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A Covid Vaccine

At the heart of Oxford’s effort to produce a Covid vaccine are half a dozen scientists who between them brought decades of experience to the challenge of designing, developing, manufacturing and trialling a safe vaccine at breakneck speed.
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By the beginning of April, Oxford had enough vaccine to launch clinical trials. Andrew Pollard, the head of the Oxford vaccine group, who has spent 20 years running clinical trials, prepared and oversaw them. His team worked with doctors at 19 trial sites around the UK and six each in Brazil and South Africa to get the trials done. That month, the first shots went into volunteers.
Today, seven months later, the scientists can say that it works.

Is this the beginning of an mRNA vaccine revolution?

The past few months have brought a number of scientific terms to public attention. We’ve had to digest R (a virus’s reproduction number) and PCR (the polymerase chain reaction method of testing). And now there’s mRNA. This last one has featured heavily in recent news reports because of the spectacular results of two new mRNA vaccines against coronavirus. It stands for “messenger ribonucleic acid”, a label familiar enough if you studied biology at O-level or GCSE, but otherwise hardly a household name. Even in the field of vaccine research, if you had said as recently as 10 years ago that you could protect people from infections by injecting them with mRNA, you would have provoked some puzzled looks.

Whether or not mRNA now becomes the preferred way to make novel vaccines, it is clear that a global disaster on the scale of the pandemic spurs innovation at a much faster rate. This is not just the consequence of all the resources and funding made available to those with solutions that might usually be regarded with more scepticism; it is also driven by the remarkable things that humans can achieve when thrust together by circumstances and given a common purpose. While we like to lionise individual heroes and leaders, scientific advances like mRNA vaccines are always the product of the collaborative efforts of many people with diverse skills and backgrounds.

Covid World Map



Covid World Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak

New York Times

The coronavirus pandemic has sickened more than 58,675,400 people, according to official counts. As of Monday morning, at least 1,387,300 people have died, and the virus has been detected in nearly every country, as these maps show.

The coronavirus pandemic is ebbing in some of the countries that were hit hard early on, but the number of new cases is growing faster than ever worldwide, with more than 500,000 reported each day on average.

98 Million TikTok Followers Can’t Be Wrong

Collab day at Clubhouse Beverly Hills was scheduled to start at 2 p.m., but that time came and went and the mansion was still as sleepy as a college dorm on Saturday morning. In one of the house’s four living rooms, an enormous oil painting of George Washington loomed over a pale leather couch. A whiteboard listed ideas for future TikTok videos: shooting range, wine tasting, go-karts, Joshua Tree. Outside, by the sparkling pool, the lawn was studded with statues of Greek gods and human-size hamster balls.
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I spoke with Ahlyssa this fall, when much of California was on fire and Trump was once again threatening to ban TikTok. Terms of a potential deal with Oracle got more convoluted by the day. Ahlyssa told me that she wasn’t following the story too closely. She had been on TikTok for only a year and a half, but she was already nostalgic for the old days, before posting was her job, before all of her friends were influencers. Back then, she would scroll through her FYP and see all sorts of different people doing all sorts of different things. Back then, the app had felt like an engine of surprise and delight—anything could happen, anyone could blow up. Now it felt like the same people over and over again: Charli, Hype House, Addison, Sway House. She loved them all, but maybe it would be good if everyone had to start fresh. “TikTok is the platform I started on,” she said, “but I’m ready for the next one.”

How a 16-year-old from suburban Connecticut became the most famous teen in America

Hampstead Heath


 

Finding the Right Words

Words have meaning. This statement shouldn’t be a surprise coming from The New York Times, but for the technology industry at large, it’s something that has been increasingly discussed in recent years.

Whether it’s terminology like “master” or “blacklist,” words with harmful connotations have been baked into tech communication for decades. Words like these bring with them the weight of slavery and discrimination, and signal that those who have held power in the tech industry have had the privilege to ignore the impact of these antiquated terms. People of color are still underrepresented in tech, and the industry’s continued use of these terms acts in direct opposition to an inclusive and equitable culture.

However, tech culture is changing. In 2014, Drupal replaced “master” and “slave” with “primary” and “replica.” Then, in 2018, Python adopted new terminology such as “worker” and “helper.” More recently, Github announced that they would permanently change their default naming conventions for initial repository branches from “master” to “main.”

