News 01.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 01.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 01.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 01.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Not long ago, getting into a SoulCycle class didn’t just mean a 45-minute workout; it meant status. No boutique fitness class was as exclusive, and no clientele as glamorous or devoted, showing up multiple times a week to ride a bike in the dark.

In Los Angeles, Beyoncé rode with Angela. In New York, Bradley Cooper went to Charlee. When Michelle Obama was first lady, she booked private classes with Garrett in DC. This workout wasn’t just for people who wanted to get sweaty, but for wealthy, popular, and important people who wanted to get sweaty.

Inside each spin studio, every element furthered this air of aspiration and commitment: the welcoming sans-serif logo and uplifting mantras on the walls, the grapefruit-scented candles, the gorgeous instructors, the low-watt mood lighting, the chilled bottles of Smartwater, the amethyst crystals that supposedly absorb bad energy. Acolytes spoke the secret language of the initiated (tapbacks, roosters, doubles, tribe) and wore the uniform of the converted (Lululemon leggings emblazoned with the company’s skull-and-crossbones logo).

Read the rest of this article at: Vox

News 01.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 01.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

There are three moments in the yearlong catastrophe of the covid-19 pandemic when events might have turned out differently. The first occurred on January 3, 2020, when Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spoke with George Fu Gao, the head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which was modelled on the American institution. Redfield had just received a report about an unexplained respiratory virus emerging in the city of Wuhan.

The field of public health had long been haunted by the prospect of a widespread respiratory-illness outbreak like the 1918 influenza pandemic, so Redfield was concerned. Gao, when pressed, assured him that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission. At the time, the theory was that each case had arisen from animals in a “wet” market where exotic game was sold. When Redfield learned that, among twenty-seven reported cases, there were several family clusters, he observed that it was unlikely that each person had been infected, simultaneously, by a caged civet cat or a raccoon dog. He offered to send a C.D.C. team to Wuhan to investigate, but Gao said that he wasn’t authorized to accept such assistance. Redfield made a formal request to the Chinese government and assembled two dozen specialists, but no invitation arrived. A few days later, in another conversation with Redfield, Gao started to cry and said, “I think we’re too late.”

Perhaps Gao had just been made aware that the virus had been circulating in China at least since November. Certainly, Redfield didn’t know that the virus was already present in California, Oregon, and Washington, and would be spreading in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Iowa, Connecticut, Michigan, and Rhode Island within the next two weeks—well before America’s first official case was detected.

Redfield is convinced that, had C.D.C. specialists visited China in early January, they would have learned exactly what the world was facing. The new pathogen was a coronavirus, and as such it was thought to be only modestly contagious, like its cousin the sars virus. This assumption was wrong. The virus in Wuhan turned out to be far more infectious, and it spread largely by asymptomatic transmission. “That whole idea that you were going to diagnose cases based on symptoms, isolate them, and contact-trace around them was not going to work,” Redfield told me recently. “You’re going to be missing fifty per cent of the cases. We didn’t appreciate that until late February.” The first mistake had been made, and the second was soon to happen.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

The Balmoral in Chestnut

Shop the Balmoral in Chestnut
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THE STORY OF the first microprocessor, one you may have heard, goes something like this: The Intel 4004 was introduced in late 1971, for use in a calculator. It was a combination of four chips, and it could be programmed to do other things too, like run a cash register or a pinball game. Flexible and inexpensive, the 4004 propelled an entire industry forward; it was the conceptual forefather of the machine upon which you are probably reading this very article.

That’s the canonical sketch. But objects, events, people—they have alternate histories. Their stories can often be told a different way, from a different perspective, or a what could have been.

This is the story, then, of how another first microprocessor, a secret one, came to be—and of my own entwinement with it. The device was designed by a team at a company called Garrett AiResearch on a subcontract for Grumman, the aircraft manufacturer. It was larger, it was a combination of six chips, and it performed crucial functions for the F-14 Tomcat fighter jet, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of its first flight this week. It was called the Central Air Data Computer, and it computed things like altitude and Mach number; it figured out the angle of attack, key to landing and missile targeting; and it controlled the wing sweep, allowing the craft to be both maneuverable when the wings were at about 50 degrees and very, very fast when they were swept all the way back.

