. I am sure that PM Howard feels that this is his chance to have a final big legislative impact before retiring, which it seems likely he will do within three or four years, although he clearly isn't going to retire immediately.

Now, we get to the question of the timing of this double dissolution. The various possible timetables for the next federal election have been summarised in this nice little note from the parliamentary library. The pertinent details are that when a double dissolution is held, the following half senate election is due a maximum of three years subsequent to the July 1 that occurs before the double dissolution, and in order that the results be declared so that the new senators can take their seats on that day, in practice the election must be held by mid May. Therefore if a double dissolution occurs after July 1, 2003, and before July 1, 2004, the election after that (which would almost certainly include a House of Representatives election at the same time), must be held by 27 May 2006. On the other hand, if a double dissolution took place after July 1, 2004, the next election would not be due until 2 June 2007. (These dates are based on the requirement that the results be declared in time for the new senators to take their seats on July 1, the electoral commission's present claim that it can declare the results within four weeks, and the fact that the election must be held on a Saturday.).

However, there is another complication. A double dissolution must take place no less than six months before the expiration of the House of Representatives. This means that the double dissolution must occur by 11 August 2004. Ken argued that this means that there would only be a very short windown between July 1 and 11 August on which a double dissolution election could be held "in the second half of next year". However, as I pointed out in his comment section and he referred to in an update to his post, the constitution says that the dissolution must occur more than six months before expiry, but doesn't say anything about the timing of the election (other than that parliament must meet at least once every twelve months, implying that the election must occur within about eleven months). The relevant piece of law is actually the Commonwealth Electoral Act, which essentially says that the election must occur not less than 33 days and not more than 68 days after the dissolution, with the added proviso that the election must take place on a Saturday. This means that the last possible date for an election after a double dissolution next year is in fact October 16, giving an ample window in the second half of the year during which the election could be held.

Essentially, Howard has 3 options. Either

(1) He holds a double dissolution before July 1, 2004, in which case the election after that must be held by 27 May 2006

(2) He holds a double dissolution between July 1, 2004 and October 16, 2004, in which case the election after that must be held by 2 June 2007.

(3) He holds a conventional House of Representatives and half senate election. The latest date on which this can be held is 16 April 2005. (This is later than most people realise)

If Howard goes for option 1, and holds a double dissolution before the middle of next year, he extends his time in office by only thirteen months over what it could be if he didn't hold an election at all. Politicians are very concerned with how long they can stay in office, and do not like having to fight more elections than they really need to. Purely from the point of staying in power, this is taking a lot of risk for a mere extra 13 months, even if it does give you the ability to enact a lot of legislation. In addition, assuming Howard was to go to the polls in December 2003, this election would only be two years after the previous one, and the one after that would only be (at the latest) two years and five months after that. The Australian electorate does not like early elections. Having two consecutive terms of two years or just over would not make the voters happy. (The electorate on the whole does not understand the intricacies of double dissolutions and electoral timetables, but does understand that it is supposed to have an election every three years. The Hawke government suffered quite a bit in 1984 from being perceived as going to the electorate too early, even though this was mostly the fault of the previous Fraser government, that called a double dissolution in March 1983). Of course, if John Howard is intending to retire, then this might end up being Peter Costello's problem rather than his.

On the other hand, if the double dissolution election is held in September 2004, then it will appear to the electorate that Howard has gone very close to his full term (2 years and nine months). The election following that would be in May 2007, and we are again fairly close to a full term (2 years and eight months). The potential electoral damage is much smaller. The party spends less time actually fighting elections.

Simply, it is going to take at least until December 2003 before Howard has all his triggers for a double dissolution ready. Holding the dissolution then would lead to all the problems above. Wait another six months until the start of July, and all these problems go away. The temptation to wait is likely to be very strong, because there is a lot to be gained by waiting. Also, the longer we wait, larger the pile of legislation that can be built up, and the more the senate can be demonised for its obstruction. (Plus there is that fact that Ross Gittins is known to be quite well connected. He probably does know what people in the government are saying).

Of course, if the electoral mood looks like changing, then Howard might jump if he thinks he can win and doesn't think he can win later. However, at the moment, this does not look likely to me. The opposition looks hopeless, and I think it is pretty certain to stay hopeless for at least another year.

