Category : Science & Technology

(NYT) How Do Children Fight Off the Coronavirus?

Why the coronavirus affects children much less severely than adults has become an enduring mystery of the pandemic. The vast majority of children do not get sick; when they do, they usually recover.

The first study to compare the immune response in children with that in adults suggests a reason for children’s relative good fortune. In children, a branch of the immune system that evolved to protect against unfamiliar pathogens rapidly destroys the coronavirus before it wreaks damage on their bodies, according to the research, published this week in Science Translational Medicine.

“The bottom line is, yes, children do respond differently immunologically to this virus, and it seems to be protecting the kids,” said Dr. Betsy Herold, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Albert Einstein College of Medicine who led the study.

In adults, the immune response is much more muted, she and her colleagues found.

Read it all.

Posted in Children, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(MIT News) Why social media has changed the world — and how to fix it

The numbers make this clear. In 2005, about 7 percent of American adults used social media. But by 2017, 80 percent of American adults used Facebook alone. About 3.5 billion people on the planet, out of 7.7 billion, are active social media participants. Globally, during a typical day, people post 500 million tweets, share over 10 billion pieces of Facebook content, and watch over a billion hours of YouTube video.

As social media platforms have grown, though, the once-prevalent, gauzy utopian vision of online community has disappeared. Along with the benefits of easy connectivity and increased information, social media has also become a vehicle for disinformation and political attacks from beyond sovereign borders.

“Social media disrupts our elections, our economy, and our health,” says Aral, who is the David Austin Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Now Aral has written a book about it. In “The Hype Machine,” published this month by Currency, a Random House imprint, Aral details why social media platforms have become so successful yet so problematic, and suggests ways to improve them.

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Books, Science & Technology

(SA) 3-D Printing inside the Body Could Patch Stomach Ulcers

Stomach ulcers and other gastric wounds afflict one in eight people worldwide, but common conventional therapies have drawbacks. Now scientists aim to treat such problems by exploring a new frontier in 3-D printing: depositing living cells directly inside the human body.

Just as 3-D printers set down layers of material to create structures, bioprinters extrude living cells to produce tissues and organs. A long-term dream for this concept is that people on active waiting lists for organ donations—nearly 70,000 individuals in the U.S. alone, according to the nonprofit United Network for Organ Sharing—might one day have the option of getting a bioprinted organ. Although the ability to produce a functional heart or kidney this way likely lies years in the future, realistic near-term goals include bioprinting simpler structures, such as bone grafts. Living tissues printed outside the body, however, would still require implantation surgery, which often involves large incisions that increase the risk of infection and lengthen recovery times.

What if doctors could instead print cells directly inside the body? The idea would be to use current minimally invasive surgical techniques to insert 3-D printing tools into patients through small incisions and then lay down new tissues.

Read it all.

Posted in Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

Scientists in Japan have developed a paper-based sensor equipped with an array of extremely tiny microneedles

The scientists now intend to test their proof-of-concept further, conducting experiments with human participants, to confirm it works as they expect in real-world diagnostic conditions.

If it does, we could be looking at much more than just glucose monitoring in the future, they suggest – and all without spilling a single drop of blood.

“Of course, prediabetes testing is just one application of the technology,” says first author and PhD candidate Hakjae Lee.

“The paper-based sensor can vary depending on the biomarker you wish to monitor.”

Read it all.

Posted in Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(Stat News) CDC study: Covid-19 complications killed 121 Americans under age 21 through July

A true saving grace of the pandemic is that Covid-19 poses far less risk to children than to adults, particularly older adults. But in rare cases, it has made children and young adults severely sick or even been fatal.

In a new report that analyzed fatal Covid-19 cases in Americans under age 20, researchers found that some of the same patterns of deaths in older populations carried over to younger populations: There was a disproportionate burden among children and young adults with underlying health conditions and those who were Latinx, Black, or American Indian or Alaska Native.

The report also found that 18- to 20-year-olds accounted for nearly half of the 121 deaths in the group during the time period studied — mid-February to the end of July — adding to the evidence that younger children generally are less likely to get seriously ill from Covid-19. Still, 10% of fatal cases occurred in children under 1 year old.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(SHNS) Terry Mattingly–Can Episcopal clergy consecrate bread and wine online?