Read the rest of this article at: Wired

News 01.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 01.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

IT WAS ONLY November, but the chill already cut to the bone in the small village of Dimitrovo, which sits just 35 miles north of the Chinese border in a remote part of eastern Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region. Behind a row of sagging cabins and decades-old farm equipment, flat fields ran into the brambly branches of a leafless forest before fading into the oblivion of a dreary squall. Several villagers walked the single-lane dirt road, their shoulders rounded against the cold, their ghostly footprints marking the dry white snow.

A few miles down the road, a rusting old John Deere combine growled on through the flurries, its blade churning through dead-brown stalks of soybeans. The tractor lurched to a halt, and a good-humored man named Dima climbed down from the cockpit. Dima, an entrepreneur who farms nearly 6,500 acres of these fields, was born in the Liaoning Province of northeastern China — his birth name is Xin Jie — one of a wave of Chinese to migrate north in pursuit of opportunity in recent years. After Dima’s mostly Chinese laborers returned home this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he has been forced to do much of the work himself. Bundled against the wind in a camouflage parka, he bent to pick a handful of slender pods from the ground, opening one to reveal a glimpse at Russia’s future.

A great transformation is underway in the eastern half of Russia. For centuries the vast majority of the land has been impossible to farm; only the southernmost stretches along the Chinese and Mongolian borders, including around Dimitrovo, have been temperate enough to offer workable soil. But as the climate has begun to warm, the land — and the prospect for cultivating it — has begun to improve. Twenty years ago, Dima says, the spring thaw came in May, but now the ground is bare by April; rainstorms now come stronger and wetter. Across Eastern Russia, wild forests, swamps and grasslands are slowly being transformed into orderly grids of soybeans, corn and wheat. It’s a process that is likely to accelerate: Russia hopes to seize on the warming temperatures and longer growing seasons brought by climate change to refashion itself as one of the planet’s largest producers of food.

Read the rest of this article at: ProPublica

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News 01.04.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In July 1979, shortly after installing a set of solar panels over the West Wing, Jimmy Carter did something peculiar for a peacetime president. He asked Americans to sacrifice: to consume less, take public transit more, value community over material things, and buy bonds to fund domestic energy development, including solar. From our vantage, this may sound very farsighted and bold. But any prescient, planet-saving leadership seen shimmering through hindsight is a mirage. The speech and the panels advanced a program with the narrow goal of energy independence, not decarbonization. Carter wanted to expand and secure the nation’s economic wheel beyond OPEC’s reach, not question it, shrink it, slow it, or “green” it. “We have more oil in our shale alone than several Saudi Arabias [and] more coal than any nation on earth,” he boasted in the speech. “We have the national will to win this war.”

It’s a different event, buried in the Carter record, that offers a flash of the ecological vision often falsely ascribed to the ’79 energy plan. On the afternoon of March 22, 1977, between meetings with the prime minister of Japan and the National Security Council, Carter sat down in the Oval Office with a British-German economist named E.F. Schumacher. Four years earlier, Schumacher had achieved international fame as the author of Small Is Beautiful, a trenchant critique of the spiritual poverty and delusional frameworks of mainstream economics. His White House visit made him the most radical guest of a sitting president since Warren G. Harding requested an audience with Eugene V. Debs.

Next to Schumacher’s “Buddhist economics,” Debsian socialism was reformist tinkering. Schumacher didn’t see liberation as a matter of reshuffling the ownership and management structures of the smokestack-powered growth economy. He believed a deeper transformation was needed to maintain a livable planet. This would require new socioecological blueprints “designed for permanence.” As the left and the right battled for control over growth’s levers and spoils, Schumacher pointed out how both had become blind to the rise of growth as its own self-justifying, pan-ideological religion; its patterns of production and consumption, he observed, required “a degree of violence” that did not “fit into the laws of the universe.” Schumacher was not alone in his concern. Starting in 1970, a group of system dynamics scientists at M.I.T. began feeding data into a supercomputer to examine where humanity was headed if it continued to consume energy and materials, and to create waste, unabated. They determined that infinite growth was, in fact, impossible on a finite planet. Barring a major course correction, the team projected, growthism would result in an ecological systems breakdown sometime in the middle of the twenty-first century.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Republic

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.