Author: Jonathan Kay

Board-gaming in the Age of Isolation

I sometimes get asked why I didn’t include a chapter on chess in my recently published co-authored book about boardgames. The answer is that since I’m not a chess specialist, I didn’t think I was up to the job. The bar has been set high because chess is the only boardgame in the world that’s already the subject of an enormous, well-established literary sub-genre. And I’m not just talking about dry analyses with titles like Fire On Board: Shirov’s Best Games and Beating the French Defense with the Advance Variation. There are also plenty of books about the lives of chess grandmasters and the tragicomically obsessive nature of chess culture—including an excellent new specimen called All The Wrong Moves: A Memoir About Chess, Love and Ruining Everything by Canadian-American writer Sasha Chapin. The author isn’t a particularly great player. But that’s one of the things that makes the book so good: Chapin perfectly captures the daily agony of being a chess obsessive (as I once was) who secretly knows that his brain isn’t wired—and never …

Rethinking Human Ecology in the Age of COVID-19: Lessons from a Fish Market

Three years ago, a young virologist named Jemma Geoghegan purchased 48 whole fish from a market in Sydney, Australia—12 each of Eastern Sea Garfish, Australasian Snapper, Eastern Red Scorpionfish and Large-tooth Flounder. The fish ended up in a freezer. And over the next few months, Geoghegan and her colleagues sent bits of their gills and livers to the Australian Genome Research Facility for DNA sequencing. Their goal was to better understand the assortment of viruses—collectively known as the “virome”—contained within seemingly healthy fish, a topic with obvious relevance to modern aquaculture. The four species that Geoghegan sampled exhibit radically different appearances and behaviours. The Eastern Sea Garfish is thin and silvery. The Australasian Snapper is a hump-headed fish that looks like it’s wearing a helmet. The Eastern Red Scorpionfish is a spiky crevice-dwelling ambush predator with an enormous mouth, into which prey disappear whole. The Large-tooth Flounder is a wide, thin, asymmetrical fish that spends its life lying in sand or mud—always on its right side, so that it may behold the world above through …

Quillette’s Quarantine Book Club: Readers Offer Their Suggestions, Part I

Three weeks ago, our editors asked readers to share suggestions for Quillette‘s Quarantine Book Club. “Is there a book—or an author, or even a whole genre—that would be alien to you but not for the enforced solitude and inactivity imposed by disease?” we asked. Since then, we have been sifting through the feedback, excerpts of which appear below. More will follow next week. If you have your own suggestion, please email jon@quillette.com, with “Quarantine Book Club” in the subject line. Brutal Journey: The Epic Story of the First Crossing of North America Your call for suggestions comes as I am recovering from recent surgery. A little more than four weeks ago, as I lay in my hospital bed the day after my operation, I began reading my selection: Brutal Journey: The Epic Story of the First Crossing of North America, by Paul Schneider. I’d selected this 2006 work of historical non-fiction because of my interest in pre-contact Indigenous societies and in the history of Latin America. What made it perfect for a time of personal …

COVID-19 Science Update for March 31st: Wear a Mask, Georgia’s SSE, Kinsa’s Fever Map

This article constitutes the March 31st, 2020 entry in the daily Quillette series COVID-19 UPDATES. Please report needed corrections or suggestions to jon@quillette.com. Today’s data According to statistics compiled by Our World in Data (OWD), the number of newly confirmed COVID-19 deaths increased yesterday. The data, as reported by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), indicated 3,698 new confirmed COVID-19 fatalities globally, up from Monday’s newly reported deaths, of which there were 3,125. This included 418 new cases in France, 128 in Germany, 28 in Canada, and 661 in the United States—all of which represent new highs for these countries. Italy and Spain recorded 810 and 812 new deaths respectively, roughly equivalent to their average daily values over the last week. As usual, the four countries that consistently registered the most new deaths over the last three weeks—France, Italy, Spain, and the United States—accounted for almost three-quarters of all new deaths worldwide (73 percent). One other statistical pattern worth noting: Yesterday’s drop in worldwide newly reported deaths—from 3,461 to 3,125—represented the second …

COVID-19 Science Update for March 30th: The Planet’s Deadly Viral Baseline

This article constitutes the March 30th, 2020 entry in the daily Quillette series COVID-19 UPDATES. Please report needed corrections or suggestions to jon@quillette.com. According to statistics compiled by Our World in Data (OWD), the number of newly confirmed COVID-19 deaths decreased yesterday. The data, as reported by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), indicated 3,128 new confirmed COVID-19 fatalities globally, down 10 percent from Sunday’s newly reported deaths, of which there were 3,461. This is only the second time in the last two weeks that the daily death rate has decreased. The rate of new deaths fell in France, the UK, Italy, Iran, and the United States. In Spain and Germany, the rate remained virtually unchanged. These seven countries have collectively accounted for over 80 percent of COVID-19 deaths in late March. So this is good news. While previous updates in this series have focused closely on short-term developments in the fight against COVID-19, today’s entry will examine some of the important background issues that are commonly referenced in public discussion about …

COVID-19 Science Update for March 29th: Keep Your Voice Down

This article constitutes the March 29th, 2020 entry in the daily Quillette series COVID-19 UPDATES. Please report needed corrections or suggestions to jon@quillette.com. According to statistics compiled by Our World in Data (OWD), the number of newly confirmed COVID-19 deaths increased yesterday. The data, as originally assembled by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), indicated 3,461 new confirmed COVID-19 fatalities globally, up slightly from Saturday’s newly reported deaths (3,318). As has been the case throughout mid- and late March, the new deaths were concentrated largely in Italy (887), Spain (832), the United States (411), and France (299). Taken together, these four countries accounted for about 70 percent of all newly reported global deaths—about average for the past three weeks. In the United States, about half of all cases are located in and around New York. As the New York Times reports, the city’s emergency-response services are becoming overwhelmed, and health care workers are beginning to be faced with the sort of live-or-die decisions that Italian doctors have been required to make. As discussed …

COVID-19 Science Update for March 28th: Bergamo’s Decimation, More SSEs, and the Case for Masks

This article constitutes the March 28th, 2020 entry in the daily Quillette series COVID-19 UPDATES. Please report needed corrections or suggestions to jon@quillette.com. According to statistics compiled by Our World in Data (OWD), the number of newly confirmed COVID-19 deaths increased yesterday. As reported by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on Saturday morning, the data indicated 3,418 new confirmed COVID-19 fatalities globally. However, this figure embeds what I confirmed was an erroneous report for Argentina, artificially inflating deaths by 100. Correcting this would put the actual number of deaths at 3,318, which is still a substantial increase over Friday’s reported deaths, which were 2,684. As has been the case over the last three weeks, the highest number of dead were in France (299), Italy (971), Spain (769), and the United States (411), and these countries accounted for over 70 percent of total global deaths reported yesterday. This figure has remained above 65 percent for 18 of the last 19 days. The case of Italy is particularly alarming. Italy recorded its 1,000th …

COVID-19 Science Update for March 27th: Super-Spreaders and the Need for New Prediction Models

This article constitutes the March 27th, 2020 entry in the daily Quillette series COVID-19 UPDATES. Please report needed corrections or suggestions to jon@quillette.com.   According to statistics compiled by Our World in Data (OWD), the number of newly reported COVID-19 deaths increased yesterday. There were 2,681 new confirmed COVID-19 fatalities globally, compared to 2,423 reported on yesterday. This was largely due to increased death tallies in France (365 new deaths, up from 231 the day before), Italy (660, down from 685 reported on Thursday and 743 reported on Wednesday), Spain (655, down from 738), and the United States (246, virtually unchanged from Thursday’s report of 249, with the New York City area remaining the pandemic’s American epicenter). On Wednesday, I mentioned that just four countries—France, Italy, Spain, and the United States—represented 78 percent of that day’s newly reported global COVID-19 deaths. In yesterday’s reports, it was 79 percent. In today’s reports, it is 72 percent. This figure has remained above 65 percent for 17 of the last 18 days. In these four countries, the annualized …

COVID-19 Science Update for March 26th: Five Trends Shaping Medium-Term Policy

This article constitutes the March 26th, 2020 entry in the daily Quillette series COVID-19 UPDATES. Please report needed corrections to jon@quillette.com. Until today, these updates have begun with a rundown of the latest global data for COVID-19 published at Our World in Data (OWD). As of this writing on Thursday morning, however, the March 26th numbers have not yet been published at OWD. (However, for those interested, there do seem to be recent updates at the website of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, whose reports have formed the statistical basis for OWD daily tallies since March 18th.) So I will skip the daily rundown of new numbers and proceed directly to the thematic focus of today’s update: a broad-stroke, point-form summary of some of the policies that, even at this early stage, seem likely to inform our global response to COVID-19. Until now, the focus was almost exclusively on the short-term response to the pandemic. But now that social and economic lockdowns in affected countries have somewhat dampened the exponential spread of …

COVID-19 Science Update for March 25th: Understanding Models

The latest global data for COVID-19—updated with reports received on March 25th, 2020—have been published at Our World in Data. Here are some of the numbers and trends that I believe deserve special attention, as well as a brief report on notable developments and analyses. Since March 21st, these updates have been published at Quillette in our section marked COVID-19 UPDATES. Please report needed corrections or suggestions to jon@quillette.com. The number of newly reported deaths increased yesterday. There were 2,200 new confirmed COVID-19 fatalities, compared to 1,764 reported on Tuesday, 1,660 on Monday, and 1,690 on Sunday. This was largely due to increased death tallies in France (240 new deaths, up from 186 the day before), Italy (743, up from, in reverse order, 601, 649, and 795), Spain (514, up from 462) and the United States (211, up from 119). The Netherlands had an unsettling jump to 63 new deaths (up from 34 on Tuesday). And some bad news in Sweden, which I discussed yesterday as being a European outlier due to its liberal approach …