How the pandemic might play out in 2021 and beyond

Megan Scudellari in Nature:

To end the pandemic, the virus must either be eliminated worldwide — which most scientists agree is near-impossible because of how widespread it has become — or people must build up sufficient immunity through infections or a vaccine. It is estimated that 55–80% of a population must be immune for this to happen, depending on the country11.

Unfortunately, early surveys suggest there is a long way to go. Estimates from antibody testing — which reveals whether someone has been exposed to the virus and made antibodies against it — indicate that only a small proportion of people have been infected, and disease modelling backs this up. A study of 11 European countries calculated an infection rate of 3–4% up to 4 May12, inferred from data on the ratio of infections to deaths, and how many deaths there had been. In the United States, where there have been more than 150,000 COVID-19 deaths, a survey of thousands of serum samples, coordinated by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that antibody prevalence ranged from 1% to 6.9%, depending on the location13.

…It’s unlikely that there will never be a vaccine, given the sheer amount of effort and money pouring into the field and the fact that some candidates are already being tested in humans, says Velasco-Hernández. The World Health Organization lists 26 COVID-19 vaccines currently in human trials, with 12 of them in phase II trials and six in phase III. Even a vaccine providing incomplete protection would help by reducing the severity of the disease and preventing hospitalization, says Wu. Still, it will take months to make and distribute a successful vaccine.

More here.

The Roots Of Wokeness: It’s time we looked more closely at the philosophy behind the movement

Andrew Sullivan in The Weekly Dish:

In the mid-2010s, a curious new vocabulary began to unspool itself in our media. A data site,, which measures the frequency of words in news stories, revealed some remarkable shifts. Terms that had previously been almost entirely obscure suddenly became ubiquitous—and an analysis of the New York Times, using these tools, is a useful example. Looking at stories from 1970 to 2018, several terms came out of nowhere in the past few years to reach sudden new heights of repetition and frequency. Here’s a list of the most successful neologisms: non-binary, toxic masculinity, white supremacy, traumatizing, queer, transphobia, whiteness, mansplaining. And here are a few that were rising in frequency in the last decade but only took off in the last few years: triggering, hurtful, gender, stereotypes.

Language changes, and we shouldn’t worry about that. Maybe some of these terms will stick around. But the linguistic changes have occurred so rapidly, and touched so many topics, that it has all the appearance of a top-down re-ordering of language, rather than a slow, organic evolution from below. While the New York Times once had a reputation for being a bit stodgy on linguistic matters, pedantic, precise and slow-to-change, as any paper of record might be, in the last few years, its pages have been flushed with so many neologisms that a reader from, say, a decade ago would have a hard time understanding large swathes of it.

More here.

These caterpillars can camouflage themselves, even when blindfolded

Lakshmi Supriya in Science:

Most animals that change color to match their surroundings can see what these surroundings look like. But the peppered moth caterpillar can do this with its eyes closed, according to a new study, and scientists have figured out how.

Researchers raised more than 300 larvae of the peppered moth (Biston betularia) in the lab. After the caterpillars grew up a bit, the scientists placed them in different boxes containing artificial sticks painted black, brown, green, and white (pictured). Some of the larvae were blindfolded using black paint.

The blindfolded caterpillars changed their entire body color to match the stick they were sitting on as well as their seeing counterparts did, the team reports in Communications Biology. When the researchers placed the caterpillars in boxes containing different colored sticks, about 80% of the larvae, both blinded and sighted, chose to rest on sticks that matched their body color.

More here.

India’s Day of Shame

Arundhati Roy in The Wire:

Kashmir’s new Domicile Law is a cognate of India’s new blatantly anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed in December 2019 and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) that is supposed to detect ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators’ (Muslim of course) who the home minister has called ‘termites’. In the state of Assam, the NRC has already wreaked havoc. Millions have been struck off the citizens register. While many countries are dealing with a refugee crisis, the Indian government is turning citizens into refugees, fuelling a crisis of statelessness on an unimaginable scale.

The CAA, NRC and Kashmir’s new Domicile Law require even bona fide citizens to produce a set of documents approved by the state in order to be granted citizenship. (The Nuremberg Laws passed by the Nazi Party in 1935 decreed that only those citizens who could provide legacy papers approved by the Third Reich were eligible for German citizenship.)

What should all this be called? A war crime? Or a crime against humanity?

And what should the collusion of institutions and the celebrations on the streets of India be called? Democracy?

More here.