In the late 1970s, the Episcopal Ad Project began releasing spots taking shots at television preachers and other trends in American evangelicalism.

One image showed a television serving as an altar, holding a priest’s stole, a chalice and plate of Eucharistic hosts. The headline asked: “With all due regard to TV Christianity, have you ever seen a Sony that gives Holy Communion?”

Now some Anglicans are debating whether it’s valid during the coronavirus crisis to celebrate “virtual Eucharists,” with computers linking priests at altars and communicants with their own bread and wine at home.

In a recent House of Bishops meeting — online, of course — Episcopal Church leaders backed away from allowing what many call “virtual Holy Eucharist.”

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Posted in Eucharist, Health & Medicine, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Sacramental Theology, Science & Technology

Matt Ridley–5 reasons why the coronavirus nightmare may soon be over

The second reason for hope is that, as Oxford University’s epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta has argued, herd immunity may be achieved more easily than we first thought. Indeed, from the way that infections have continued to dwindle despite lessening social distancing it seems probable that herd immunity has already been achieved in London at least. Half the population could be immune already because of recent exposure to coronavirus colds, while children seem to resist catching Covid-19, let alone passing it on. As the chief medical officer Chris Whitty has conceded, the epidemic was already in retreat before lockdown began. That is because the virus depends heavily on a few superspreaders, and pre-lockdown measures we were taking in March are remarkably effective: no handshakes, frequent hand washing, no large gatherings and so on.

So the third reason for optimism is that as long as we continue with these measures then this virus will struggle to keep spreading in the community. The one place where the virus did spread with horrible ease was in care homes and hospitals. Why was this? T-cell senescence is an issue, so old people’s immune systems are just not as good at coping with this kind of infection, and there were dreadful policy mistakes made, like stopping testing people, clearing patients out of hospitals to care homes without tests, and assuming no asymptomatic transmission. Healthcare and care home staff were not properly protected and were allowed to go from site to site. Many were infected and became carriers.

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Posted in Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

UK Faith leaders make call for environment-focused economic recovery

Marking the end of the first half of London Climate Action Week, representatives from UK faith groups have signed an open letter to the UK Government urging it to ensure that its economic recovery strategy is centred on the urgent need to reduce the impact of climate change.

In the letter, the signatories, some of whom are members of the ‘Faith for the Climate’ network, also commit to the goals of the Laudato Si encyclical – an initiative of Pope Francis – to advocate for and model positive initiatives to continue to tackle the Climate Emergency.

The open letter [begins]:

COVID-19 has unexpectedly taught us a great deal. Amidst the fear and the grief for loved ones lost, many of us have found consolation in the dramatic reduction of pollution and the restoration of nature. Renewed delight in and contact with the natural world has the capacity to reduce our mental stress and nourish us spiritually.

We have rediscovered our sense of how interconnected the world is. The very health and future of humanity depends on our ability to act together not only with respect to pandemics but also in protecting our global eco-system.

At the same time, less travel and consumption and more kindness and neighbourliness have helped us appreciate what society can really mean.

We have also seen yet again that in times of crisis, injustice becomes more obvious, and that it is the poor and vulnerable who suffer most….

Read it all.

Posted in Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecology, Economy, Energy, Natural Resources, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Religion & Culture, Stewardship

(Atlantic) A Dire Warning From COVID-19 Test Providers

The United States is once again at risk of outstripping its COVID-19 testing capacity, an ominous development that would deny the country a crucial tool to understand its pandemic in real time.

The American testing supply chain is stretched to the limit, and the ongoing outbreak in the South and West could overwhelm it, according to epidemiologists and testing-company executives. While the country’s laboratories have added tremendous capacity in the past few months—the U.S. now tests about 550,000 people each day, a fivefold increase from early April—demand for viral tests is again outpacing supply.

If demand continues to accelerate and shortages are not resolved, then turnaround times for test results will rise, tests will effectively be rationed, and the number of infections that are never counted in official statistics will grow. Any plan to contain the virus will depend on fast and accurate testing, which can identify newly infectious people before they set off new outbreaks. Without it, the U.S. is in the dark.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(Stat News) No one wants to go back to lockdown. Is there a middle ground for containing Covid-19?

