“Crash call for the neonatal, adult and obstetric teams. I repeat: crash call for the neonatal, adult and obstetric teams. Accident and Emergency. Ground floor, Cavell Wing.” There’s only one explanation for why you would need three crash teams at once: a heavily pregnant woman is in trouble. The adult team is to resuscitate her; the obstetrics team is to get the baby out (within five minutes, if either of them is to have any chance of survival); and the neonatal team is to try to resuscitate the newborn. Like all the other resuscitation nurses, I am on all the crash teams – adult, paediatric, neonatal, obstetric and trauma – but this crash call will also bring specialist doctors: an obstetrician, a neonatologist, an anaesthetist. Suzanne is wearing a necklace that reads Mama-To-Be. A leopard-print headscarf is holding her ombre hair back from her face. The rest of her is blood and gore and flesh and insides. There are so many people that it’s hard to know where to start, but the person in charge is a nurse with a military background: Amanda. She is one of the best nurses I have ever worked with, a reservist who has worked in field hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan. She is always calm, efficient and friendly. “Just because it’s an emergency doesn’t mean you can’t find out the names of the team, and be nice. In fact, it’s even more important in an emergency.” [...] His face is creased with pain. “After 10 failed IVF attempts and two miscarriages, we finally felt as if this one would stick around.” He looks at me, unblinking. “She’ll lose the baby, won’t she? We’ll lose the baby. It’s too early. She was on the phone to me from the car. She was hands-free but still, she’d have been distracted.” He sobs. Covers his mouth with his hand. I don’t say anything. I don’t know yet what he’s been told, but it’s clear that I’m not the right person, and this is not the right time to give significant bad news. I’m terrified that if I open my mouth, the truth will fall out. The terrible truth is that they will probably both die. Not all babies live. Not all mothers live. We stand in silence for a while, before finally I overcome the urge to cry or say nothing at all. “Is there anyone I can call for you?” He shakes his head. Nods at the door. “She’s my everyone.” I nod. “I’ll pop back in and see how things are going.”
Using his phone, Reed googled the two men’s names together. Within seconds, he realized the duo was internet-famous. He scrolled down and read the stories about a disastrous journey T. R. and Fosdick had taken two years earlier, in September of 2012. In what seemed to be a typical flight, the two left Baytown, near Houston, bound for Sarasota, Florida. Halfway there, 11,000 feet in the air, they noticed that their plane, a Beechcraft Baron, had caught fire. They used textbook procedures to carry out an emergency landing in the Gulf of Mexico, ditching the plane thirty miles from shore. Then they waited in the water, where sharks and Portuguese man-of-wars, which sting like jellyfish, have been spotted, to be rescued. While they floated, T. R. documented their bobbing heads, and their subsequent rescue by the Coast Guard, on an iPad in a waterproof case. Wearing aviator sunglasses and a lightweight sun hat, T. R. looked straight into the iPad’s camera. His partner, Fosdick, was shyer. He smiled in the background with the obligation of a teen whose mom was asking him to pose nicely for a photo. “There’s Raymond,” T. R. said shortly after the ditching. “We seem to be okay, without injuries.” T. R. seemed only slightly out of breath as he navigated the waves on a flotation device. “I believe we’ve been in the water for about an hour now,” he said. “No sign of any rescue or emergency services yet.” As daylight dwindled, the two men treaded water for three hours, until the Coast Guard spotted and rescued them. [...] This rags-to-riches origin story contains all the elements of a typical T. R. Wright anecdote: big money in the balance, risks taken, and legal minefields skirted, laced with difficult-to-fact-check details. It was easy to believe, for example, that as a teenager he hooked up with a girl about his age while he was on vacation with her and her family. It wasn’t as easy to believe that he then hooked up with the girl’s 35-year-old mother (“the girl hated my guts; I mean, I’m sleeping with her mother”) and that the girl’s father caught T. R. and her mother in the act and drove him to the airport in an excruciating two-hour-long journey. His associate said he wasn’t always sure which stories were true and which were lies—but they were always entertaining. [...] But it must have flowed a little more than it ebbed, because by his late twenties, T. R. had enough money to purchase a 110-foot yacht. He named it Never Enough. The boat slept twelve people, in a master cabin, a VIP cabin, a guest cabin, and crew’s quarters. He later extended the yacht’s helipad. He docked the yacht in Kemah and rented a home attached to a hangar at the Baytown airport and a spartan guesthouse in Kemah. He continued spending his money on expensive toys: besides boats, there were watches, cars, and, eventually, planes. The older crowd at the hangars T. R. visited, in Baytown and Galveston, remember that he was a novice pilot when they first met him but that he quickly became adept at flying small planes, big jets, helicopters, and experimental aircraft. In short order, he could even fly a gyrocopter and a hot air balloon. “He was a natural at flying,” said pilot Barry Larsen. No one, though, described T. R. as cautious.