I could of course be wrong. The only person who knows what John Howard is thinking is John Howard. (Well, maybe also Janette). I'd still be willing to bet Ken a beer that the election occurs after July 1, 2004.

Update: I have changed a couple of approximate dates to exact dates in the above in order to be internally consistent, as I was previously using approximate dates in one place and exact dates somewhere else.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Time Out

I am off to see The Matrix Reloaded. Annoyingly, the film is being released here a week after many other countries, so my Australian and American readers have probably seen it already. (Of course, Britain doesn't get Finding Nemo until October). My expectations are only moderate, as the consensus seems to be that the original was better. As I have written before I found the original entertaining but profoundly dumb.

Update: The film was once again profoundly dumb, and full of the sort of pseudo-intellectual dialogue that gives you that fabulous "That sounds really profound, and I am sure it is really deep if I understood it" feeling, when it actually makes no sense at all. The first 60 minutes or so were deeply tedious, but once they got into the Matrix itself things improved somewhat. The set piece with Keanu Reeves fighting 100 Hugo Weavings was kind of cool, and the freeway chase was technically stunning. However, the film had a very different look from the first one, particularly if you are Australia. In the first one, you go into the matrix, and you are obviously in Sydney. The locations are all familiar when you know the city. In the sequel, you go in the matrix and you are in an obviously computer generated (or at least very computer enhanced) city. The freeway chase is like one of those computer car racing games where you drive around a trace and computer generated scenery that bears some resemplance to that of the real world but isn't quite exact zooms past above the track. When we see Keanu flying above the city, it looks like a tremendously well rendered version of what someone who has been playing Sim-City for six months has ended up with. There actually are one or two buildings that are genuine Sydney landmarks if you look carefully, but they have been rearranged location wise, and a large amount of computer generated stuff placed all around them. It makes a certain amount of sense that a computer generated world would look like a computer generated world, but this is different from the first movie. The best thing is that the film is, in the end, a visual tour de force. A great amount of money has been spent on it, and the money is all up there on the screen. Still, it's a really dumb movie pretending to be a smart one. And that combination is always in many ways annoying.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Looking forward to Finding Nemo

Apple Computer cofounder Steve Jobs has an almost unique position in California. He is the only person who has managed to be both a Silicon valley mogul and a Hollywood mogul simultaneously with any level of success. Sure, there have been other companies that have attempted to play successfully in both markets, but it has generally ended in tears, or at least unhappiness. Steve Jobs is not Bill Gates, but Apple is still here after 25 years, and given that people have been predicting the company's imminent demise since 1979, that is no small achievement. And the film studio he owns, Pixar Animation Studios, is the finest producer of animated films for Hollywood by far.

I have written about Pixar before, but their record remains perfect. The have made four feature films (that have been distributed by Disney): Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, and Monsters Inc.. All four have been enormous hits, and critical favourites. By the standards of the film industry, four from four is extremely unusual, and this success has come at the same time as things at Disney's traditional animation business have gone badly wrong.

Pixar have a new film, Finding Nemo due to be released in the US at the end of next week. This has been less anticipated than their previous films, for an interesting reason. Their next film after this one is going to be The Incredibles, to be released late next year. This is to be directed by Brad Bird, who in 1999 made The Iron Giant, based on Ted Hughes' childrens book The Iron Man, before being hired by Pixar after Warners did a terrible job of promoting it and it subsequently flopped at the box office. However, it is considered something of a masterpiece by many people, and Bird (who also created the characters of Krusty the Clown and Sideshow Bob on The Simpsons is widely considered to be a genius in the animation world.

Some film geeks will say that The Incredibles is the film they are most looking forward to of any to be released in the next few years. For this reason, the release of Finding Nemo next week has almost seemed a bit lacklustre, even though nobody has heard anything bad about it.

Finally, Finding Nemo is being shown to critics. The advance word on it is actually that it is great, and Pixar have done it again. The film will be another enormous hit. Given the amazing technical quality of Pixar's films, and the great storytelling sense of their filmmakers, this will be pleasing. Hopefully the film will finally win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature for Pixar. Although the award has been going for two years now and Pixar are by far the best American studio making animated films, circumstances have meant they are yet to win. Surely for this year they will. And if The Incredibles is as good as everybody hopes, they will again for next year. This would only be fair.

