Lazy Caturday Reads: Merry Christmas!


Good Afternoon!

I hope you are all having a nice holiday weekend! I’m home alone today, because I want to avoid any chance of getting the highly contagious Omicron variant of Covid-19. I’ve been hanging out here, mostly reading and and talking to friends and family on the phone.

Yesterday I read a very strange and interesting article on the origins of the Santa Claus folklore. Check it out if you have time today. Thom Hartmann at Raw Story: The hidden shamanic history of Santa Claus.

When Louise and I lived in Germany, Herr Mueller led us up a mountainside deep into the Franconian forest on this night where they had covered a pine tree with candles: we sang carols and he read aloud a bible verse. He later told me that in ancient times the shamans would set the tallest tree afire to re-ignite the sun and bring back longer days.

Arctic shamans, around this time of the year, would leave batches of dried amanita mushrooms out in the snow for the hungry reindeer, then follow them as they danced and played, gathering the fresh yellow snow to make into a holiday grog.For millennia across the European arctic circle around the North Pole, from Scandinavia through Siberia, indigenous shamans sought out red-and-white mushrooms (amanita muscaria) and dried them in socks hanging from their fireplaces.

The mushrooms contain a powerful psychedelic, Muscimol, but are also laced with compounds poisonous to humans. Reindeer, however, love to eat these mushrooms and, when they do, they behave oddly, as if their names were Dancer and Prancer.

Their reindeer livers metabolize and thus neutralize the compounds that poison humans, but leave the psychedelic Muscimol largely untouched. Thus, reindeer urine on fresh snow is powerfully psychedelic.

gettyimages-888747436-1576497376The shamans then collected the “yellow snow” and used it to get high.

This was also the time of the year that the father of gods in Norse religion, the long-white-bearded Odin, would ride his eight-legged horse Sleipnir (“sleigh-nir”), bringing good people small gifts made by “Odin’s men” in Asgard, his arctic retreat. The story seems to have morphed as it traveled out of Norway from men to elves, and from eight legs to eight reindeer.

Shamans and their communities would light their pine trees with candles, put the north star (the axis around which the world revolves) atop their trees, and consume their yellow-snow drinks on the darkest nights.Odin controlled the powers of Thunder and Lightning, “Donner” and “Blitzen” in ancient Norse and today’s Germanic and Scandinavian languages.

The reindeer’s favorite food, the amanita mushrooms, look like the shamans dressed, red with white trim and white spots. They’re rotund: you could call them “chubby.”

They grow under pine trees because their mycorrhizae or fungal filaments that extend underground transport minerals from the soil into the roots of the pine trees, who return the favor by transporting carbohydrates from year-round photosynthesis in their needles back down through their roots into the mycorrhizae to nourish the mushrooms.

Amanitas are only found under pine and spruce trees because of this symbiotic relationship that keeps them both healthy. And to this day pine and spruce are pretty much the only trees we use to decorate our homes this time of year.

This yule time history was completely new to me.

Omicron is spoiling holiday celebrations for many people.

CNN Business: More than 5,000 flights canceled on Christmas weekend.

Airlines have canceled thousands of flights on Christmas weekend, including over a thousand US domestic flights, as staff and crew call out sick during the Omicron surge.

Globally, airlines have canceled about 5,700 flights on Christmas Eve day, Christmas and the day after Christmas, according to FlightAware. That includes about 1,700 flights within, into or out of the United States.

1c269f7a4135425cdfd19953a023447eOperational snags at airlines are coming as millions are still flying in spite of rising coronavirus cases. The TSA says it screened 2.19 million people at airports across the country on Thursday, the highest figure since the uptick in holiday travel started a week ago.

On Thursday, United Airlines (UAL) said it had to “cancel some flights” because of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

“The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation,” said a United memo obtained by CNN.

United canceled 201 flights on Friday, representing 10% of its total schedule, and 238 flights on Saturday, representing 12% of its schedule, according to flight tracking site FlightAware….

Later Thursday night, Delta Air Lines (DAL) also canceled flights. The airline canceled 173 Christmas Eve flights, according to FlightAware.

Antivax crazies are still resistant to getting the shots, even in the face of Omicron. The New York Times: As Omicron Spreads and Cases Soar, the Unvaccinated Remain Defiant.

