Retail Unmasked

I wrote this to a particular local store. I’m not going to name-and-shame them, so this is an open letter to many retailers:


I was in your store this morning.

Several of your staff were wearing their masks either around their necks, or not covering their noses.

This is another way to say, “Not really wearing masks.”

Or, “Not protecting your customers or each other from disease.”

I am deliberately not naming or describing them, because this is not a failure of the hourly employee. It is inevitably and inarguably the responsibility of the management to ensure that the staff follows proper health and safety practices.

If you need assistance, Suffolk County and the State of New York have many resources available to you.

I will note that at least one staffer was apparently walking in to start a shift. You may want to remind them to wear a mask whenever they are in the store, not just when they are on the clock. The same rules that apply to your customers apply to your staff. Masks protect us all, but only if we all wear them.

Let me emphasize that I’m not angry at your staff, or you. I am trying to help protect them, and you, from a potentially deadly disease.

Thank you.

Resurrections in Spain!

According to the Worldometer, 1915 people returned from the dead today (May 25, 2020). Specifically, COVID-19 victims.

I thought this would be the result of a statistical correction, maybe Spain reclassifying a bunch of deaths as being caused by something else, but their News section says nothing about that. My Spanish is very rusty, but their source also doesn’t say such a thing.

I was never that great of a programmer, but surely someone at the Worldometer could have inserted sanity checks for things like the dead rising from the grave. Is Spain threatened by a zombie apocalypse, in addition to the pandemic?

On that same page, they also show that -372 new cases appeared today, and that no one in Spain has recovered from COVID-19 since March 18.

I emailed to let them know about that last anomaly a couple of days ago. No answer so far.

I like the Worldometer’s coronavirus pages and look at them regularly. I have no idea why this slipped through and never got corrected.

Covid-19 and your business: an open letter

In the past few days, I have received emails from hotel chains, supermarkets, convenience stores, travel brands, and a storage locker company explaining how they’re protecting my health from the Covid-19 outbreak. Almost all of them are stamped from the same template:

  • We are sanitizing frequently-touched surfaces more often
  • If you have reservations, we are giving you flexibility to change them, even if we don’t usually let you cancel without penalty
  • We’re following applicable recommendations from WHO and the CDC

Only one, 7-Eleven, has mentioned a critical one: asking sick people to not come in, and saying that they’re directing any employee to stay home if feeling ill. That last is obviously key, though. Here’s the thing: they don’t mention “And we’re giving them sick pay.”

People who work in restaurants and convenience stores are often part-timers with no benefits, and in particular no paid sick days. Telling a person who needs her pay from the night shift to feed her kids, “Just stay home if you run a fever,” is like saying “Just let your family starve if you run a fever.” They won’t and they can’t.

So: how seriously do you really take this outbreak? Are you ready to pay your staff to stay home when sick? Because if not … then people will inevitably die.

No, I don’t think the Thais have cured the Wuhan virus

Did you see that Thai doctors have cured the Novel Coronavirus? … and-812699

Don’t hold your breath. They claim to have used anti-HIV drugs. Those are almost all antiretrovirals. Coronavirii are not retroviruses. It seems very unlikely meds that work by inhibiting the enzyme reverse transcriptase would affect members of the Coronaviridae, since the RNA of a coronavirus is not reverse-transcribed into DNA.

Oseltamivir (trade name Tamiflu), their third drug, is specific to influenza and again would not be expected to work against a totally different type of virus. I actually found a Chinese study that tested it against the SARS virus (close relative of 2019-nCoV) and found no activity.

The whole media brouhaha is based on … one patient.

I can’t rule it out. I can and do doubt it a lot.

The Washington Post embarrasses itself

I just dashed off an angry letter to the Post about their recent article, UFOs exist and everyone needs to adjust to that fact. I reproduce my text below.

The above article is apparently a fairly subtle joke that has taken in the Post’s editorial team. Surely you wouldn’t post something so afactual and nonsensical without a disclaimer in a serious “Perspective” demi-editorial? Surely you should at least have had an article by a person competent in some sort of science? I find it hard to believe you were taken in.

On the off-chance you took that … set of words … seriously (I’m eliding my more strident description), may I suggest you consult Professor Massimo Pigliucci (CUNY), or Professor Steven Novella (Yale Med), or someone from the CSI (Center for Skeptical Inquiry)? Massimo in particular as a philosopher and scientist could point out both the factual incorrectness of some of the assertions, and the logical fallacy blatantly present in the phrase, “… but even those skeptics could not completely rule out the possibility that extraterrestrial activity was involved.”

I await your retraction.

Carl Fink

The article is a hot mess of nonsense. I’m embarrassed for every newspaper editor, just because their colleagues published this waste of photons.

(Image courtesy Wikipedia user D J Shin)

Non-GMO means “evil”


Today I sent the following to two manufacturers of almond milk.

I like one of your products. Because of a misleading, unnecessary label on the package I’m reluctant to buy it.

To be specific, I like your almond milk (specifically the unsweetened and unflavored variety). It’s nutritious, low in calories, supplies lots of calcium which I happen to need from time to time, and tastes just fine.

But you had to stick that “Non GMO” logo on the package.