Update: This review at the Chicago Tribune agrees with me about the golden age. And in fact, Finding Nemo seems to be the best reviewed film of the year, or close to it. (I can't think of anything else this well reviewed. Can anyone else?)
Brief cricket update

The one day tournament in Sri Lanka goes on. In the last two games, New Zealand beat Sri Lanka in a close but low scoring game, and Pakistan beat New Zealand in a slightly more convincing fashion, although it was still tight. This has been a tournament of low scores and ball dominating bat. I don't know why the pitch is like this, but this is something worth investigating. Despite all three teams ending up with a won two lost two record, Sri Lanka miss out and Pakistan play New Zealand in the final on Friday due to Sri Lanka having the least bonus points. I think the bonus point system as it presently operates is quite fair (unlike the different system that was in operation until a year ago), as it means that Sri Lanka miss out because their defeats were heavy and their wins narrow. However, it seems somewhat redundant. Net run rate indicates this already, and if there were no bonus points and net runrate was used, the result would have been the same: a New Zealand v Pakistan final. I prefer systems that are as simple as possible (as long as they are fair), and net runrate is fair. The bonus points are just an unnecessary complication.

Meanwhile, the third game bewtween Australia and the West Indies is today. Australia have rested Adam Gilchrist and Brett Lee, and Michael Clarke and Nathan Hauritz come into the side. After his fine debut in January, Clarke has had to wait for his second game for Australia. Hopefully his response to all this will be to have a big game.

The first test between Zimbabwe and England starts at Lord's tomorrow. Lots of people are expected to show up to demonstrate against the presence of the Zimbabwean team. My sympathies are with the protestors.

Update: Clarke did all right. Batting at five, he came in at 3/79 in the 17th over and stayed to the end, scoring 75 not out off 100 balls as Australia scored 4/258. He was involved in two big partnerships, one with Symonds and the other with Bevan. Clarke looked a little short of match practice, but played one or two lovely shots. It may have been that Australia didn't get as many runs in the last 15 overs as they should have, as Bevan and Clarke both found the gaps in the field for the ones and twos without scoring that many boundaries. It's probably best to have someone who can hit fours and sixes (eg Symonds) in at the end, and batting Clarke and Bevan at 5 and 6 may sometimes not lead to this. Still, some good bowling from Hauritz removed much of the top order, Lara got out bowled to a bad shot of Bichel, Clarke took 3 catches (ultimately ending up with the man of the match award and Australia won by 25 runs. That's 20 one day games in a row.
A sad day

The last ever episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer will be broadcast in the United States this evening. I have enjoyed this more than any other television program, ever. I have an essay in my head explaining why, but I don't presently have time to write it, and my beloved readers will thus have to wait a couple of weeks.

Monday, May 19, 2003

The blogosphere moves on

While some people in the world of journalism sneer at bloggers and their supposed lack of accountability, people from the blogging world continue to raise their profiles in the mainstream media. Still, I wonder what was in the other 7000 words that Mr Den Beste's editors at the Wall Street Journal cut out.

David and many commenters at Samizdata have responded actually already, but accountability and fact checking are a great strength of blogs, not a weakness. Even on a small blog like mine, I will be fact checked to death. Mistakes will not stand. People will suddenly appear in the comments box with amazing amounts of expertise. Sloppy thinking or intellectual dishonesty simply won't stand. Remarkably, such things as the Jayson Blair saga tend to suggest that these things are actually easier to get away with in the general media. In the blogosphere I can write all the inaccurate crap I like. However, if I do, people will firstly tell me it is inaccurate crap, and then they will stop reading it.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

Cricketing Update

The test series between the West Indies and Australia is over, but the scheduled series of seven one day internationals has now started, with a double header having been played in Kingston Jamaica over the weekend. Australia's one day specialists have flown in for the event, including Michael Bevan, Ian Harvey, and Andrew Symonds. The players in both the test and one day sides probably feel more like going home, as they have been playing more or less continuously since August last year.

The key question going in to the series was just how much longer Australia could keep up their winning streak. Prior to the series they had won 17 one day internationals in a row, easily a record. Quite frankly it seemed unlikely that Australia could win all seven games and keep the winning streak alive. However, if they could, their next three games after the series would be extremely easy games against Bangladesh in July, so that would probably mean extending the streak further to an astounding 27.

Australia probably still won't win all seven games in the series, but after two games this weekend, it still remains possible, because Australia won both games and the winning streak is now 19 games.

In Saturday's game, the Australian top order was only so-so, but 50s from Ponting and Lehmann had Australia at 5/183 off 39.4 overs. This is one of those positions from which things can rapidly go bad if you lose more wickets quickly, but which is fine if you don't. As it was, Australia didn't, and fine innings from one day specialists Bevan and Harvey led to Australia ending up with a very good 5/270 off the 50 overs. After a rain interruption, the target was revised to 208 off 37 overs. The West Indies were always a little behind the run rate required, and lost regular wickets, eventually scoring 8/205, losing by just two runs. This wasn't quite as close as it looked, because the West Indies needed about 14 off the last over and 7 off the last ball, and a couple of fours late in the final over when it was too late made the margin look better. A fairly comfortable win, although Australia were a little sloppy in the field. Harvey completed a fine all round performance by taking 3/37 off 7 overs.

Both Darren Lehmann and Ian Harvey had to withdraw from today's match with injuries. Many people would have thought that this would be a great chance to give young potential star Michael Clarke a game, but not the selectors. Instead they brought in two bowlers, Bichel and Gillespie.

Personally, I think this created a side that was a little unbalanced and was potentially a little weak in the batting department, but this didn't matter especially, for the bowlers did a great job. The bowlers were all great, with McGrath thankfully returning to something near peak form with 4/31, Lee taking 2/22, Hogg 1/27 off 10, Gillespie 1/28 off 9. West Indies were all out for a miserable 163. Australia had absolutely no trouble knocking off the runs, losing only two wickets. Hayden and Ponting scored fifties, as Australia won with one ball short of 15 overs to spare. An absolutely crushing win.

Australia didn't look sloppy today. Perhaps a clean sweep is still possible, although with Sarwan and Lara in the West Indian team you think they will likely pull off a win somewhere. Still, Ponting remains in great form, and McGrath no longer looks underdone. It's a shame McGrath couldn't have spent his time bowling his best rather than sledging last week.

In the one day tournament in Sri Lanka, the home side won a low scoring match against Pakistan. Sri Lanka batted first, and were at one point at 8/139. Eventually they managed to scrape together 172, thanks partly to a useful 19 from Muttiah Muralitharan. Muralitharan then completed a fine day by taking 5/23 to bowl out Pakistan for 160. Sri Lanka now top the points table in that competition, but are still in some danger of missing out on the final, due to having no bonus points from their three games, whereas the other sides each have two. That means if all three teams end up with two wins, Pakistan meet New Zealand in the final. Sri Lanka need to either beat New Zealand, or hope that New Zealand beat Pakistan.
More on the HIV viruses

Following up on what I said about the HIV viruses last week, I notice that the Economist has an article on HIV-2, the other HIV virus, in this week's issue. Essentially, the article says that new research suggests that the HIV-2 virus crossed over from the species of money called the sooty mangebay twice, once around 1940 and the other time around 1945.

Loosely, viruses evolve over time. If a virus is in the human population then over time the number of variants will steadily increase. If we make some assumptions about the speed of mutation (and better still, have tissue samples contain versions of the virus that are known to come from particular places and times) we can map the evolution and spread of the disease. In particular, we can see when various strains of the virus diverged from each other. If we have two different strains of the virus, and research suggests that they diverged from each other in 1940, say, then there are two possibilities. Either the disease was present in humans before 1940, or the disease was not present in humans until some time after 1940, but it crossed the species barrier on a number of different occasions. If you can find lots of intermediate strains of the virus also present in humans, then this pretty much rules out the second option, unless the species barrier has been crossed on a vast number of different occasions. Presumably the researchers have looked at all strains of HIV-2, and have found that they can trace them all back to having evolved from two common ancestors, but cannot trace them back to any strains intermediate to those two. Hence we have the conclusion that the species barrier was crossed twice for HIV-2.