First came the freezes.

Governors last month started to “press pause” on the next phases of their reopenings as Covid-19 cases picked back up. Now, in certain hot spots, they are starting to roll back some of the allowances they’d granted: no more elective medical procedures in some Texas counties. Bars, only reopened for a short time, are shuttered again in parts of California. And on Monday, Arizona’s governor ordered a new wave of gym, bar, and movie theater closures for at least the next month.

These are measured retreats — a far cry from the lockdowns that much of the country burrowed into starting in March. But leaders are desperately hoping that the incremental approach can make a dent in the spread of the virus at a time when another round of lockdowns — and their accompanying disruptions to education, the economy, and the public psyche — seems beyond unpalatable, both politically and socially.

They come as Texas, Florida, and other states are seeing record highs in daily coronavirus infections and intensive care units are teetering toward capacity, further proof that the coronavirus will run loose when given the chance. They also raise a serious question: whether such half-measures are sufficiently intensive — and were put in place in time — to have the necessary impact.

“This is a good step to getting a handle on the epidemic,” said Ana Bento, a disease ecologist at Indiana University. “It still might not be enough.”

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Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Politics in General, Science & Technology

(NYT) How the World Missed Covid’s Symptom-Free Carriers

Dr. Camilla Rothe was about to leave for dinner when the government laboratory called with the surprising test result. Positive. It was Jan. 27. She had just discovered Germany’s first case of the new coronavirus.

But the diagnosis made no sense. Her patient, a businessman from a nearby auto parts company, could have been infected by only one person: a colleague visiting from China. And that colleague should not have been contagious.

The visitor had seemed perfectly healthy during her stay in Germany. No coughing or sneezing, no signs of fatigue or fever during two days of long meetings. She told colleagues that she had started feeling ill after the flight back to China. Days later, she tested positive for the coronavirus….

…if the experts were wrong, if the virus could spread from seemingly healthy carriers or people who had not yet developed symptoms, the ramifications were potentially catastrophic. Public-awareness campaigns, airport screening and stay-home-if-you’re sick policies might not stop it. More aggressive measures might be required — ordering healthy people to wear masks, for instance, or restricting international travel.

Dr. Rothe and her colleagues were among the first to warn the world. But even as evidence accumulated from other scientists, leading health officials expressed unwavering confidence that symptomless spreading was not important.

In the days and weeks to come, politicians, public health officials and rival academics disparaged or ignored the Munich team.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(ABC4) If you’ve been to the beach in South Carolina, you should get COVID-19 test, says DHEC official

If you’ve been to the beach lately, you probably need to get tested for COVID-19.

That’s essentially what Department of Health and Environmental Control Director of Public Health Dr. Joan Duwve said during Gov. McMaster’s press conference on Friday.

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(Stat News) CDC broadens guidance on Americans facing risk of severe Covid-19

Redfield suggested many of the infections now being diagnosed would have been missed earlier in the pandemic, when testing was less common.

“I’m asking people to recognize that we’re in a different situation today than we were in March, in April, where the virus was being disproportionately recognized in older individuals with significant comorbidities and was causing significant hospitalizations and deaths,” he said.

“Today we’re seeing more virus. It’s in younger individuals. Fewer of those individuals are requiring the hospitalizations and having a fatal outcome. But that is not to minimize it.”

But Redfield went on to note that descriptions of the state of the pandemic in the country can be misleading, with maps that show where transmission is high suggesting much of the nation is experiencing high levels of spread. In reality, he said, about 110 or 120 counties in the country currently have significant transmission. There are more than 3,100 counties in the United States.

The new guidance breaks down medical conditions that can influence disease severity into those for which there is strong evidence, and those for which the evidence is not as strong, classifying the latter as conditions that might increase the risk of severe illness.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(Church Times) National Church Survey: respondents bored, but prayerful during lockdown

What did the laity experience?

Throughout the lockdown, most laity felt well supported by their clergy (51%) and by the members of their church (49%). A high proportion accessed services online (91%), but this figure needs to be read against the fact that these were people also responding to an online survey.