A startling investigation into how a cheap, well-known drug became a political football in the midst of a pandemic [...] Especially influential in much of the world in the early days (if not the U.S., which often, focuses, it seems, mostly on studies from the Anglosphere) were studies commissioned by the French government and led by the microbiologist, physician, and professor of infectious disease and virology, Didier Raoult, from l’Institut hospitalo-universitaire (IHU), which he directs in Marseille, and which had assembled one of the largest datasets in Europe. Raoult is the most highly cited microbiologist in Europe, recognized for having identified 468 novel species of bacteria, most in humans, and for his team having discovered the largest virus ever documented at the time (so large it had been mistaken for an intracellular bacterium). He has boldly asserted that viruses—which had been classified as nonliving—are alive. He has published over 2,000 papers, many of them through the IHU, with him as a contributing or lead author. He has been given major awards, the French Legion d’honneur, and perhaps the most important one for a microbiologist, having a bacteria genus, “Raoutella,” named in his honor. [...] Raoult was the one in his lab who came up with the idea of combining the two older drugs, HCQ and azithromycin, for COVID-19. A contrarian specialty of his has been “repurposing” or “repositioning” inexpensive generic and already available medications to fight infections. Repurposing has huge advantages. If a drug can be repurposed as an antiviral in an outbreak, it provides an already approved drug on hand, one with which we have had years of experience, so we know its drug interactions, how to monitor its effects on the major organs, how to test for blood levels, as well as its “posology,” or the science of how a drug’s dosing changes in different situations, and its safety profile and side effects. Moreover, old drugs have huge advantages over new ones in this area, because often bad effects don’t show up for years after the drug is brought to market. [...] Trump was clearly very excited (and would, according to reports, ultimately take the drug prophylactically himself), and like many a politician, wanted to be the bearer of good news in a frightening time. But as so many had, he slid into seeing Raoult’s very hopeful proof of concept study as an outcome study. [...] Trump’s political base cheered for HCQ and his opponents booed and accused him of practicing medicine without a license—and began dredging up any evidence, or “experts,” they could find, who might emphasize that HCQ was dangerous, or useless, or both, and thus they responded to his hyperbole with their own, and then some. As Risch observed in Newsweek, for many HCQ became “viewed as a marker of political identity, on both sides of the political spectrum.” CNN began a nonstop campaign criticizing the safety of the drug, holding Trump responsible for three people who overdosed on it in Nigeria. Rivals went after Raoult, now tainted because Trump had mentioned his work. A New York Times profile depicted the scholar-physician as a Trump doppelganger, with his, “funny hair” and, being a man “who thinks almost everyone else is stupid,” who “is beloved by the angry and the conspiracy-minded.” Headlines such as, “Why does Trump call an 86-year-old unproven drug a game-changer against coronavirus?” were common. Stories began equating HCQ with Trump (“Trump’s drug”) and emphasized not only that it was dangerous, but that HCQ was old. And old was definitely not good. The implication was that far better than old was some new drug—that wasn’t yet invented, never mind tested—that might be in the utopian “pipeline” to the always better medical future. [...] You’ve heard of cherry-picking evidence or results, when advocating for an argument, or product or invention. What followed was a torrent of what could best be called “rotten cherry picking”—media, politicos, and rivals, scouring the internet for any sign that HCZ would kill masses of people. For instance, on the same Anderson Cooper show mentioned above, Dr. Sanjay Gupta listed only the studies that supposedly showed HCQ didn’t work, and none of the studies that showed it did. “A lot of people have gone crazy,” says Raoult, “claiming that we were dealing with the most dangerous drug in the world, when almost 2 billion people have already taken it.” HCQ, he points out, has been given safely for decades, even to pregnant women, but is being made to look dangerous—even when properly monitored by cardiologists. [...] One didn’t have to be an expert in medical research, or chemistry, to ascertain that the opposition to HCQ at times was confused and contradictory. Those who opposed it often gave as their first reason for opposition that “we can’t have people using HCQ for COVID-19 because we need to keep supplies for people with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, who are dependent upon it,” but adding, sometimes in the same breath, “besides, the drug is a dangerous killer.”