This compares with the more common (and more contagious and more deadly) HIV-1, which has clearly crossed over into humans at least twice, once in the form of the HIV-1 Group M (for main) virus, that appears to have crossed over from chimpanzees to people in the Congo area, and the HIV-1 Group O (for outlier) virus, that appears to have crossed over from chimpanzees to people in the Cameroon area. We know that Group M was present in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) in Congo in 1959, because a study of stored blood samples found a positive sample from that time. We believe that Group O was present in 1961 in Cameroon, because a Norwegian sailor who visited Cameroon in 1961 later died of the disease (the earliest known AIDS case), and the virus present in stored tissue samples from his body is consistent with the Group O form of the disease most common in Cameroon today. It seems likely that the disease must have been reasonably common in Cameroon at that time for a foreigner to have become infected (or perhaps he was just extremely unlucky - there was not an AIDS epidemic in Cameroon for a couple of decades after that).

In recent years, researchers have claimed that studies of the differences between various strains of the virus, and knowledge about the speed with which viruses evolve suggests that groups M and O may have crossed over into human beings in the 1940s or even the 1930s. However, the techniques used by such researchers are in some ways problematic. The key question is really how fast do viruses change, and is the speed different in humans than in chimpanzees. The precursor to HIV-1 does not kill chimps. The precursor to HIV-2 does not kill sooty mangabeys. However, when a virus from one species of primate gets transferred into another, then the virus usually is harmful. This tends to suggest that at some point in the past there have been epidemics due to these kinds of diseases in primates, and the primates have evolved so as to become resistant to these particular diseases (or the viruses have evolved not to be harmful to these particular primates, which makes perfect sense, because if a virus's host dies, the virus dies too) and the ultimate consequence has been that we have ended up with primate species with endemic harmless retroviruses.

What am I getting at here? Well, this process is slow. For this to be the case, the viruses must have been present in primates for thousands of years, if not tens or hundreds of thousands of years. The viruses are very well adapted to their host species. They are probably fairly genetically stable, having found an evolutionary niche. Transfer them to another species and they do not have their evolutionary niche any more, and it may be that they have evolved faster. So it may be that the speed of genetic evolution is affected by the species jump, making the uncertainty about when viruses diverged highly dependent on when the species jump actually occurred.

So what do we know? We know for sure that both forms of HIV-1 were present in Africa by the late 1950s. (A third form of the virus, HIV-1 Group N, has recently been discovered also in Cameroon. It seems likely that this form of the virus crossed over later than the other two, although nobody is certain).

What else can we deduce from this? Well, as I said in my previous post, if the viruses have been present in chimp and sooty mangabey populations for thousands of years, there is something remarkable about the fact that species jumps of very similar virus occurred at least three (and apparently five) times in a few decades of the 20th century. This has to do with changed human activity of some kind. I find the frequently argued idea that the transfer occurred via hunting and eating of other primates unconvincing, as this has also being going on for thousands of years, and I find it beyond belief that the species jump never occurred over this period (or that it repeatedly did so without the diseases becoming endemic). The more I read the less convincing I find the polio vaccine theory - the times become less convincing, and the places also become better matched simply with the locations of primate populations rather than the places where polio vaccines occurred. (And there is no evidence that chimpanzee kidneys actually were used in the cultivation of the vaccines). However, something deeply peculiar happened. Mr Hooper is quite right about this. It is quite understandable for the medical establishment to want to blame it on natural causes, but for me to actually believe this, I need a convincing explanation of why AIDS did not become a human epidemic prior to the second half of the twentieth century. If HIV had only crossed the species barrier once, I could believe that it is simply a matter of this being a very unlikely occurrence. If very similar strains of the disease had crossed the species barrier in a short time from the same species, I could believe that the virus had suddenly mutated to make the cross easier. However, similar but different viruses crossed in a very short time. I find this impossible to explain, unless I believe that some new means of transmission suddenly became available to existing viruses. And I don't know what that was.

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