Among those who attended online services, the sense of participation was not as high as may have been expected. About two-fifths reported that during online services they actually prayed (40%) or recited the liturgy (36%), but fewer reported that they joined in singing (27%).

Privatising holy communion

The lockdown brought into sharp focus questions about celebrating and receiving communion. The survey revealed some significant differences between the views of those giving ministry and those receiving ministry. Whereas 41% of laity agreed that it was right for clergy to celebrate holy communion in their own homes without broadcasting the service to others, only 31% of ministers did so.

Similarly, 43% of laity argued that it was right for people at home to receive communion from their own bread and wine as part of an online communion service, compared with 34% of clergy.

The survey also revealed divided opinion between people from different traditions: 49% of Anglo-Catholics agreed that it was right for clergy to celebrate communion in their homes without broadcasting the service to others, compared with only 25% of Evangelicals.

Conversely, only 23% of Anglo-Catholics argued that it was right for people at home to receive communion from their own bread and wine as part of an online communion service, compared with 55% of Evangelicals.

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Health & Medicine, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(RNS) Tara Burton–How millennials make meaning from shopping, decorating and self-pampering

[Millenial]…’values hold that the self is an autonomous being, the self’s desires are fundamentally good, and societal and sexual repression as not just undesirable but actively evil. These millennials, which in my new book I called “Remixed Millennials,” are at once attracted to moral and theological certainty — accounts of the human condition that claim totalizing truth or demand difficult adherence because the challenge is ultimately rewarding — and repulsed by traditions that set hard limits on personal, and particularly sexual or romantic, desire.

That, for better or for worse, is where corporations come in. Increasingly, companies have recognized that there is a gap in the needs of today’s Remixed: institutions, activities, philosophies and rituals that manage to be challenging and totalizing while also preserving millennials’ need for personal freedom. It’s the dot-com bubble for spirituality, a free marketplace of innovation and religious disruption. No sooner does something become a viral movement than an ingenious startup finds a way to re-create it at a more profitable price point. (Columbia Business School is currently hosting an incubator for “spiritual entrepreneurs,” offering a certificate in spiritual entrepreneurship for those who complete a 20-week course.)

Consumer-capitalist culture offers us not merely necessities but identities. Meaning, purpose, community and ritual can all — separately or together — be purchased on Amazon Prime.

As journalist Amanda Hess wrote in The New York Times, “Shopping, decorating, grooming and sculpting are now jumping with meaning. And a purchase need not have any explicit social byproduct — the materials eco-friendly, or the proceeds donated to charity — to be weighted with significance. Pampering itself has taken on a spiritual urgency.”’

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Uncategorized, Young Adults

(Wired) We Can Protect the Economy From Pandemics. Why Didn’t We?

“It’s really a 100-year thing,” Nathan Wolfe said. It was 2006, and Wolfe, then a 36-year-old virologist with an unruly nest of curly hair, was sitting across a table from me at a bustling restaurant in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon. An epidemiology professor at UCLA, he had been living in West Africa for six years, establishing a research center to identify and study viruses as they crossed over from wild animals into humans.

That night Wolfe told me he was forming a network of research outposts around the globe, in hot spots where potentially devastating viruses were poised to make the jump: Cameroon, where HIV likely passed from chimpanzees into local hunters; the Democratic Republic of Congo, which had seen human outbreaks of monkeypox; Malaysia, home to a 1998 emergence of the Nipah virus; and China, where SARS-CoV had crossed over, likely from bats, in 2002. Wolfe’s hope was that by understanding what he called the “viral chatter” of such places, it would be possible not only to react more quickly to outbreaks but to forecast their arrival and stop them before they spread. The “100-year thing” he was thinking about was a global pandemic, and how history would judge humanity’s efforts to prepare for it. His biggest fear, he said, was a virus unknown to human immune defenses starting a human-to-human transmission chain that would encircle the globe.