David Shor’s Unified Theory of American Politics / New York Magazine
Phenomenal interview that changed the way I think about how people vote:
David Shor got famous by getting fired. In late May, amid widespread protests over George Floyd’s murder, the 28-year-old data scientist tweeted out a study that found nonviolent demonstrations were more effective than “riots” at pushing public opinion and voter behavior leftward in 1968. Many Twitter users — and (reportedly) some of Shor’s colleagues and clients at the data firm Civis Analytics — found this post insensitive. A day later, Shor publicly apologized for his tweet. Two weeks after that, he’d lost his job as Civis’s head of political data science — and become a byword for the excesses of so-called cancel culture. [...] But before Shor’s improbable transformation into a cause célèbre, he was among the most influential data gurus in Democratic politics — a whiz kid who, at age 20, served as the 2012 Obama campaign’s in-house Nate Silver, authoring the forecasting model that the White House used to determine where the race really stood. [...] There’s a paper by the political scientist David Broockman that made this point really famous — that “moderate” voters don’t have moderate views, just ideologically inconsistent ones. Some people responded to media coverage of that paper by saying, “Oh, people are just answering these surveys randomly, issues don’t matter.” But that’s not actually what the paper showed. In a separate section, they tested the relevance of issues by presenting voters with hypothetical candidate matchups — here’s a politician running on this position, and another politician running on the opposite — and they found that issue congruence was actually very important for predicting who people voted for. So this suggests there’s a big mass of voters who agree with us on some issues, and disagree with us on others. And whenever we talk about a given issue, that increases the extent to which voters will cast their ballots on the basis of that issue. Mitt Romney and Donald Trump agreed on basically every issue, as did Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. And yet, a bunch of people changed their votes. And the reason that happened was because the salience of various issues changed. Both sides talked a lot more about immigration, and because of that, correlation between preferences on immigration and which candidate people voted for went up. In 2012, both sides talked about health care. In 2016, they didn’t. And so the correlation between views on health care and which candidate people voted for went down. So this means that every time you open your mouth, you have this complex optimization problem where what you say gains you some voters and loses you other voters. But this is actually cool because campaigns have a lot of control over what issues they talk about. Non-college-educated whites, on average, have very conservative views on immigration, and generally conservative racial attitudes. But they have center-left views on economics; they support universal health care and minimum-wage increases. So I think Democrats need to talk about the issues they are with us on, and try really hard not to talk about the issues where we disagree. Which, in practice, means not talking about immigration. [...] One way to think about electoral salience and the effects of raising the salience of given issues, is to look at which party voters trust on a given issue, not just what their stated policy preference is. So if you do a poll on universal background checks for guns, you’ll find that they’re super-popular. But then, politicians who run on background checks often lose. In the same way, if you poll comprehensive immigration reform, it’s super-popular, even among Republicans. But then Republicans can run on anti-immigrant platforms and win. So how do you square that circle? [...] And there’s a pretty basic pattern — both here and in other countries — in which voters view center-left parties as empathetic. Center-left parties care about the environment, lowering poverty, improving race relations. And then, you know, center-right parties are seen as more “serious,” or more like the stern dad figure or something. They do better on getting the economy going or lowering unemployment or taxes or crime or immigration.
COVID-19 Is Transmitted Through Aerosols. We Have Enough Evidence, Now It Is Time to Act / Time
Well-cited, well-articulated -- and best of all, useful -- explanation of how COVID is transmitted and what should be done about it:
It is critical to have a clear physical description of the ways in which COVID-19 is transmitted, so that individuals and institutions are able to visualize it and will understand how to protect themselves. Contrary to public health messaging, I, together with many other scientists, believe that a substantial share of COVID-19 cases are the result of transmission through aerosols. The evidence in favor of aerosols is stronger than that for any other pathway, and officials need to be more aggressive in expressing this reality if we want to get the pandemic under control. [...] For example, contact tracing has found that much COVID-19 transmission occurs in close proximity, but that many people who share the same home with an infected person do not get the disease. To understand why, it is useful to use cigarette or vaping smoke (which is also an aerosol) as an analog. Imagine sharing a home with a smoker: if you stood close to the smoker while talking, you would inhale a great deal of smoke. Replace the smoke with virus-containing aerosols, which behave very similarly, and the impact is similar: the closer you are to someone releasing virus-carrying aerosols, the more likely you are to breathe in larger amounts of virus. We know from detailed, rigorous studies that when individuals talk in close proximity, aerosols dominate transmission and droplets are nearly negligible. If you are standing on the other side of the room, you would inhale significantly less smoke. But in a poorly ventilated room, the smoke will accumulate, and people in the room may end up inhaling a lot of smoke over time. Talking, and especially singing and shouting increase aerosol exhalation by factors of 10 and 50, respectively. Indeed, we are finding that outbreaks often occur when people gather in crowded, insufficiently ventilated indoor spaces, such as singing at karaoke parties, cheering at clubs, having conversations in bars, and exercising in gyms. Superspreading events, where one person infects many, occur almost exclusively in indoor locations and are driving the pandemic. These observations are easily explained by aerosols, and are very difficult or impossible to explain by droplets or fomites. Furthermore, droplets move ballistically—they fly like a cannonball from someone’s mouth and then travel through the air until they either hit something (worst case someone else’s eyes, mouth or nostrils) or fall to the ground. Aerosols on the other hand, act like smoke: after being expelled, they don’t fall to the ground, but rather disperse throughout the air, getting diluted by air currents, and being inhaled by others present in the same space. Contact tracing shows that, when it comes to COVID-19, being outdoors is 20 times safer than being indoors, which argues that aerosol transmission is much more important than droplets; outdoors, there’s plenty of air in which aerosols can become diluted; not so indoors. In addition, researchers have demonstrated aerosol transmission of this virus in ferrets and hamsters. The visual analogy of smoke can help guide our risk assessment and risk reduction strategies. One just has to imagine that others they encounter are all smoking, and the goal is to breathe as little smoke as possible.