CLEVELAND — As a fast-spreading new strain of the coronavirus swarms across the country, hospitals in Ohio running low on beds and staff recently took out a full-page newspaper advertisement pleading with unvaccinated Americans to finally get the shot. It read, simply: “Help.”

But in a suburban Ohio café, Jackie Rogers, 58, an accountant, offered an equally succinct response on behalf of unvaccinated America: “Never.”

In the year since the first shots began going into arms, opposition to vaccines has hardened from skepticism and wariness into something approaching an article of faith for the approximately 39 million American adults who have yet to get a single dose.

newFile-2Now, health experts say the roughly 15 percent of the adult population that remains stubbornly unvaccinated is at the greatest risk of severe illness and death from the Omicron variant, and could overwhelm hospitals that are already brimming with Covid patients. In Cleveland, where Omicron cases are soaring, a hospital unit at the Cleveland Clinic that provides life support to the sickest patients is already completely full.

Compounding the problem, the pace of first-time vaccinations appears to be plateauing this month even as Omicron takes hold, and the numbers of children getting vaccinated and eligible adults getting booster shots are lower than some health experts hoped. Around 20 percent of children 5 to 11 years old have gotten a dose of vaccine. And only around one in three fully vaccinated Americans has gotten a booster.

As we all know by now, health care workers are struggling under unimaginable pressures. Read about it in the NYT if you can handle it: Another Christmas of Death and Distress in America’s I.C.U.s.

At the Washington Post, Dr. Michael Lin has a cautionary article about the newly approved drug for Covid-19: A new drug to treat covid could create a breeding ground for mutant viruses.

On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration made what may be the most momentous drug-approval decision in its history: It granted emergency-use authorization for Merck’s molnupiravir to treat covid-19. This approval is significant not because molnupiravir is an especially good drug, but because it is a rather ineffective and dangerous one. In particular, molnupiravir might create new variants of SARS-CoV-2 that evade immunity and prolong the pandemic.

The problem with molnupiravir lies in its mechanism of action. Unlike any previous antiviral drug, molnupiravir does only one thing: It introduces mutations into the viral genome. We are already familiar with the fact that viruses naturally mutate to evade immunity; the many mutations of the spike protein in omicron, for example, allow it to evade the antibodies created by prior infections or vaccines. Molnupiravir relies on inducing even more mutations so that eventually the virus’s proteins are damaged beyond function. That molnupiravir can mutate SARS-CoV-2 to death has been demonstrated in the controlled conditions of a petri dish and lab animal cages, leading Merck to test it in covid-19 patients in clinical trials.

df6f7fbb53c731f3195a7d5f0ff8ea23But people are not petri dishes or lab animals, and while molnupiravir works to some extent, it has not worked very well in covid-19 patients. Specifically, molnupiravir reduced hospitalizations by only 30 percent. In contrast, Pfizer’s antiviral drug Paxlovid, which works by a different mechanism and was also approved this week by the FDA, reduced hospitalization by 89 percent. (My lab does research on drugs using the same mechanism as Paxlovid — inhibition of the viral protease enzyme — independently of any company affiliations.) This means that most of the time that molnupiravir was given the opportunity, it failed to inhibit viral replication enough to allow the patient to avoid hospitalization.

Merck’s own research, published Thursday, explains why. It found that viable virus can still be detected in some patients on the third day of treatment with the drug. That means that for at least several days, the drug is in the body mutating the virus — but not all virus genomes have picked up enough mutations to die off. For those initial few days, then, the patient is a breeding ground for viable mutated viruses.


Two Georgia poll workers who were terrorized by Trump and his mob have taken their case to court. The Washington Post: Rudy Giuliani and One America News sued by Georgia poll workers falsely accused of electoral fraud.

Two election workers who counted votes for the 2020 presidential election filed a defamation lawsuit Thursday against the parent company of One America News, senior staff at the far-right TV network and Rudolph W. Giuliani, who served as a personal lawyer to former president Donald Trump.

Ruby Freeman and her daughter Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, who worked in Fulton County, Ga., allege that One America News and Giuliani, who frequently appears on the network, knowingly spread misinformation about them, including falsehoods that they logged illegal ballots for Joe Biden in the election.