As we knocked back Cameroonian beers and talked between sets of a local band, he admitted his project could fail. “It could be that we look at this and it’s stochastic—you can’t predict it,” he said. “Or, it could be that we are on the edge of a paradigm shift.” The ultimate question, Wolfe added, was “Will people look back and say you did a good job responding to epidemics, but you didn’t do anything to prevent them?” The 100-year notion so captivated me that I used it as the last line of a story I wrote in 2007, in this magazine.

Thirteen years later, as the SARS-CoV-2 virus burned across the globe this March, it appeared that the 100-year judgment had arrived. We’d failed both at preventing the exact danger Wolfe had warned us about and at responding when it emerged. He wasn’t the only pandemic Cassandra, of course. Not even close. Scientists, journalists, and public health experts had sounded the alarm for decades, filling journals, government reports, and popular books with their pleas. There were conferences, commissions, hearings, exercises, consortiums. Every few years another near-miss epidemic emerged that cried out for long-term preparation….

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Posted in Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(USA Today) NIH director: COVID-19’s ‘heartbreaking’ harm to Black and Hispanic Americans demands testing

Collins said he’s been impressed with the safety of convalescent plasma – a blood product from people who have recovered from COVID-19. But research has not yet shown whether convalescent plasma is truly effective for COVID-19 patients and at what stage of disease.

More promising, he said, is what are called monoclonal antibodies – immune system molecules identified from recovered patients that can then be manufactured with predictability and consistently.

“It worked for Ebola, so it’s got a precedent,” said Collins, who was head of the NIH when that outbreak occurred. At least six companies are developing monoclonal antibodies that are ready for testing in people.

“If I had to put my hopes on one therapeutic that might be a real game-changer as soon as this fall, it would be monoclonals,” Collins said. “But we don’t know until we actually go there and try that….”

Collins said he has decided that it is safe in Washington, D.C. to slowly begin allowing NIH scientists to return to work. He has eight people in his own research lab who are now coming in every other day, wearing a mask all the time, remaining six feet away from each other, and cleaning their space when they leave. He compared this to what will have to happen to keep people safe as businesses and universities begin to reopen.

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Posted in Health & Medicine, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Science & Technology

Anglican Bishops warn of ‘Environmental Racism’

The Archbishop of Canterbury together with the Bishops of Salisbury, Oxford, Truro, Dover, Woolwich, Sherborne, Loughborough, Kingston, Reading and Ramsbury, and former Archbishop Rowan Williams have joined a list of eight archbishops and 38 bishops worldwide in signing an open letter stating that black lives are predominantly affected by the effects of climate change, as well as police brutality and the spread of COVID-19.

Published by the Anglican Communion’s Environmental Network, the letter reads (extract):

The world is slow to respond to climate change, hanging on to an increasingly precarious and unjust economic system. It is predominantly Black lives that are being impacted by drought, flooding, storms and sea level rise. The delayed global response to climate injustice gives the impression that #blacklivesdontmatter. Without urgent action Black lives will continue to be the most impacted, being dispossessed from their lands and becoming climate refugees.

We stand at a Kairos moment – in order to fight environmental injustice , we must also fight racial injustice.

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

(NBC) Father Inspires With Viral ‘Dadvice’ On YouTube

‘Rob Kenney is using YouTube to share lessons he wished he had learned as a child growing up without a father. On his page, “Dad, How Do I?” Kenney shares useful advice on tasks such as tying a tie, changing a tire, and fixing a toilet, while providing encouragement to his over two million subscribers.’

Watch it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Marriage & Family, Men, Science & Technology

(ABC Aus.) Rupert Read–Imagining the world after COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us, we have to live in a world we will never fully understand, predict, or control. The huge cost — in terms both of lives and money — of the world’s collective failure to apply precautionary reasoning to the coronavirus will hopefully continue to wake people up. If we are to survive, let alone flourish, we need to change things up; we need to imagine big, along the lines that I’ve been suggesting. This pandemic is our chance, probably our last such chance, for a new beginning. From its horror, if we retrieve the drive to localise, we’ll be building the best possible memorial to those hundreds of thousands who have unnecessarily died.

The coronavirus crisis is like the climate crisis, only dramatically telescoped in terms of time. We have seen what happens when there is a short-term protective contraction of the economy. The lifestyle-change that was required by the pandemic is more extreme than what will be required of us in order adequately to address the climate crisis. Why not make the less extreme changes required to live safely within a stable climate?