It isn’t exactly false, it’s just morally wrong. No almonds currently on the market are genetically modified, and no water is GMO. Those are the ingredients of unsweetened almond milk. The label is misleading because it falsely implies that your competitors do use GMO almonds.

It’s also morally wrong because NOT using GMO almonds, if they did exist, would be unethical. GMO crops use less land and less fertilizer and less pesticide to produce the same amount of food. This is not only profitable for the farmer, it means that we can feed everyone using less land, which allows more land to be wild, or used for solar or wind production. By being non-GMO you would be harming everyone.

It may be worth pointing out that there are NO KNOWN UNDESIRABLE EFFECTS from the consumption of GMO foods. In many hundreds of scientific papers, no real evidence of any harms has ever been detected. You’re also falsely implying that GMOs are bad. They simply are not.

So your label boils down to two misleading implied claims, to justify doing something that causes harm to everyone.

I strongly urge you to remove that undesirable label from your products. Until you do … well, as I said I’m reluctant to buy products that advertise that they are unethical.

Carl Fink

Pardon the ALL CAPS for emphasis, I was using web contact forms that have no boldface.

So anyone know of a non-non-GMO brand of almond milk. It also has to be non-organic. (“Organic” means “farmed inefficiently for no good reason.”) Thanks.

(Image created by De Cora, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.)

Parents torture child, nearly kill him. No mention of charges.

Warning: I am very, very angry.

In Oregon (in 2017), a child was diagnosed with tetanus. It was the first case in that state in over 3 decades.

The parent withheld the DTAP vaccine (which prevents Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis) despite medical recommendations. Their son got a cut while playing, they treated it themselves (with home suturing!) and didn’t seek medical attention until he developed the classic symptom of tetanus — involuntary muscle contractions. It reached the point where he could not breathe without both drugs and mechanical assistance. With devoted care from many practitioners over a period of two months, the team in Oregon managed to save him from his parents.

As part of treatment he got one dose of DTAP. Five are suggested for full protection. Even after he got a deadly disease that came very close to killing him and meant months of hospitalization and rehab, the parents said that they would refuse to give him the other four doses.

In a just world, they would be sentenced to daily injections of strychnine for two months. Enough to put their own muscles in spasm to the point that they needed mechanical help to breathe. In our world, there seems to be no mention of even a Child Protective Services investigation. I’m sort of glad I have no way to know the names of these hideous monsters, because I would feel some obligation to drive to Oregon and scream at them.

No, that is not hyperbole. They badwording tortured a helpless child. Monsters.

No GMO = Me Not A Customer

Letter written to Freedom Foods, reproduced below:


Just thought I’d mention: I ran into your products in a store. Nutritionally they were exactly what I was looking for, except.

Except they contain no genetically-modified organisms. This is exactly saying “These products destroy the environment.” Non-GMO crops offer no nutritional or health advantage, but need more cropland to grow the same amount. By excluding GMO crops you are quite literally helping to destroy the wild and uncultivated lands, while forcing the use of more pesticides and fertilizers.

So I can’t, in good conscience, buy your products.

Please do the right thing and use GMO crops.

Thank you.


Note to other food sellers: this is a policy. I can’t help you destroy the world by promoting pointlessly inefficient agriculture.

Cloned crayfish swarm conquers Europe

… and moves on to the rest of the world!

OK, this is seriously weirder than the mad science plot. Science Magazine reports that a hybridization event among slough crayfish (native to North America) resulted in a triploid strain appearing, all female and reproducing by self-cloning.

Triploid! You all have two copies of every gene, one inherited from your mother and one from your father. There are exceptions, e.g. people with Down syndrome have three copies of all or part of one chromosome. The marbled crayfish is the super-powered version: it has three copies of its entire genome, two near-identical copies (presumably from one ancestral clone-parent) and one of another proto-parental genome.

It’s the only known decapod crustacean to reproduce asexually. It does it fast, it’s displacing other organisms all over the place.

It may not be obvious to a non-biologist how deeply weird this is. Polyploidy (having more than two copies of each gene) is common in higher plants, but it’s very, very rare in animals, and this speciation event happened in the 1980s, so very recently.

The Science article is very readable, and if you’re interested I recommend it.

(Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons user Selso)

Feeling articulate

So, I’m currently reading Dry Store Room #1, a book about the experience of working at the Natural History Museum in London.

It’s a great book by an author who is both a Fellow of the Royal Society (Britain’s pre-eminent scientific body) and the Royal Academy of Literature (same for writing). Highly recommended.

So naturally, I’m thinking in terms of museum preparation when I come across this comic:

And my immediate reaction: this is a museum diorama and not a good one. Real skeletons in the real environment do not look like that. The bones separate and are strewn about, they don’t look like an anatomy-teaching specimen you might find in a medical school–those are wired together to show the normal relationship of the bones. Also, in a real desert everything from ants up to condors would be ripping the corpse apart and taking away useful bits for their own (digestive) purposes, scattering the bones further. The only way real bones stay close together is by getting suddenly buried, for instance by volcanic ash.

No, it isn’t important. No, I’m not criticizing Dave Blazek. Yes, I think my own idiosyncratic reaction was weird enough to be worth posting.

This is a very rare double-post (the only one) between this and my other blog at