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News 11.27.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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Beth, the protagonist of the TV show The Queen’s Gambit, is not someone you’d want as a friend. She takes money from her childhood mentor—the old janitor who taught her chess—and never pays him back, visits him or thanks him for launching her career. She treats the young men who help her improve—a group that eventually coalesces into a supportive entourage—in a similarly instrumental way. She is so focused on winning tournaments that she can barely spare a word of caution when her adoptive mother is falling into a fatal alcoholic spiral. When she loses, she is petulant and childish, unlike her opponents, who are graceful and kind. She is cruel and manipulative when—as an adult—she plays against a talented Russian child, softening to him only after she has beaten him.

Beth doesn’t seem to love anyone, but viewers love her anyways, admiring the sheer force of her genius. It doesn’t matter that most viewers don’t play chess. The chess scenes focus our attention on her striking, wide-set eyes, her perfect figure and her manicured fingernails, as though gawking at her body were a symbolic way of appreciating some mysterious power in her brain. We are clued in to her genius by other people saying she is “astonishing,” and by their willingness to put themselves at her service.

Read the rest of this article at: The Point

News 11.27.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 11.27.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

WASHINGTON — The call was tense, the message discouraging. Moncef Slaoui, the head of the Trump administration’s effort to quickly produce a vaccine for the coronavirus, was on the phone at 6 p.m. on Aug. 25 to tell the upstart biotech firm Moderna that it had to slow the final stage of testing its vaccine in humans.

Moderna’s chief executive, Stéphane Bancel, a French biochemical engineer, recognized the implication. In the race to quell the pandemic, he said, “every day mattered.” Now his company, which had yet to bring a single product to market, faced a delay of up to three weeks. Pfizer, the global pharmaceutical giant that was busy testing a similar vaccine candidate and promising initial results by October, would take the obvious lead.

“It was the hardest decision I made this year,” Mr. Bancel said.

Moderna’s problem seemed fitting for late summer 2020, when the United States was reeling from not just a pandemic but unrest over racial injustice. Dr. Slaoui informed Mr. Bancel that Moderna had not recruited enough minority candidates into its vaccine trials. If it could not prove its vaccine worked well for Black and Hispanic Americans, who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, it would not make it over the finish line.

Both companies ultimately completed the crucial stages of their human trials this month and reported spectacular initial results, vaccines that appear to be about 95 percent effective against a virus that has killed 1.3 million people, a quarter million of them in the United States.

Few corporate competitions have unfolded with so much at stake and such a complex backdrop. At play were not just commercial rivalries and scientific challenges but an ambitious plan to put the federal government in the middle of the effort and, most vexingly, the often toxic political atmosphere created by President Trump. Betting that a vaccine would secure his re-election, he waged both public and private campaigns to speed the process.

Pfizer’s chief executive, Dr. Albert Bourla, had vowed to avoid the political minefield but was forced to maneuver through it nonetheless. After promising progress on a timetable that seemed to support Mr. Trump’s prediction of a breakthrough before Election Day, Dr. Bourla pushed back the schedule in late October, fearing his firm’s clinical trial results would otherwise not be convincing enough for federal regulators to grant emergency approval of its vaccine. News of Pfizer’s success was announced just after the election was called for Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Dr. Bourla had chosen from the start to keep Pfizer and its research partner, the German firm BioNTech, at arms length from the government, declining research and development money from the crash federal effort, called Operation Warp Speed.

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

IT IS THE MORNING OF CHUSEOK, A KOREAN HARVEST FESTIVAL akin to Thanksgiving, and the members of BTS would normally be spending it with their families, eating tteokguk, a traditional rice-cake soup. Instead, Jin, 28; Suga, 27; J-Hope, 26; RM, 26; Jimin, 25; V, 24; and Jung Kook, 23, are working. Practicing. Honing their choreography. In a few days, the biggest musical act in the world will perform in the live-stream concert that, for now, will have to stand in for the massive tour they spent the first part of this year rehearsing. At this moment, they’re seated inside Big Hit Entertainment headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, the house they built, dressed mostly in black and white, ready to answer my questions. They’re gracious about it. And groggy.

Before I’m done speaking with them for this story, BTS will have the number-one and number-two songs on the BillboardHot 100, a feat that’s been achieved only a handful of times in the sixty-odd years the chart has existed. Their next album, Be, is weeks away from being released, and speculation about the record, the tracklist, the statement, is rampant across the Internet. BTS are, to put it mildly, huge.