Frida Kahlo’s Paris Years

Porochista Khakpour at Bookforum:

We also fall in love again with the irreverent, brilliant Kahlo, who is both charming and insolent in every anecdote. She feels Breton’s accommodations and manners are beneath her and ends up sexually entangled with his wife, Jacqueline Lamba (Breton gets to watch). And there is much delight to be had in Kahlo’s repeatedly expressing her disdain for French culture, especially its artistic circles. “I [would] rather sit on the floor in the market of Toluca and sell tortillas, than to have anything to do with those ‘artistic’ bitches of Paris.” (Bitches seems to be her favorite word for Parisians!) Indeed, the French seem to misunderstand her; the poet Robert Desnos says to Petitjean’s father at one point, “Your friend’s pretty, she could have stepped right out of a display at your Museum of Ethnography.” But we are assured Petitjean is “more attracted to her personality and her culture than her exotic ‘ethnic’ appearance.” In normal circumstances, this would seem shaky, but given the character of Michel, we buy it. Both Petitjeans gain our trust so fully that we don’t question their Occidentalist magnanimity at certain awkward points; while France and the French are belittled by our French author, Kahlo’s Mexico is championed as a center for the arts.

more here.

Jean-Patrick Manchette’s Cabinet of Wonders

Howard A. Rodman at The Paris Review:

No Room at the Morgue and its sequel, Que d’os!, are the only two of Manchette’s novels to feature a private eye as protagonist. Though in Manchette there’s never a shortage of killers for hire, killers for the hell of it, casual psychotics, mercenaries, and the corruption of each and every institution, there are relatively few police in his policiers, and very little mystery about the who in whodunit. The Tarpon novels are in some sense a throwback to a time when the genre was more tightly defined, its tropes less problematic. We’ve got a down-at-heels PI here, and bad guys, and a femme-more-or-less-fatale, and a couple of cops either of whom could be played by Lino Ventura. But Manchette certainly isn’t slumming, or doing a genre turn to please his fans. As Manchette asks, “What do you do when you re-do [the classic American crime novels] at a distance—distant because the moment of that something is long gone? The American-style polar had its day. Writing in 1970 meant taking a new social reality into account, but it also meant acknowledging that the polar-form was finished because its time was finished: re-employing an obsolete form implies employing it referentially, honoring it by criticizing it, exaggerating it, distorting it from top to bottom.” Or as he put it more bluntly (and more flamboyantly): “The overtures of the ‘neo-detective novel’ have been progressively conquered by literary hacks (of Art) or by Gorbachev-loving Stalino Trotskyist racketeers.”

more here.

Thursday Poem


A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.

We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.

by Naomi Shihab Nye
from The Writer’s Almanac

Antibiotics May Increase Effectiveness of Immunotherapy Against Deadly Cancer

From NYU News:

The population of bacteria in the pancreas increases more than a thousand fold in patients with pancreatic cancer, and becomes dominated by species that prevent the immune system from attacking tumor cells. These are the findings of a study conducted in mice and in patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA), a form of cancer that is usually fatal within two years.

…Experiments found that in patients with PDA, pathogenic gut bacteria migrate to the pancreas through the pancreatic duct, a tube that normally drains digestive juices from the pancreas into the intestines. Once in the pancreas, this abnormal bacterial mix (microbiome) gives off cellular components that shut down the immune system to promote cancer growth, say the authors.

Whatever the cause, the new study found that bacteria that are more abundant in pancreatic cancers – including groups of species called proteobacteria, actinobacteria, and fusobacteria – release cell membrane components (e.g. lipopolysaccharides) and proteins (e.g. flagellins) that shift macrophages, the key immune cells in the pancreas, into immune suppression. Experiments showed that eliminating bacteria using antibiotics restored the ability of immune cells to recognize cancer cells, slowed pancreatic tumor growth, and reduced the number of cancer cells present (tumor burden) by 50 percent in study mice. The researchers found that “bad” bacteria in pancreas tumors trigger immune cell “checkpoints” – sensors on immune cells that turn them off when they receive the right signal.  These checkpoints normally function to prevent the immune system from attacking the body’s own cells, but cancer cells hijack checkpoints to turn off immune responses that would otherwise destroy them. Checkpoint inhibitors are therapeutic antibodies that shut down checkpoint proteins to make tumors “visible” again to the immune system.

More here.

Is This the Beginning of the End of American Racism?

Ibram X Kendi in The Atlantic:

Donald Trump was headed to historic Jamestown to mark the 400th anniversary of the first representative assembly of European settlers in the Americas. But Black Virginia legislators were boycotting the visit. Over the preceding two weeks, the president had been engaged in one of the most racist political assaults on members of Congress in American history. Like so many controversies during Trump’s presidency, it had all started with an early-morning tweet. “So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run,” Trump tweeted on Sunday, July 14, 2019. “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough.”

Trump was referring to four freshman members of Congress: Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a Somali American; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, an African American; Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, a Palestinian American; and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, a Puerto Rican. Pressley screenshotted Trump’s tweet and declared, “THIS is what racism looks like.”

On the South Lawn, Trump now faced reporters and cameras. Over the drone of the helicopter rotors, one reporter asked Trump if he was bothered that “more and more people” were calling him racist. “I am the least racist person there is anywhere in the world,” Trump replied, hands up, palms facing out for emphasis. His hands came down. He singled out a vocal critic, the Reverend Al Sharpton. “Now, he’s a racist,” Trump said. “What I’ve done for African Americans, no president, I would say, has done … And the African American community is so thankful.”

It was an absurd statement. But in a twisted way, Trump was right. As his administration’s first term comes to an end, Black Americans—indeed, all Americans—should in one respect be thankful to him. He has held up a mirror to American society, and it has reflected back a grotesque image that many people had until now refused to see: an image not just of the racism still coursing through the country, but also of the reflex to deny that reality. Though it was hardly his intention, no president has caused more Americans to stop denying the existence of racism than Donald Trump.

More here.

How the Dutch invented our world: Liberal democracy and capitalism would have been impossible without the Dutch Republic

Ralph Leonard in Unherd:

“Forward! Brave people! The goddess of liberty leads you on!” So declares Count Egmont, the protagonist in Goethe’s exquisite 1788 play, Egmont, a tragedy based on the Dutch revolt of the late 16th century. “And as the sea breaks through and destroys the barriers that would oppose its fury, so do ye overwhelm the bulwark of tyranny, and with your impetuous flood sweep it away from the land which it usurps.”

Egmont would become a martyr representing the aspirations of the Dutch people, persecuted and oppressed for their Protestantism by the corrupt and tyrannical Duke of Alba, an agent of Phillip II and his Catholic Spanish empire. This was the first great “bourgeois revolution”, a concept that will be familiar to those acquainted with the Marxist and socialist lexicon, denoting the events and processes that facilitated the development of modern bourgeois society on the basis of the capitalist mode of production. The classic example was the French Revolution of 1789, when monarchy and seigneurialism were overthrown, and the basis of the modern liberal-democratic capitalist nation established.

In recent years, however, bourgeois revolution has gone out of fashion and subjected to revisionist critique wishing to consign it to the dustbin of history. Part of what underlines this dismissiveness is a rather childish unwillingness to credit capitalism, and by extension, the bourgeoisie and liberalism, with any positive contribution to human development.

More here.

Why I spent my life saving the Blakiston’s fish owl

Jonathan Slaght in The Guardian:

When I was 19, in the summer of 1995, I fell in love with an owl. I’d just spent two weeks in Primorye in the Russian far east – a wild, mountainous province bordering the Sea of Japan, China and North Korea. It is a region of dense forests, rolling mountains, clean rivers and spectacular coastlines. Exotic locations were nothing new for me: I was born in the United States but grew up in a diplomat’s family, bouncing around the world from Uruguay to Panama as a young child, and to West Germany and Canada as a teen. Before the age of 16, I’d only lived in the United States for two years.

While I’d always been interested in the outdoors, I’d been ambivalent about birds and had never thought they would become my life’s passion. In fact, it was teenage envy that got me started. A high-school friend, now a professor of organismal biology at Gettysburg College, began a passionate study of birds and I wanted to keep up.

When I left Russia after that summer in 1995, I brought home with me a Soviet-era book about the region’s birds. I immersed myself in the pages of this intoxicating world, turning from one remarkable species to the next, not knowing the English names of any of them, and struggling to decipher the Russian text with my pocket dictionary. The species that most drew my fascination was the Blakiston’s fish owl, the largest owl species in the world.

More here.

A Brief History of Anti-Populism

Matt Taibbi in Substack:

Thomas Frank is one of America’s more skillful writers, an expert practitioner of a genre one might call historical journalism – ironic, because no recent media figure has been more negatively affected by historical change. Frank became a star during a time of intense curiosity about the reasons behind our worsening culture war, and now publishes a terrific book, The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism, at a time when people are mostly done thinking about what divides us, gearing up to fight instead.

Frank published What’s the Matter with Kansas? in 2004, at the height of the George W. Bush presidency. The Iraq War was already looking like a disaster, but the Democratic Party was helpless to take advantage, a fact the opinion-shaping class on the coasts found puzzling. Blue-staters felt sure they’d conquered the electoral failure problem in the nineties, when a combination of Bill Clinton’s Arkansas twang, policy pandering (a middle-class tax cut!) and a heavy dose of unsubtle race politics (e.g. ending welfare “as we know it”) appeared to cut the heart out of the Republican “Southern strategy.”

More here.

Wednesday Poem

Do you realize

Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face
Do you realize we’re floating in space
Do you realize that happiness makes you cry
Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die
and instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know
you realize that life goes so fast,
it’s hard to make the good things last,
you realize the sun doesn’t go down, it’s just an illusion
caused by the world spinning round
Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face

by Wayne Coyne,Steven Drozd,
Michael Ivins & David Fridman

A Century of Struggle in Palestine

Kaleem Hawa at The Nation:

In Khalidi’s latest book, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine, history proves once again to be the key to understanding the present. He builds on his previous work, interspersing personal and family stories with political ones and tracing the lineage of violence that has engulfed a land that has been known by many different names. In doing so, Khalidi identifies many of the actors who have been instrumental to the Palestinian cause, the revolutionaries, women, and young people who helped build the fabric of Palestinian life within the shadow of endless war, displacement, and occupation.

The “war” in Khalidi’s title is conceived as both singular and plural. It includes but also transcends the military conflicts most commonly used to narrate Palestinian history. He chooses to tell this story through six distinct periods, beginning with the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and moving on to the UN General Assembly’s 1947 resolution on the partition of Palestine and the ensuing Arab–Israeli War and the Nakba.

more here.

Dylan, Unencumbered

Katrina Forrester at n+1:

My favorite versions of Dylan are the two I like to think of as Romantic Bob and Contemptuous Dylan. The former is the most lovable of love-song writers, the latter the cool guy who scorns his fans. They came together best in the classics of the 1970s that are now rather unfashionable among Dylan obsessives, especially Blood on the Tracks (1975) and its outtakes recently released as More Blood, More Tracks: Bootleg Series Vol. 14 (2018). “Any fool could find whatever he wanted inside the vast Dylan songbook: drugs, Jesus, Joan Baez,” David Kinney wrote in The Dylanologists. It’s impossible to disagree, but I’ve always foolishly enjoyed the search for the traces of “real” women in Dylan’s life. There are the wistful, bittersweet Suze Rotolo songs of the 1960s; the stories of his first marriage and divorce to Sara Dylan (who is the presumed inspiration of one of his greatest love songs, “Abandoned Love,” an outtake off Desire (1976)); the tortured ballads of the 1990s (which of them are odes to Mavis Staples?); and the special sentimentality seemingly reserved for Baez: “We could sing together in our sleep,” Dylan says of her in Scorsese’s Rolling Thunder Revue (2019). She seemed to remember things a little differently in “Diamonds and Rust” (1975): “My poetry was lousy, you said.“ A man I once loved used to tease me for my clichéd preoccupations with Dylan’s most mawkish of songs about bad love, “Idiot Wind,” but its portrayal of cruelty and masochism is also Dylan at his most usable for feminists.

more here.

For Mates to Fuse Bodies, Some Anglerfish Have Lost Immune Genes

Katarina Zimmer in The Scientist:

Krøyer’s deep-sea anglerfish, Ceratias holboelli, does not spawn, copulate, or do anything a fish would ordinarily do to mate. Instead, the male—just a few inches long—clasps onto the comparatively gigantic female’s body and never lets go. Slowly, his body morphs into hers, his cells becoming hers, including his testicles, which are used to make offspring. As he vanishes, two individuals become one—taking the concept of monogamy to a new level.

The sub-order of deep-sea anglerfish, composed of nearly 170 known species, arguably displays the most dramatic mating habits in the animal kingdom. In some species, males only temporarily attach to females and then part ways. In others, such as C. holboelli, males permanently “fuse” with females, or females absorb multiple males—in some cases up to eight at a time.

Among the many mysteries surrounding these deep-sea rendezvous—they were only captured on camera for the first time in 2018—is an immunological one. In virtually all other adult vertebrates, introducing tissue from one individual into another would provoke a powerful immune response attacking the foreign cells. Why don’t the female anglerfish, immunologically speaking, reject these parasitic males?

A new genomic analysis of 13 anglerfish species published today (July 30) in Science provides some clues. The genomes of species that temporarily or permanently fuse with their mates have undergone radical alterations of key genes that underpin adaptive immunity—a branch of the immune system responsible for the rejection of foreign tissue—making some of them the first known instances of vertebrates that effectively lack an adaptive immune system. Over the course of evolution, changes in genes involved in antibody production and cytotoxic T cell responses may have paved the way for the animals’ strange reproductive habits, while for scientists it raises questions about how the fish defend themselves against pathogens in the deep sea.

More here.