The coronavirus pandemic is like an acute condition: both individuals and entire societies need to respond quickly to it, but probably not for an extended period of time — certainly not if prevention or elimination is successfully achieved. The climate crisis is a chronic condition: it will take decades upon decades of determination, commitment, and “sacrifice” not to be overwhelmed by it. But the changes we need to make in order to achieve that goal are more attractive than those made in order to fight the coronavirus. The life we live in a climate-safe world can be a better life: saner; more rooted and local; more secure, with stronger communities and less uncertainty about our common future; less hyper-materialistic; more caring; more nurturing, and with greater exposure to the natural world.

What is required is the building of care, ethical sensibilities, and precautiousness into the very warp and weft of our lives.

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Posted in Anthropology, Climate Change, Weather, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Health & Medicine, Politics in General, Theology

(Tablet) Pope hopes pandemic will teach care for environment

Speaking after the Angelus in Rome, the pope said the pandemic had made people reflect on the relationship between humankind and the environment.

“The lockdown has reduced pollution,” he said. It had enabled people to rediscover the beauty of many places free from traffic and noise.

“Now, with the resumption of activities, we should all be more responsible for the care of the common home,” he continued. Mentioning the many emerging grass-roots environmental movements, he called for citizens to be “increasingly aware of this essential common good”.

Read it all.

Posted in Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Pope Francis, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

(Bloomberg) Niall Ferguson–America Is On The Road To Relapse Not Recovery

The best title for this tale was devised by my Hoover Institution colleague, the economist John Cochrane. He called it “The Dumb Reopening.” A smart reopening is the sort that has been possible in countries such as Taiwan and South Korea, which were so quick to ramp up testing and contact tracing that they didn’t need to do lockdowns in the first place. Among European countries, Germany and Greece have also successfully adopted these methods, which ensure that any new outbreaks of Covid-19 can quickly be detected, so-called super-spreaders isolated, their recent contacts swiftly traced and tested, and the outbreaks snuffed out.

Other signs of smartness are the persistence of behavioral adaptations by ordinary people, such as social distancing and wearing masks. We know that these practices, which can be adopted by citizens without any government decree, are effective in restricting the spread of the virus SARS-CoV-2.

Less widely appreciated is that social distancing is more effective as policy than lockdowns, as a forthcoming paper in the journal Nature shows. This is also the implication of work by researchers at Oxford’s Blavatnik School who show that there is no correlation between the stringency of government measures and containment of Covid-19. Measures designed to protect groups that are especially susceptible and vulnerable to Covid-19 — notably the elderly, especially those with pre-existing conditions — are also smart.

A dumb reopening eschews all such precautionary measures. So is that really what the U.S. is doing? The answer is pretty much yes. Testing has improved, but contact tracing is primitive. And social distancing and mask-wearing are least prevalent where reopening is happening fastest.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Politics in General, Science & Technology

(WSJ) CIA’s ‘Lax’ Security Led to Massive Theft of Hacking Tools, Internal Report Finds

A “woefully lax” security culture within the Central Intelligence Agency’s elite hacking unit that favored building cyber weapons over protecting its own computer systems from intrusion allowed for the 2016 theft of top-secret hacking tools, according to an internal report written by the spy agency disclosed on Tuesday.

The hacking tools were published by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks in early 2017, a disclosure totaling more than 8,000 pages. The leak of the so-called Vault 7 documents was widely viewed as one of the most devastating security breaches in the CIA’s history. It included details about the agency’s playbook for hacking smartphones, computer operating systems, messaging applications and internet-connected televisions.

The internal audit, published in October 2017 by CIA’s WikiLeaks Task Force, described the theft as the “largest data loss in CIA history.” It said an employee stole anywhere from 180 gigabytes to 34 terabytes of information, a haul roughly equivalent to 11.6 million to 2.2 billion pages in Microsoft Word.

The report said it was possible the CIA may have never learned of the theft had the trove not been published by WikiLeaks.