Read the rest of this article at: GQ

News 11.27.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 11.27.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

There’s a scene toward the beginning of Asif Kapadia’s documentary, Diego Maradona, where Maradona is standing in some dusty locker room, somewhere in Argentina, waiting to be interviewed. It’s the early ‘80s: He hasn’t moved to Europe yet, hasn’t won the World Cup, hasn’t quite become El Diego. But he’s started to score goals, started to make some money, started to realize he is, in fact, hot shit.

At a squat 5-foot-5, all legs and not much else, he’s wearing a fur coat, brownish gray with black stripes, big enough to fit someone who plays the other kind of football. Rumors have begun to circulate about a lucrative move to a club in Europe, and so a reporter asks him about it. Maradona says he doesn’t care about money, then the reporter goes on to suggest that, well, the leopard on your back might make some people think otherwise. Oh, this thing? Maradona responds: “I needed something cozy, so I bought this.”

On Wednesday, the kid inside that coat passed away at the age of 60, from a heart attack at his home, back in Buenos Aires. With his passing, we’ve lost one of the last human superstars—a one-in-one global icon who inspired impossible mythmaking and irrational religious devotion, but always let us know who he was.

Maradona’s career has taken on a Michael Jordan-esque aura of inevitability, and how could it not? First, he won the 1986 World Cup with Argentina. And really, despite there being 10 other guys on the field, he won it. In the quarterfinals, Argentina took down England, the self-styled forefathers of football. The first goal was the famous “Hand of God,” Diego slyly punching the ball into the net. As he said, “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.” Ref missed it, no instant replay—the goal stands. Maradona would later say that the goal was “a nice feeling of symbolic revenge” for the Falklands War.

Then, four minutes later, as if to make up for his sin, Maradona scored what FIFA called “The Goal of the Century”—an irresistible, syncopated, slalom through the entire England side. “[W]hen I got to the area they surrounded me and I had no space,” he said. “Therefore, I had to continue the play and finish it myself.” It was as if he knew that he had to score this goal after scoring that goal, to level the cosmic scales and layer the game with another level of immediate historic drama. He couldn’t just score another goal; it had to be the greatest goal that anyone had ever scored.

Read the rest of this article at: GQ

News 11.27.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

There’s a monument near Brora, 60 miles short of John o’Groats, that claims to mark the spot where the last wolf in Sutherland was killed. I pass it often in the car. The wolf, it says, was killed by the hunter Polson in or about the year 1700.

I know this story. Polson, so it goes, was standing watch outside the wolf’s lair while his sons laid waste to the pups inside. When the she-wolf returned from the hunt, racing to the aid of her young, she bounded past the hunter and, as she did, he grabbed her by the tail. From inside the den – now plunged into darkness as Polson and the wolf struggled at its entrance – came, in Gaelic, a shout of alarm: “Father! What’s blocking the light?” To which Polson replied: “If the tail comes away at the root, you’ll soon find out!”

It’s an unlikely story, even as such stories go. The history of wolves is saturated with this kind of machismo and mythmaking. Here are all its stock ingredients: the lupine villain, the plucky hunter, the lucky break. Did it really happen? Probably not. Still, whether Polson is to blame or not, there are no wild wolves left in Scotland. By 1700, they had also long been extirpated from England and from Wales – though their old territory is commemorated in the form of names: Ulthwaite, Wolfenden, Wolfheles, Wolvenfield. Their deaths, too: Woolpit, Wolfpit, Woolfall. All across Europe there were centuries of open warfare against the wolf – that universal antihero, folkloric villain, sharp-toothed grandmother with a glint in her eye – which saw it hunted relentlessly wherever people lived, persecuted across continents and cultures.

In Europe, those that survived retreated to rare enclaves, finding sanctuary on the high ground of the Apennines, or fleeing east into the debatable lands where Europe bleeds into Asia: Carpathia, the Balkans. There, the wolves in exile clung on, waiting for an opportunity, preparing for their victorious return.

If the trajectory of the European wolf is dispiriting, it is also familiar. We have become well acquainted with graphs that plot the advance of humans against the decline of all else. Everywhere we go, it seems, we wreak death and destruction, chipping away at the natural world. But over the last century, a different narrative has been writing itself into existence. In Europe, patterns of farming and land use have been changing on a grand scale, as marginal land – too steep or too depleted to be worth the effort of farming – falls into disuse. As the value of livestock has dropped, young people, too, have increasingly abandoned rural areas for cities. When they do, ever more land often goes unclaimed, unploughed, unrestrained. Some estimate that in the three decades leading to 2030, an area the size of Italy will have been abandoned within the EU alone.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

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