Apr. 3rd, 2017

"The Race for a Zika Vaccine" / Siddhartha Mukherjee
  • Tried-and-true doesn’t mean straightforward. The inactivation of a virus is as much a culinary exercise as a chemical one. If you “overcook the virus,” Michael says, “you can damage it to the point that there’s no resemblance to the original, and the immune response becomes useless to combat the native virus.” The “cooking” process consists of growing the virus in cells using enormous roller bottles.
  • The liquid containing the virus—more than five gallons of it—is then purified on long glass columns packed with filtering resin. Formaldehyde—the mortuary chemical—is added to preserve the virus’s structural components but destroy its capacity to infect cells and reproduce. (Heat or radiation can also be used.) The formaldehyde is then removed, and the inactivated virus is packaged in rubber- topped glass vials, ready for inoculation. Every batch must be tested and retested to confirm complete inactivation: even the barest trace of an active virus in a vaccine might unleash an infection in a vaccine recipient.
  • Vaccines that look promising in lab experiments can certainly fail in the field. The inoculum may not stimulate enough immunity to resist the viral challenge. The virus may mutate and become resistant. Or the vaccine can turn out to have unexpected side effects. For Zika, that’s a particularly ominous consideration. In the case of dengue, Zika’s distant cousin, there’s some evidence—debated among virologists—that immunization against one strain might increase the severity of disease with another strain. Other studies have suggested that antibodies to some strains of dengue might cross-react with Zika proteins, promoting Zika immunity in dengue-exposed patients. How a Zika vaccine might perform in areas with endemic dengue, or chikungunya, remains an open question.
  • There’s a strange quandary, then, for the development of certain vaccines. Too fast an epidemic, and a vaccine may become untestable (prospective trial subjects are already exposed and therefore immune, obviating the need for a vaccine). Too slow an epidemic, and the vaccine becomes untestable again (prospective trial subjects aren’t exposed to the viral infection at a significant rate, so a vaccine’s benefits can’t be demonstrated).
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"The Country Restaurant" / Nick Paumgarten
__ He worked through the items on display. Lily tuber, cattail stems, milkweed, bull thistle. By watching deer in the woods, he had discovered that the inner barks of certain trees have a salty taste. While chopping wood, he found that a particular lichen takes on an oniony flavor for three weeks a year. He made a cooked powder from it. “You’re gonna love it!” Baehrel relies heavily on starch and stock made from rutabagas. He uses wild-violet stems as a thickener. He inoculates fallen logs with mushroom spores. He’ll spend seven hours gathering three-quarters of a pound of clover—enough to fill a steamer trunk. “I do it at night, with a headlamp,” he said.

"The Earth Mover" / Dana Goodyear
__ The use of valueless materials is strategic, a hedge against what he sees as inevitable future social unrest. “My good friend Richard Serra is building out of military-grade steel,” he says. “That stuff will all get melted down. Why do I think that? Incans, Olmecs, Aztecs—their finest works of art were all pillaged, razed, broken apart, and their gold was melted down."

"Learning from the Slaughter in Attica" / Adam Gopnik
__ There are sins of omission but there are also virtues of patience. Many of the wisest things we do, in life and in politics, are the things we don’t. Affairs not started, advice not given, distant lands left uninvaded—the null class of non-events is often more blessed than the enumerated class of actions, though less dramatic.