Welcome to the stock market, Robinhood-style. Since February, as the global economy collapsed under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic, millions of novices, armed with $1,200 stimulus checks and nothing much to do, have begun trading via Silicon Valley upstart Robinhood—the phone-friendly discount brokerage founded in 2013 by Vladimir Tenev, 33, and Baiju Bhatt, 35. The young entrepreneurs built their rocketship by applying the formula Facebook made famous: Their app was free, easy to use and addictive. And Robinhood—named for the legendary medieval outlaw who took from the rich and gave to the poor—had a mission even the most woke, capitalism-weary Millennial could get behind: to “democratize finance for all.” [...] The problem is that Robinhood has sold the world a story of helping the little guy that is the opposite of its actual business model: selling the little guy to rich market operators with very sharp elbows. [...] Robinhood refutes the notion that its model preys on inexperienced investors and claims most of its customers use a buy and hold strategy. “Receipt of payment for order flow is a common, legal and regulated industry business practice,” says a Robinhood spokesperson who insists the app helped customers save $1 billion on trades this year. “We are focused on providing a platform that makes finance accessible and approachable and where people can make thoughtful, informed investing decisions.” Billionaire competitor Thomas Peterffy, the founder of Interactive Brokers, says stop limit orders are the most valuable orders a sophisticated trader can buy. “If people send you orders, you see what they are. You can plot them up along a price axis and see how many buy and sell orders you have at each of those prices,” he says. For instance, if a buyer sees sell orders bunched up around a certain price, it means that if the stock or option hits that price, the market is going to fall hard. “If you are a trader, it’s good for you if you can trigger the stop—you can go short and trigger the stop, and then cover much lower,” Peterffy says. “It’s an old technique.”
Traditional orthodontic teaching explains crooked teeth mostly through genetics: We inherit the alignment of our bite from our parents, just as we inherit almost any other trait. Mew does not believe this. Instead, he sees crooked teeth as a symptom of a sweeping, unrecognized health crisis. Changes in our lifestyle and environment since the 18th century, Mew contends, are inducing our jaws to grow small and recessed. The teeth do their best to come in straight, but our misformed faces cause them to twist and turn and compete for space. As a result, we’ve been robbed not only of tidy smiles but also, Mew says, of the well-defined faces that were the birthright of our ancient ancestors, and which Mew regards as the mark of true beauty. Since the late 1970s, Mew — later joined by his 51-year-old son and fellow orthodontist, Mike — has treated patients in his practice in the London suburbs. Using nothing more than palatal expanders, dietary changes, the force of the tongue and an appliance the family invented called the Biobloc, the Mews claim that they can counteract the effects of modernity while children are still growing. Where traditional orthodontists focus most of their efforts on straightening teeth, Mew says his aim is to “save the face.” The Mews have enraged the orthodontic community with the caustic, uncompromising way they’ve promoted their theories. They and the coterie of nontraditional practitioners who follow them often occupy the furthest reaches of the orthodontic fringe, written off for decades as a small but troublesome band of cranks and kooks. They almost never speak at mainstream conferences. Their papers, if they publish them, tend to appear in obscure, fourth-rate journals or profit-driven industry magazines. British and American orthodontic researchers told me that nearly every claim the Mews have put forth is wrong. Kevin O’Brien, a leading academic orthodontist in the U.K., described their work to me as “mostly discredited.” When I mentioned Mew to a prominent American orthodontist, he cut me off. “John Mew is an idiot,” he said. “A total idiot.” [...] The Morton specimens sat in cases all around, peering out at us with enormous, empty sockets and gleaming teeth. In a plastic container, Monge had placed skulls from the Middle East, West Africa, Eastern Europe and beyond. When I asked her if she’d ever seen an ancient specimen with crooked teeth, she didn’t hesitate: “No, not one. Ever.” Most of the skulls in the Penn collection date from a 40,000-year period starting late in the Stone Age and ending around 300 years ago, yet “they all have an edge-to-edge bite,” “robust” jaws and “perfect” occlusion, Monge said. But then, in specimens from people who lived two centuries ago or less, Monge noted a striking change: The edge-to-edge bite completely disappears, and malocclusion suddenly runs rampant. She pointed to a skull on a nearby shelf — that of a woman who lived in 19th-century North America. Unlike the ancient skulls, this postindustrial woman’s maxilla was crinkled and small; the teeth that remained sat crammed together. “I always told my students, ‘Something happened 200 years ago and nobody has an edge-to-edge bite anymore — and I have no freaking idea why,’” Monge said. She took the skull of a preindustrial Siberian man out of her container and clicked the mandible into place. The bone was thick; the teeth met so neatly that they appeared pulled from an Invisalign ad. Monge laughed, her open mouth revealing a pair of missing molars. She cradled the skull in her hand. “Isn’t that just perfect?”