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Posted in Science & Technology, The U.S. Government

(NYT) China Is Collecting DNA From Tens of Millions of Men and Boys, Using U.S. Equipment

The police in China are collecting blood samples from men and boys from across the country to build a genetic map of its roughly 700 million males, giving the authorities a powerful new tool for their emerging high-tech surveillance state.

They have swept across the country since late 2017 to collect enough samples to build a vast DNA database, according to a new study published on Wednesday by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a research organization, based on documents also reviewed by The New York Times. With this database, the authorities would be able to track down a man’s male relatives using only that man’s blood, saliva or other genetic material.

An American company, Thermo Fisher, is helping: The Massachusetts company has sold testing kits to the Chinese police tailored to their specifications. American lawmakers have criticized Thermo Fisher for selling equipment to the Chinese authorities, but the company has defended its business.

The project is a major escalation of China’s efforts to use genetics to control its people, which had been focused on tracking ethnic minorities and other, more targeted groups. It would add to a growing, sophisticated surveillance net that the police are deploying across the country, one that increasingly includes advanced cameras, facial recognition systems and artificial intelligence.

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Posted in Anthropology, China, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General, Science & Technology, Theology

(BBC) Coronavirus: Dexamethasone proves first life-saving drug

A cheap and widely available drug can help save the lives of patients seriously ill with coronavirus.

The low-dose steroid treatment dexamethasone is a major breakthrough in the fight against the deadly virus, UK experts say.

The drug is part of the world’s biggest trial testing existing treatments to see if they also work for coronavirus.

It cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators. For those on oxygen, it cut deaths by a fifth.

Had the drug had been used to treat patients in the UK from the start of the pandemic, up to 5,000 lives could have been saved, researchers say.

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Posted in England / UK, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(New Atlantis) Stefan Beck–Do We Want Dystopia? On nightmare tech as the fulfillment of warped desire

Inasmuch as there are canonical texts of American education, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is one of them. But students may wonder why their teacher presents as “dystopian” a text that reads, in 2020, like an operating manual for the technocratic American Dream. The taming of reproduction and heredity by science; the banishment of boredom, discomfort, and sorrow by entertainment and pharmacology; the omnipresent availability of attachment-free sex; the defeat of death, sort of, by blissed-out euthanasia: Huxley foresaw not our fears but some of our deepest aspirations.

To read and teach Brave New World as dystopia is at best an oblivious atavism, at worst a piece of deluded self-flattery. As a character (not even an especially bright one) observes in Michel Houellebecq’s The Elementary Particles (1998), “Everyone says Brave New World is supposed to be a totalitarian nightmare, a vicious indictment of society, but that’s hypocritical bullshit.” The only thing Huxley got wrong, the character adds, is society’s acceptance of genetic caste stratification. In reality, we expect “advances in automation and robotics” to render such attine division of labor as obsolete as the sundial, the cotton gin, and the dot matrix printer.

It’s easy to look back at Huxley’s novel and attribute the radiant, meaningless future toward which it so fearfully looked as the realization of the dreams of scientists — including Huxley’s own brother, the eugenicist Julian Huxley — with their Promethean curiosity and procrustean “solutions.” But Huxley fretted about the machinations of industry as much as he did about scientists: Brave New World is peppered with the surnames of Henry Ford, Sir Alfred Mond, and Maurice Bokanowski. Huxley seemed convinced that when the last irregularity was removed from the human condition, and the last inconvenience stripped from the human experience, it would be scientists’ and industrialists’ hands wielding the plane. But where the scientists pursue knowledge for its own sake, or in service of the good as they see it, the tech titans pursue it the better to sell us what we want. How well the would-be Aldous Huxleys of our day understand that — and how much blame they place on us and our appetites — is the subject of this essay.

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Posted in Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Books, Corporations/Corporate Life, Eschatology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Science & Technology

(Bloomberg) Australia’s Water Is Vanishing

The early afternoon sun was pounding the parched soil, and Gus Whyte was pulling on his dust-caked cowboy boots to take me for a drive. We’d just finished lunch—cured ham, a loaf of bread I’d bought on the trip up, chutney pickled by Whyte’s wife, Kelly—at his house in Anabranch South, which isn’t a town but rather a fuzzy cartographic notion in the far west of New South Wales, a seven-hour drive from Melbourne and half as far again from Sydney. I’d been grateful, as I pulled off the blacktop of the Silver City Highway to cover the last 10 miles or so, that I’d rented the biggest 4×4 Hertz could give me. I was on a dirt road, technically, but the dirt was mostly sand, punctuated with rocks the size of small livestock and marked only by the faintest of tire tracks.