"The Detectives Who Never Forget a Face" / Patrick Radden Keefe
  • He speaks about his team members with the dainty protectiveness of an orchid keeper. He describes Porritt as “an artist.”
  • One quirk of facial recognition is that, from infancy, we tend to be better at recognizing faces of the ethnicity that we are most frequently exposed to: white people are generally better at recognizing white faces, black people tend to be better at recognizing black faces.
  • “People don’t want to believe that humans could be better than a machine,” he told me. “And the sad truth in this wicked world we live in is that people don’t want to pay a human. They want to buy a machine.”
James Wood on Joy Williams:  It’s a tale at once filled with apparently irrelevant details and about the fraught status of apparently irrelevant details.
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"Yuja Wang and the Art of Performance" / Janet Malcolm
  • More crucial, the tiny dresses and spiky heels draw your focus to how petite Ms. Wang is, how stark the contrast between her body and the forcefulness she achieves at her instrument. That contrast creates drama. It turns a recital into a performance.” When Yuja played the “Jeunehomme” in the girlish pink dress, that contrast was absent. The sense of a body set in urgent motion by musical imperatives requires that the body not be distractingly clothed. With her usually bared thighs, chest, and back demurely covered by the black-splotched pink fabric, this sense was lost.
  • Yuja’s customary self-presentation as a kind of stripped-down car is, of course, only one way of appearing onstage to artistic advantage.
  • She spoke of leaving Earl Blackburn not regretfully, exactly, but with a kind of cold wisdom about the possible pointlessness of the gesture that people three times her age don’t often achieve. “There was nothing wrong with the old manager. He really built my career. He was really caring. But I was, like, if I don’t make a change, I’ll never make a change. I’m bad at confrontation. So I just did it out of the blue. But nothing much has changed. It’s a little better here and there. But it’s still the same circus.”
Adam Kirsch: Modern life, which we tend to think of as an accelerating series of gains in knowledge, wealth, and power over nature, is predicated on a loss: the loss of contact with the past. Depending on your point of view, this can be seen as either a disinheritance or an emancipation; much of modern politics is determined by which side you take on this question. But it is always disorienting.
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"Keeping it Off" / Rivka Galchen
__ The umbilical incision was used to inflate the abdomen by pumping in carbon dioxide, providing a vaulted internal space for the surgeons to work in.
__ Paul Mason, a British man who went from nine hundred and eighty pounds to three hundred and fifty, following a gastric bypass, needed to have some seventy pounds of excess skin removed.

"Street Cred" / Adam Gopnik
  • She was one of three people I have met in a lifetime of meeting people who had an aura of sainthood about them, the others being Iona Opie, the British folklorist who collected children’s rhymes, and I. F. Stone, the independent American journalist. What they had in common was a sort of radiant self-reliance. They could say an obvious thing—that children are citizens of another country, that all governments lie—with the conviction that comes from having really found it out. They spoke for many, because they thought for themselves. Iona Opie made hanging around schoolyards to find small variants in jumping-rope rhymes seem essential to understanding humanity, and Izzy Stone made you feel unpatriotic for not printing your own biweekly page of political commentary. The ability to radiate certainty without condescension, to be both very sure and very simple, is a potent one, and witnessing it in life explains a lot in history that might otherwise be inexplicable—for instance, how a sixteen-year-old girl could lead the French Army to victory. <> Jane Jacobs’s aura was so powerful that it made her, precisely, the St. Joan of the small scale.
  • The sad truth is that the saints we revere for thinking for themselves almost always end up thinking by themselves. We are disappointed to find that the self-taught are also self-centered, although a moment’s reflection should tell us that you have to be self-centered to become self-taught. (The more easily instructed are busy brushing their teeth, as pledged.)
  • The small ballet of the street depends on the liberty of people to buy where they like, open stores as they choose, live as they please, have the neighbors they like; the demand to have decent housing, and cities that are open to all, means that city governments must build where they can, spend as they have to, zone as they think they ought to, and cut corners where they must. Some basic differences in what’s desirable in human affairs can never be resolved, only reconciled on an episodic and empirical basis, as best we can manage. <> That’s where planning matters and politics counts. Jacobs seldom gives a good account of the place of politics in city-making. Politics for her is Robert Moses telling moms where the expressway should run. Politics is the planners, and exists as an afterthought to the natural order of cities. And it’s true: politics isn’t a self-organizing system. It’s not a ballet. It’s a battle. But it remains essential to reconcile goods, like free streets and fair housing, that will never reconcile themselves.

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