Tens of thousands of people, collectively known as “long-haulers,” have similar stories. I first wrote about them in early June. Since then, I’ve received hundreds of messages from people who have been suffering for months—alone, unheard, and pummeled by unrelenting and unpredictable symptoms. “It’s like every day, you reach your hand into a bucket of symptoms, throw some on the table, and say, ‘This is you for today,’” says David Putrino, a neuroscientist and a rehabilitation specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital who has cared for many long-haulers. Of the long-haulers Putrino has surveyed, most are women. Their average age is 44. Most were formerly fit and healthy. They look very different from the typical portrait of a COVID-19 patient—an elderly person with preexisting health problems. “It’s scary because in the states that are surging, we have all these young people going out thinking they’re invincible, and this could easily knock them out for months,” Putrino told me. And for some, months of illness could turn into years of disability. Our understanding of COVID-19 has accreted around the idea that it kills a few and is “mild” for the rest. That caricature was sketched before the new coronavirus even had a name; instead of shifting in the light of fresh data, it calcified. It affected the questions scientists sought to ask, the stories journalists sought to tell, and the patients doctors sought to treat. It excluded long-haulers from help and answers. Nichols’s initial symptoms were so unlike the official description of COVID-19 that her first doctor told her she had acid reflux and refused to get her tested. “Even if you did have COVID-19, you’re 32, you’re healthy, and you’re not going to die,” she remembers him saying. (She has since tested positive.) [...] It’s not enough, argues Nisreen Alwan, a public-health professor at the University of Southampton who has had COVID-19 since March 20. She says that experts and officials should stop referring to all nonhospitalized cases as “mild.” They should agree on a definition of recovery that goes beyond being discharged from the hospital or testing negative for the virus, and accounts for a patient’s quality of life. “We cannot fight what we do not measure,” Alwan says. “Death is not the only thing that counts. We must also count lives changed.” Only then will we truly know the full stakes of the pandemic. As many people still fantasize about returning to their previous lives, some are already staring at a future where that is no longer possible.
And then there’s the environmental problem. The environmental problem? Aren’t we talking about digital coins? Yes, which makes it even stranger. Solving all those complex puzzles requires a huge amount of energy. So much energy that the two biggest blockchains in the world – bitcoin and Ethereum – are now using up the same amount of electricity as the whole of Austria. Carrying out a payment with Visa requires about 0.002 kilowatt-hours; the same payment with bitcoin uses up 906 kilowatt-hours, more than half a million times as much, and enough to power a two-person household for about three months. And the environmental problem is only going to grow. As miners put more effort into solving the puzzles (ie, building more of those dark server caves in Alaska), the puzzles will automatically become more difficult, requiring more calculation power. It’s an endless, pointless arms race in order to facilitate the same number of transactions with more and more energy. And for what? This is actually the most important question: what problem does blockchain actually solve? OK, so with bitcoin, banks can’t just remove money from your account at their own discretion. But does this really happen? I have never heard of a bank simply taking money from someone’s account. If a bank did something like that, they would be hauled into court in no time and lose their license. Technically it’s possible; legally, it’s a death sentence. Of course scammers are active everywhere. People lie and cheat. But the biggest problem is scams by data suppliers (for instance: someone secretly registers a hunk of horse meat as beef), not by data administrators (for instance: a bank makes money disappear). Some people have suggested putting the Land Registry on the blockchain. That would solve all kinds of problems in countries with corrupt administrations. Take Greece, for example, where one in five buildings is not registered. Why are these buildings not registered? Because the Greeks just start building and then there’s suddenly a house that’s not in the Land Registry. Except a blockchain can’t do anything about that. A blockchain is a database – it’s not a self-regulating system that checks all data for correctness, let alone one that calls a halt to unauthorised building works. The same rules apply for blockchain as for any database: if people put garbage into it, what comes out is also garbage. Or as Bloomberg columnist Matt Levine wrote: “My immutable unforgeable cryptographically secure blockchain record proving that I have 10,000 pounds of aluminium in a warehouse is not much use to a bank if I then smuggle the aluminium out of the warehouse through the back door.” Data should reflect reality, but sometimes reality changes and the data stays the same. That’s why we have notaries, supervisors, lawyers – actually, all those boring people that blockchain thinks it can do without.
Ball is the most famous player in the 2020 NBA draft and the most famous mystery in basketball. We know of him through his uniquely turbulent dad and iconic last name and two older, basketball-playing brothers, but he remains mostly a concept, famous for being famous, with a role in the family's Facebook show, "Ball in the Family" (co-starring LaMelo Ball, as himself), and the however-many-million Instagram followers. (For the pedants: 5.5 million.) He has led a reality show childhood that never felt particularly real.
We reviewed published research about COVID, and used it to make rough estimates about the risk level of various activities in microCOVIDs. 1 microCOVID is a one-in-a-million chance of getting COVID. We hope you’ll use this tool to build your intuition about the comparative risk of different activities and as a harm-reduction tool to make safer choices. Play around with the calculator! Change the variables and see how they affect the total.
Earlier this month, while speaking via Zoom to a promising group of politically inclined high school students, I was met with an abrupt line of inquiry. “I’m sorry, but I still don’t understand,” said one young man, his pitch a blend of curiosity and exasperation. “What do Republicans believe? What does it mean to be a Republican?” You could forgive a 17-year-old, who has come of age during Donald Trump’s reign, for failing to recognize a cohesive doctrine that guides the president’s party. The supposed canons of GOP orthodoxy—limited government, free enterprise, institutional conservation, moral rectitude, fiscal restraint, global leadership—have in recent years gone from elastic to expendable. Identifying this intellectual vacuum is easy enough. Far more difficult is answering the question of what, quite specifically, has filled it. Bumbling through a homily about the “culture wars,” a horribly overused cliché, I felt exposed. Despite spending more than a decade studying the Republican Party, embedding myself both with its generals and its foot soldiers, reporting on the right as closely as anyone, I did not have a good answer to the student’s question. Vexed, I began to wonder who might. Not an elected official; that would result in a rhetorical exercise devoid of introspection. Not a Never Trumper; they would have as much reason to answer disingenuously as the most fervent MAGA follower. I decided to call Frank Luntz. Perhaps no person alive has spent more time polling Republican voters and counseling Republican politicians than Luntz, the 58-year-old focus group guru. His research on policy and messaging has informed a generation of GOP lawmakers. His ability to translate between D.C. and the provinces—connecting the concerns of everyday people to their representatives in power—has been unsurpassed. If anyone had an answer, it would be Luntz. “You know, I don’t have a history of dodging questions. But I don’t know how to answer that. There is no consistent philosophy,” Luntz responded. “You can’t say it’s about making America great again at a time of Covid and economic distress and social unrest. It’s just not credible.” Luntz thought for a moment. “I think it’s about promoting—” he stopped suddenly. “But I can’t, I don’t—” he took a pause. “That’s the best I can do.” When I pressed, Luntz sounded as exasperated as the student whose question I was relaying. “Look, I’m the one guy who’s going to give you a straight answer. I don’t give a shit—I had a stroke in January, so there’s nothing anyone can do to me to make my life suck,” he said. “I’ve tried to give you an answer and I can’t do it. You can ask it any different way. But I don’t know the answer. For the first time in my life, I don’t know the answer.”
No, the more interesting claims are about substantial (but not crazy extreme) decreases in the peak or median level of civilizations across wide areas. Such as what happened late in the late Mediterranean Bronze Age, or at the fall of the Roman Empire. Could there have been “higher” civilizations before the “first” ones that we now know about in each region, such as the Sumerians, Egyptians, and Chinese Shang dynasty? (I’m talking human civs, not others.) Yes, you might think of these as “extraordinary” claims for which we lack extraordinary evidence, and declare them unlikely and sloppy unscientific speculation, to be disdained by the respectable. But again, that’s not fair. A priori it is nearly as likely that overall advancement in a region would have taken a big (but not crazy huge) temporary dip, as that it would have had a recently-typical rise. No, that isn’t much of a reason for skepticism. Substantial, if hardly overwhelming, supporting evidence comes in the form of writings from the earliest authors we can find, who explicitly claim that they descended from more advanced prior civilizations, who fell due to big cataclysms. This story is actually quite common. Further supporting evidence exists when the earliest versions of the first civilizations we see had surprisingly advanced abilities for their time in key areas, abilities which then declined over time. That is what you’d expect to see after a prior peak. And that does seem to be what we see in Egypt and Peru, as far as I can tell, regarding stone masonry abilities. Of course that might also just reflect local fluctuations in particular abilities; the big question is how much correlation to expect to see across different kinds of civilization abilities.
One of the creepier conclusions drawn by scientists studying the Anthropocene—the proposed epoch of Earth’s geologic history in which humankind’s activities dominate the globe—is how closely today’s industrially induced climate change resembles conditions seen in past periods of rapid temperature rise. [...] The canonical example of a hyperthermal is the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), a 200,000-year period that occurred some 55.5 million years ago when global average temperatures rose by 5 to 8 degrees Celsius (about 9 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit). Schmidt has pondered the PETM for his entire career, and it was on his mind one day in his office last year when the University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank paid him a visit. Frank was there to discuss the idea of studying global warming from an “astrobiological perspective”—that is, investigating whether the rise of an alien industrial civilization on an exoplanet might necessarily trigger climate changes similar to those we see during Earth’s own Anthropocene. But almost before Frank could describe how one might search for the climatic effects of industrial “exocivilizations” on newly discovered planets, Schmidt caught him up short with a surprising question: “How do you know we’re the only time there’s been a civilization on our own planet?” Frank considered a moment before responding with a question of his own: “Could we even tell if there had been an industrial civilization [long before this one]?” Their subsequent attempt to address both questions has yielded a provocative paper on the possibility Earth might have spawned more than one technological society during its 4.5-billion-year history. And if indeed some such culture arose on Earth in the murky depths of geologic time, how might scientists today discern signs of that incredible development? Or, as the paper put it: “If an industrial civilization had existed on Earth many millions of years prior to our own era, what traces would it have left and would they be detectable today?” Schmidt and Frank began by forecasting the geologic fingerprints the Anthropocene will likely leave behind—such as hints of soaring temperatures and rising seas laid down in beds of sedimentary rock. These features, they noted, are very similar to the geologic leftovers of the PETM and other hyperthermal events. They then considered what tests could plausibly distinguish an industrial cause from otherwise naturally occurring climate changes. [...] “To estimate the odds of finding artifacts,” Schmidt says, “The back-of-the-envelope calculation for dinosaur fossils says that one fossil emerges every 10,000 years.” Dinosaur footprints are rarer still. “After a couple of million years,” Frank says, “the chances are that any physical reminder of your civilization has vanished, so you have to search for things like sedimentary anomalies or isotopic ratios that look off.” The shadows of many prehuman civilizations could, in principle, lurk hidden in such subtleties.
That Trump is seeing major losses among whites specifically as a result of his racially inflammatory behavior seems fairly inexplicable given the common narrative that whites who voted for Trump were motivated largely by racism. But in fact, that common narrative is wrong. The underlying dynamics at work here have been present from the outset: Trump’s racialized rhetoric and policies have always been a drag on his candidacy, including among many whites who have traditionally skewed Republican. Here the reader may be perplexed. After all, there are thousands of studies ostensibly ‘proving’ Trump voters were driven by racism. Yet as I demonstrated in a recent paper for The American Sociologist, this literature is plagued by glaring errors, oversights and prejudicial study design. In a typical example, an author purported to demonstrate that Trump voters were especially motivated by racial animus. In fact, his data showed that Trump voters were less “racist” than Romney voters — and less ‘authoritarian’ too (see pp. 7-11).
Something wasn’t right about Captain Saud. Sitting on a fine-grained leather couch in the custom wood-paneled cabin of his Boeing 737-800 in Paris, he had the outward appearance of a pilot. His uniform was crisp, his demeanor confident and friendly. He cracked jokes and showed pictures of his children to staffers of the VIP he was supposed to fly to Cairo, a Saudi prince named Sultan bin Turki II. But little things seemed off. One member of the prince’s entourage was a recreational pilot, and Saud couldn’t keep up with his small talk about 737 pilot training. The captain’s plane had a crew of 19, more than double the usual number of staffers. And the crew was all men, some a little burlier than you’d expect. Where were the leggy European blondes who were fixtures on Saudi Royal Court flights? Then there was the watch. Saud was fascinated by the Breitling Emergency watch the prince’s companion wore. “I’ve never seen one of these,” he said, in perfect English. The $15,000 watch, with a radio beacon to summon help in a crash, is a favorite indulgence of pilots with disposable income. What kind of airplane captain had never seen one? And what kind of pilot wore the Hublot that Saud had on, a showy hunk of metal that would cost three months’ salary for most pilots? The watch, the 19 men, the lack of flying knowledge—the dissonances added up. Sultan’s security detail warned the prince: Don’t get on the plane. It’s a trap. But Prince Sultan was tired. He missed his father, who was waiting for him in Cairo. And Mohammed bin Salman, the son of the king, had sent this plane. Sultan figured he could trust his newly powerful first cousin, who had maneuvered himself out of obscurity to become the most powerful member of the royal family after the king.
Discoveries at the sprawling site have archaeologists rethinking the roots of Chinese civilization. [...] For decades, villagers in the dust-blown hills of China’s Loess Plateau believed that the crumbling rock walls near their homes were part of the Great Wall. It made sense. Remnants of the ancient barrier zigzag through this arid region inside the northern loop of the Yellow River, marking the frontier of Chinese rule stretching back more than 2,000 years. But one detail was curiously out of place: Locals, and then looters, began finding in the rubble pieces of jade, some fashioned into discs and blades and scepters. Jade is not indigenous to this northernmost part of Shaanxi Province—the nearest source is almost a thousand miles away—and it was not a known feature of the Great Wall. Why was it showing up in abundance in this barren region so close to the Ordos Desert? [...] When a team of Chinese archaeologists came to investigate the conundrum several years ago, they began to unearth something wondrous and puzzling. The stones were not part of the Great Wall but the ruins of a magnificent fortress city. The ongoing dig has revealed more than six miles of protective walls surrounding a 230-foot-high pyramid and an inner sanctum with painted murals, jade artifacts—and gruesome evidence of human sacrifice. Before excavations were suspended earlier this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, archaeologists uncovered 70 stunning relief sculptures in stone—serpents, monsters, and half-human beasts that resemble later Bronze Age iconography in China. Even more astonishing: Carbon-dating determined that parts of Shimao, as the site is called (its original name is unknown), date back 4,300 years, nearly 2,000 years before the oldest section of the Great Wall—and 500 years before Chinese civilization took root on the Central Plains, several hundred miles to the south.
Despite these setbacks, the Nazi regime had continued to develop their military technology, and as the war deteriorated around them, their plans became more outlandish. In 1944, a plan was hatched to strike terror into the hearts of the American citizens. There was resentment in the hearts of some in Europe regarding the American citizen’s safety during the war. Why should they sit safe in their homes while the people of Europe struggled daily in the war? The Japanese tried to send balloons via the jet stream. A long range bomber was designed to potentially fly across the Atlantic and back with the sole purpose of bombing New York City from German bases in Europe. These two did not come close to fruition, but the plan to launch missiles via U-boat into New York harbor from hidden positions at sea almost came to be.
Aliens? Or a chunk of solid hydrogen? Which idea makes less sense? [...] 'Oumuamua—a mysterious, interstellar object that crashed through our solar system two years ago—might in fact be alien technology. That’s because an alternative, non-alien explanation might be fatally flawed, as a new study argues.
Far from helping to explain the southpaw surplus, the platoon effect must actually suppress the number of left-handed pitchers. So the question remains: Why are there so many left-handed pitchers in Major League Baseball? They should be nearly extinct, but in fact they thrive. What’s going on? We believe that left-handed pitchers have a hidden advantage that has nothing to do with their ability to throw a baseball, based solely on the fact that they throw with their left hand. This “southpaw advantage” is substantial enough to generate a large surplus of lefty pitchers on rosters and shape the game in profound ways. Indeed, our analysis suggests that a substantial majority of MLB left-handed pitchers could not survive in the majors if they threw right-handed but had otherwise identical talent. If you are skeptical, well, so were we. But as the kids say, we have receipts.
Photos and short video clips have previously been available, but this unseen 40 minutes declassified footage of the Soviet Union’s monster nuclear bomb give a whole new insight into what happened on Novaya Zemlya on October 30, 1961.
MoMA has published a two-minute film from 1902 of a German suspended railway called the Wuppertal Schwebebahn. It presents an almost drone-like view of a German city at the beginning of the 20th century, in contrast to the ground-based and stationary films that were far more common in that era. The film is also extremely crisp and clear because it was shot in 68mm.
The scheme involved 7,000 $94 toothbrushes, according to law enforcement.
If you’re not familiar with YouTuber 320 Sim Pilot, he’s a real-world Airbus pilot who for the past four months has been making in-depth flight sim videos on a regular, almost daily basis. Most of these have been in the 2016 flight simulator X-Plane 11, but with Microsoft Flight Simulator now out to the public, his past few videos have been focused on how well the game recreates the Airbus A320. Half review and half guided tour of how flying the Airbus A320 works, his first video in this series is a 26 minute comparison between Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane 11’s respective renditions of this aircraft. The key metric here is, of course, how true-to-life each game’s take is.
Using the neural-net tool Artbreeder, Photoshop and historical references, I have created photoreal portraits of Roman Emperors. For this project, I have transformed, or restored (cracks, noses, ears etc.) 800 images of busts to make the 54 emperors of The Principate (27 BC to 285 AD).
Léa Kyle performed a mind-blowing quick change act, switching between outfits in the blink of an eye, during an episode on "Penn & Teller: Fool Us."