We climbed into Whyte’s pickup, and I reached instinctively over my shoulder. “Don’t worry about seat belts,” he said, amiably but firmly. “I know it’s a habit.” His Jack Russell terrier, Molly, balanced herself on his lap as he drove.

Whyte, who has reddish-brown hair, sheltered his ruddy, sun-weathered face beneath a battered bush hat. He raises livestock, mostly sheep and some cattle, on nearly 80,000 acres. Normally he’d run about 7,500 sheep, but he was down to 2,000. There wasn’t enough water for more. “I can’t remember it being this dry,” he said. “It’s disheartening to see a landscape like this. You hate it. This is where I was born and grew up, and it means the world to me.”

He kept driving, rattling off statistics about rainfall (down) and temperatures (up). Every so often he’d stop and get out to check on one of the storage tanks dotting the property, which held what little water he had. After a while we pulled onto the crest of a small hill, and Whyte pointed out Yelta Lake, a kidney-shaped landmark that’s colored, on maps, in a reassuringly cool blue. In real life it was the same dun color as everything else. “It hasn’t had any water in it since 2014,” he said.

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Posted in Australia / NZ, Climate Change, Weather, Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ecology, Economy, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology

(60 minutes) Inside A Convalescent Plasma Therapy Program Treating Coronavirus Patients

We met some of her super donors. Each had different COVID-19 symptoms, but they all wanted the same thing: to help.

Dan Walsh is a retired currency broker.

Dan Walsh: Oh, it’s great. I think it’s great. Like, it gives me bragging rights to my friends. (LAUGH) I say, “I saved a life. You didn’t do anything today.” (LAUGH)

Rick Loshiavo is an investment manager.

Rick Loshiavo: I mean, there’s nothing I’ve done in my life to have these antibodies, But the fact that I have them maybe I was blessed with them to help somebody.

Christopher Jordan is a civil engineer.

Christopher Jordan: I just feel like we should do this like we should be giving back during these kinda times. like if you can help your neighbor, help your neighbor.

Walter Dimatia is a fabricator.

Walter Dimatia: It’d be a great feeling to know that I helped someone, absolutely. I hope it does.

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Posted in Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(NYT) Six Months of Coronavirus: Here’s Some of What We’ve Learned

We don’t really know when the novel coronavirus first began infecting people. But as we turn a page on our calendars into June, it is fair to say that Sars-Cov-2 has been with us now for a full six months.

At first, it had no name or true identity. Early in January, news reports referred to strange and threatening symptoms that had sickened dozens of people in a large Chinese city with which many people in the world were probably not familiar. After half a year, that large metropolis, Wuhan, is well-known, as is the coronavirus and the illness it causes, Covid-19.

In that time, many reporters and editors on the health and science desk at The New York Times have shifted our journalistic focus as we have sought to tell the story of the coronavirus pandemic. While much remains unknown and mysterious after six months, there are some things we’re pretty sure of. These are some of those insights.

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Posted in Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(PA) On Pentecost, Pope to take part in online service with UK church leaders for first time

Pope Francis is to take part in an online service alongside senior UK church leaders, including the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, for the first time.

He is set to call on people to turn away from the “selfish pursuit of success without caring for those left behind” and to be united in facing the “pandemics of the virus and of hunger, war, contempt for life and indifference to others”.

His special message is to mark Pentecost Sunday, the day Christians celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church.

The virtual service is the finale of this year’s global prayer movement, called Thy Kingdom Come, which is usually filled with mass gatherings and outdoor celebrations involving 65 different denominations and traditions.

It has had to be adapted due to the pandemic so people can take part in their homes.

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Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Blogging & the Internet, Church of England (CoE), Ecumenical Relations, England / UK, Health & Medicine, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Pentecost, Pope Francis, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Science & Technology