The two women “have become objects of vitriol, threats, and harassment … because of a campaign of malicious lies,” their attorneys wrote in the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. “Deliberate efforts to spread disinformation about America’s election workers undermine the integrity of American elections … and accordingly, threaten democracy.”

The legal action seeks to force the defendants to delete false statements about the two women from their platforms. It also asks for compensatory and punitive damages.

Kittens-taking-a-napMore details:

The plaintiffs allege that One America News replayed a misleading video produced by the Trump campaign, which was presented by volunteer Trump attorney Jacki L. Pick as an example of election workers stuffing fraudulent ballots from purportedly hidden “suitcases.” Pick did not name the workers, although she said “one of them had the name Ruby across her shirt somewhere.”

The two women say that Giuliani shared the video on social media, while repeatedly urging his followers to watch it. “OAN, its hosts, and its staff leveraged Giuliani’s unsupported factual assertions and almost immediately published them to millions of its viewers and readers,” their lawyers wrote.

In actuality, the surveillance video showed no irregularities, illegal behavior or evidence of malfeasance. The video also failed to show any act of hiding or obscuring any ballots or election materials.

At a lengthy news conference earlier this year, top Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling, who is a Republican, delivered a point-by-point debunking of claims that the video was proof of voter fraud.

The women have also sued “Gateway Pundit, a far-right conspiracy website, alleging that the site published false stories about them that they say instigated a relentless campaign of harassment and threats.

More stories to check out:

The New York Times: Judge Upholds His Block on New York Times Coverage of Project Veritas.

The New York Times Editorial Board: A Dangerous Court Order Against The New York Times.

The Washington Post: Opinion: Biden is quietly erasing one of Trump’s cruelest legacies.

Newsweek: Jim Jordan ‘Very Scared’ as 1/6 Committee Seeks Info on Trump Calls, Fellow Lawmaker Says.

Business Insider: Trump spokesman turned over 1,700 pages of documents and testified for 4 hours for Jan. 6 committee, per new court docs.

Reuters: More than 10,000 Russian troops returning to bases after drills near Ukraine -Interfax.

Vox: How to recognize Covid-19 symptoms from the omicron variant.

Have a great weekend Sky Dancers!!

21 Comments on “Lazy Caturday Reads: Merry Christmas!”

  1. bostonboomer says:

  2. bostonboomer says:

  3. bostonboomer says:

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  5. dakinikat says:

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  7. dakinikat says:

    Here’s one for you BB!!!!

  8. Beata says:

    I love the cat photos, BB. Usually cats and Christmas decorations don’t mix well.

    I hope everyone is having a nice, peaceful day. I saw that Pat Johnson commented on the last thread. Merry Christmas, Pat!

  9. NW Luna says:

    not because molnupiravir is an especially good drug, but because it is a rather ineffective and dangerous one. In particular, molnupiravir might create new variants of SARS-CoV-2 that evade immunity and prolong the pandemic.

    Got to agree. FDA approval sometimes has the medical community scratching its head, and this is one of them.

  10. dakinikat says:

  11. NW Luna says:

    BB, glad you posted about Amanita muscaria and related cultural practices. As someone who grew up in a mushroom-hunting family practice, I’d read about the “flying” reindeer and shaman use of A. muscaria before. Thom Hartmann’s wrong about a few things — A. muscaria is not found only under pine and spruce trees. It can be found on treeless lawns, in damp woodland meadows, under hemlock and fir, and a few blocks from me I’ve seen it every fall in bark-covered islands in a grocery-store parking lot. It has amatoxin in varying proportions, often close to or above its hallucinogenic properties — which makes eating it a risky proposition for humans and can lead to liver, kidney, and cardiac failure. Yes, it’s “chubby,” but all Amanita species are bulbous.

    This thread below has some lovely pictures and talks about the use of the mushroom in the Far North, as far as we can figure it out from legends and folk stories. It also has a link to a lovely short video of traditional Mongolian people riding reindeer. I associate reindeer with the Sami people, and didn’t know the reindeer range extended to Mongolia.

  12. NW Luna says:

  13. NW Luna says: