Saturday 9 January, 2021

Word-processing, antique style


Quote of the Day

“Mark Zuckerberg is what happens when you replace civics with computer science.”

  • Scott Galloway (see below)


Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Grace Kelly Blues | Eels

Link

One of my favourite tracks.


Long Read of the Day

Lawrence Wright: The Plague Year

Truly extraordinary (long) New Yorker essay by Lawrence Wright. Includes some very good reasons why you should not be blasé about Covid. For example:

“There are three things this virus is doing that blow me away,” Brooks told me. “The first is that it directly infects the endothelial cells that line our blood vessels. I’m not aware of any other human respiratory viruses that do this. This causes a lot of havoc.” Endothelial cells normally help protect the body from infection. When SARS-CoV-2 invades them, their powerful chemical contents get dumped into the bloodstream, resulting in inflammation elsewhere in the body. The rupture of individual endothelial cells coarsens the lining in the blood vessels, creating breaks and rough spots that cause turbulent blood flow.

The second surprise was hypercoagulability—patients had a pronounced tendency to develop blood clots. This reminded Brooks of Michael Crichton’s 1969 novel, “The Andromeda Strain,” in which a pathogen causes instant clotting, striking down victims in mid-stride. “This is different,” Brooks said. “You’re getting these things called pulmonary embolisms, which are nasty. A clot forms—it travels to the lung, damaging the tissues, blocking blood flow, and creating pressures that can lead to heart problems.” More puzzling was evidence that clots sometimes formed in the lungs, leading to acute respiratory distress. Brooks referred to an early report documenting autopsies of victims. Nearly all had pulmonary thromboses; until the autopsy, nobody had suspected that the clots were even present, let alone the probable cause of death.

“The last one is this hyperimmune response,” Brooks said. Most infectious diseases kill people by triggering an excessive immune-system response; COVID, like pneumonia, can unleash white blood cells that flood the lungs with fluid, putting the patient at risk of drowning. But COVID is unusual in the variety of ways that it causes the body to malfunction. Some patients require kidney dialysis or suffer liver damage. The disease can affect the brain and other parts of the nervous system, causing delirium, strokes, and lasting nerve damage. COVID could also do strange things to the heart. Hospitals began admitting patients with signs of cardiac arrest—chest pains, trouble breathing—and preparing emergency coronary catheterizations. “But their coronary vessels are clean,” Brooks said. “There’s no blockage.” Instead, an immune reaction had inflamed the heart muscle, a condition called myocarditis. “There’s not a lot you can do but hope they get through it.” A German study of a hundred recovered COVID patients with the average age of forty-nine found that twenty-two had lasting cardiac problems, including scarring of the heart muscle.

Even after Brooks thought that COVID had no more tricks to play, another aftereffect confounded him: “You get over the illness, you’re feeling better, and it comes back to bite you again.” In adults, it might just be a rash. But some children develop a multi-organ inflammatory syndrome. Brooks said, “They have conjunctivitis, their eyes get real red, they have abdominal pain, and then they can go on to experience cardiovascular collapse.”

You get the idea. It’s an amazing piece. Very long. And an example of what only a few high-end magazines can do. Must have taken ages to research and write.


The best commentary I’ve read on what happened this week

It came from Scott Galloway in his terrific blog. Lots of great stuff in this week’s edition and it’s worth reading in full. But here are a few striking extracts:

One:

Record deaths from Covid-19 and the U.S. Capitol overrun by a mob on the same day. How did this happen?

The virus has broken containment, preying on our comorbidities.

The ascendant comorbidity is the steady denigration of our public institutions, particularly government and its agencies, over the last four decades. Since the Reagan Revolution in 1980, a conservative philosophy of limited government has morphed to an anti-government creed. President Trump is the manifestation of that narrative. The President blames the “deep state” for every setback and has stocked his cabinet with appointees opposed to the departments they lead, from a Secretary of Education who doesn’t appear to believe in public education to a Secretary of Energy who once proposed eliminating the Department of Energy.

Two:

Just as elected officials helped hollow out the government they are charged with leading, the mandarins of media bear blame for the weakness of their branch. Conservative outlets have shelved citizenship as they recognize that novelty and tribalism make more cabbage than truth. Social media firms are doing the same — but at greater scale. Liberal media, terrified of being labeled “elitist,” has fallen back on a feeble bothsidesism that normalizes, and brings oxygen to, outrageous conduct. Progressives have a guilty need to understand and feel the pain of anybody who claims victimhood. Among liberals, being offended and angry means you are right.

Three:

As our institutions have retreated, private capital has emerged as a shadow government. Banks command our economy, the shareholder class commands the politicians, and big tech reigns over it all. Our idolatry of innovators equates wealth with virtue, and does not hold the innovator class, or their firms, to the same standards as old economy firms (or the general population). Twenty-four hours after a failed coup, the lead story on Twitter is Elon Musk becoming the wealthiest man in the world.

Four:

If there is any question that big tech is our new government, then register that these are the only entities whose actions seem to have a meaningful impact (or what we view as meaningful). Which has had more impact? Futile discussions about the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, or Facebook and Twitter suspending President Trump’s accounts and Shopify closing MAGA stores? Applaud these actions if you like, but accountability for sedition should not be meted out by private companies (in the case of Shopify, a foreign one). We should not be pandering to part-time CEOs to save the nation they demonstrate no regard for.

And, Five:

Under some f..ked up version of wokeness, we have decided that stupid people are a special interest group who warrant empathy and latitude re the damage they levy. We excuse Trump’s mob, as they are the ones America left behind or who didn’t have access to higher education. No, they’re just stupid — even the ones with “Senator” before their name. The President and his mob registered a deep blow to our democracy and global standing … with no commensurate benefit. If Betsy DeVos and Elaine Chao have reached their limit, the insurrectionists and their dear leader are either going to jail or losing advertisers for the launch of his network. We are only awakening to the profane assault on America, our forefathers, and the sacrifices of previous generations after the unprecedented events of Wednesday.

We need to recognize that stupid is a thing and, per Professor Cipolla, encourage our youth to discern how not to be stupid and to aspire to be “intelligent,” which also is a thing … and a noble thing, and not derived from a place of privilege that demands apology and self flogging…

But do read the whole thing. And sign up to his blog.


Other, hopefully interesting links

  •  The end of the Swedish model. Link

  •  Anger increases susceptibility to misinformation. Well, well. Who knew? Link

  •  The 147 Republicans Who Voted to Overturn Election Results. If you want a real rogue’s gallery, this is it. Link


    Errata: The link to Tim Harford’s essay in praise of humble products in yesterday’s edition should have been https://timharford.com/2021/01/in-praise-of-the-humble-products-all-around-us/

    Apologies for the error, and thanks to the readers who pointed it out.