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News 11.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 11.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 11.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 11.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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Some four billion years ago, in the shallow waters where life began, our earliest ancestors led lives of constant emergency. In a barren world, each single-celled amoeba was an inconceivably rich concentration of resources, and to live was to be beset by parasites. One of these, the giant Mimivirus, masqueraded as food; within four hours of being eaten, it could turn an amoeba into a virus factory. And yet, as the nineteenth-century mathematician Augustus de Morgan said, “Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em, and little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.” The Mimivirus had its own parasites, which sometimes followed it as it entered an amoeba. Once inside, they crippled the Mimivirus factory. This trick was so useful that, eventually, amoebas integrated the parasites’ genes into their own genomes, creating one of the earliest weapons in the immune system.

We tend to associate “survival of the fittest” with lions hunting antelope. But disease—the predation of parasites upon hosts—is actually the most potent force in evolution. “Every single phase of life has been selected to try to avoid parasitism,” Stephen Hedrick, an immunologist at the University of California, San Diego, told me. “It’s driven evolution as hard as it could be driven. Because it’s life or death all the time. And it’s a co-evolution.” Whenever a host develops an immune defense, it perversely rewards the survival of the very parasites that can defeat it. Hosts, meanwhile, tend to be at an evolutionary disadvantage. “Bacterial or viral populations are truly vast in size,” Robert Jack and Louis Du Pasquier write, in “Evolutionary Concepts in Immunology,” and the wide variation among them gives natural selection many candidate organisms upon which to work. Viruses and bacteria also reproduce half a million times faster than we do. Given this “generation gap,” Jack and Du Pasquier write, “one might well ask how on earth we could possibly have survived.”

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 11.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 11.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

When I first spoke with Joseph Tainter in early May, he and I and nearly everyone else had reason to be worried. A few days earlier, the official tally of Covid-19 infections in the United States had climbed above one million, unemployment claims had topped 30 million and the United Nations had warned that the planet was facing “multiple famines of biblical proportions.” George Floyd was still alive, and the protests spurred by his killing had not yet swept the nation, but a different kind of protest, led by white men armed with heavy weaponry, had taken over the Michigan State Legislature building. The president of the United States had appeared to suggest treating the coronavirus with disinfectant injections. Utah, where Tainter lives — he teaches at Utah State — was reopening its gyms, restaurants and hair salons that very day.

The chaos was considerable, but Tainter seemed calm. He walked me through the arguments of the book that made his reputation, “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” which has for years been the seminal text in the study of societal collapse, an academic subdiscipline that arguably was born with its publication in 1988. “Civilizations are fragile, impermanent things,” Tainter writes. Nearly every one that has ever existed has also ceased to exist, yet “understanding disintegration has remained a distinctly minor concern in the social sciences.” It is only a mild overstatement to suggest that before Tainter, collapse was simply not a thing.

If Joseph Tainter, now 70, is the sober patriarch of the field, it is not a role he seems to relish. His own research has moved on; these days, he focuses on “sustainability.” But even in his most recent work his earlier subject is always there, hovering like a ghost just off the edge of each page. Why, after all, would we worry about sustaining a civilization if we weren’t convinced that it might crumble?

Tainter, who grew up in San Francisco and has spent all of his adult life in the West, has never been one to play Cassandra. He writes with disarming composure about the factors that have led to the disintegration of empires and the abandonment of cities and about the mechanism that, in his view, makes it nearly certain that all states that rise will one day fall. In interviews and panel discussions, Tainter sits with an uncanny stillness, a gray bear in wire-rimmed glasses, rarely smiling, rarely frowning, rarely giving away anything more than an impatient tap of his fingers on one knee. In our telephone conversations he was courteous but laconic, taking time to think before speaking, seldom offering more than he was asked. He wasn’t surprised that I had called to ask him if our compounding crises signaled the start of a major societal rupture, but he also wasn’t in a rush to answer.

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

Greta Thunberg has become so firmly entrenched as an icon — perhaps the icon — of ecological activism that it’s hard to believe it has been only two years since she first went on school strike to draw attention to the climate crisis. In that short time, Thunberg, a 17-year-old Swede, has become a figure of international standing, able to meet with sympathetic world leaders and rattle the unsympathetic. Her compelling clarity about the scale of the crisis and moral indignation at the inadequate political response have been hugely influential in shifting public opinion. An estimated four million people participated in the September 2019 global climate strikes that she helped inspire. “There’s this false image that I’m an angry, depressed teenager,” says Thunberg, whose rapid rise is the subject of “I Am Greta,” a new documentary on Hulu. “But why would I be depressed when I’m trying to do my best to change things?”

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

News 11.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

On a chilly friday evening in january 2013, anna marie rongione left her home in a quiet working-class neighborhood of south philadelphia and walked across the street to the brick row house that belonged to her 44-year-old son, anthony. She planned to borrow some dog food. Anna marie let herself in and called her son’s name. When she got no response, she ventured up the stairs to look for him. Halfway up, she saw anthony’s body lying in the second-floor hallway. When the police arrived, they found the body of anthony’s tenant, michael spering. Both men had been shot to death.

The Philadelphia police ruled the scene a murder-suicide. But to Anna Marie, that didn’t make sense. Anthony and Spering, who was 52, were friendly. Moreover, she didn’t think her son had any reason to contemplate suicide. An easygoing man, he had a loving relationship with his teenage daughter, and he was good at his job, which involved working with computers.

Anna Marie thought the police should have paid more attention to a strange incident that occurred the day before. She had been upstairs cleaning when she heard yelling across the street. Through her window, she could see two men outside Anthony’s house. One was long-necked and wiry, with a hairline in deep retreat and small, coal-like eyes. He held a metal pipe. The other was bald, bearded and burly. She yelled down, threatening to call the police. The wiry man walked into the street and looked up at her. “do you know who I am?” he said. Anna marie had never laid eyes on him. Before the exchange went much further, the men got into a car and drove away.

Read the rest of this article at: Highline

GENEVA — On a cold weekend in mid-February, when the world still harbored false hope that the new coronavirus could be contained, a World Health Organization team arrived in Beijing to study the outbreak and investigate a critical question: How did the virus jump from animals to humans?

At that point, there were only three confirmed deaths from Covid-19 outside China and scientists hoped that finding an animal source for the coronavirus would unlock clues about how to stop it, treat it and prevent similar outbreaks.

“If we don’t know the source then we’re equally vulnerable in the future to a similar outbreak,” Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s emergency director, had said that week in Geneva. “Understanding that source is a very important next step.”

What the team members did not know was that they would not be allowed to investigate the source at all. Despite Dr. Ryan’s pronouncements, and over the advice of its emergency committee, the organization’s leadership had quietly negotiated terms that sidelined its own experts. They would not question China’s initial response or even visit the live-animal market in the city of Wuhan where the outbreak seemed to have originated.

Nine months and more than 1.1 million deaths later, there is still no transparent, independent investigation into the source of the virus. Notoriously allergic to outside scrutiny, China has impeded the effort, while leaders of the World Health Organization, if privately frustrated, have largely ceded control, even as the Trump administration has fumed.

From the earliest days of the outbreak, the World Health Organization — the only public health body with a global remit — has been both indispensable and impotent. The Geneva-based agency has delivered key information about testing, treatment and vaccine science. When the Trump administration decided to develop its own test kits, rather than rely on the W.H.O. blueprint, the botched result led to delays.

At the same time, the health organization pushed misleading and contradictory information about the risk of spread from symptomless carriers. Its experts were slow to accept that the virus could be airborne. Top health officials encouraged travel as usual, advice that was based on politics and economics, not science.

The W.H.O.’s staunchest defenders note that, by the nature of its constitution, it is beholden to the countries that finance it. And it is hardly the only international body bending to China’s might. But even many of its supporters have been frustrated by the organization’s secrecy, its public praise for China and its quiet concessions. Those decisions have indirectly helped Beijing to whitewash its early failures in handling the outbreak.

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

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