Like many other organizations, The Times is re-examining the language we use to be more mindful of how we describe our technology. With the support of our technology leadership and product stakeholders, a group of Times engineers and product designers wrote a set of guidelines for our own naming conventions.

We are sharing them here with the hope that advocating for these changes adds to the momentum we’ve seen in the technology industry to create a safe and inclusive culture for all.


Finding the Right Words
The New York Times is releasing guidelines for how we describe our products

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The Connaught


 

Meditating on the Six Realms of Existence

Nondual Guided Meditation with Michael Taft

On YouTube

According to Buddhist cosmology, the world of existence is divided into six types of beings. As one who is trapped in Samsara (i.e. ‘the world”) you can be reborn in any one of these six realms or categories.

Deva (“gods/angels”)
Asura (“demigods/titans”)
Human (us)
Animal
Hungry Ghosts
Naraka (“the damned”)

These six realms are quite different than their counterparts in Western religions, because you are not “assigned” there permanently. But rather live a whole life in that realm before dying there and then being reborn. Where you are reborn depends on your karma, which means your good or bad actions.

While the six realms are traditionally taken at face value, we can also use them as a psychological map to aid in meditation. Psychologically, these are the mind states associated with each type of being:

Joy, pleasure, indifference to others
Jealousy, domination, ego, aggression
Any mind state
Sleepiness, ignorance, appetite, comfort-seeking
Frustration, neediness, cannot be satisfied
Anger, hatred, extreme discomfort

When we notice ourselves entering into one of these mind states (other than human), we open up to that and accept it, allowing it to simply be in awareness. This eventually allows us to metaphorically die to that birth, go into the bardo, and be reborn again as a human being; i.e. not caught up in some emotional disturbance. This version of this meditation inspired by my friend Kenneth Folk.

Hoping for a return to normal?

Normalcy and the restoration of a modicum of decorum to the White House: that is what many elite supporters of Joe Biden hope for now that he has won the election. But the rest of us are turned off by this meagre ambition. Voters who loathe Trump celebrate his loss, but the majority rue the return to what used to pass as normal or ethical. 
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So yes, Joe Biden has won. And thank goodness for that. But let’s understand that he did so despite, not because of, his social graces or promise to restore normality to the White House. The confluence of discontent that powered Trump to power in 2016 has not gone away. To pretend like it has is only to invite future disaster – for America and the rest of the world.

Hoping for a return to normal after Trump? That's the last thing we need 
The Guardian 

Fighting QAnon

Even by the standards of U.S. politics in the accursed year 2020, the wall of thrusting digital crotches was weird. One day in June, barely a week after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd and ignited nationwide protests, people started tweeting #WhiteLivesMatter so frequently that it became one of Twitter’s most popular hashtags worldwide. The white supremacist phrase is a call to arms within QAnon, the militant sect that believes God sent President Trump to defeat a shadowy cabal of pedophiles and child traffickers. But the tweets weren’t what they seemed. Anyone who clicked the hashtag or typed it into Twitter’s search bar looking for fellow racists instead found a rolling stream of video clips featuring Korean boy bands, their pelvises gyrating below their smouldering eyes and perfect pastel hair.


King's Road, 1969


How Are You Coping With the Coronavirus?

At 89 years of age I’ve decided to put my papers in order. I’m collecting all the stories I’ve ever told to my family which now reside only in photographs, letters and documents, but mostly in my head. Hell, it’s more fun than doing crossword puzzles. Re-examining nine decades of significant events in my life is a great adventure as well as a healer of sorts. Perhaps I might live long enough to venture out and mingle with people again after we’ve all been injected with a reliable vaccine. However, the Grim Reaper is eyeing me anxiously, one way or the other. 

Melvin Grossgold, Paris

New York Times

Embracing Winter

This winter, indoor dining, bars, movie theaters and many other indoor gatherings are likely to be ill-advised, if not prohibited. If we can’t gather safely indoors, where the cold and dark of winter usually drive us, what will we do? For inspiration, we can look to Scandinavia, where people live with some of the darkest, longest winters and yet are consistently ranked as the happiest people in the world. How do they do it, and what can we learn from them?


What Scandinavians Can Teach Us About Embracing Winter 
New York Times 
Kari Leibowitz 

Succulents


 

Goldhurst Terrace


 

Memory involves the whole body

When I wake up each morning, there are things I recognise as part of ‘me’. The aura of dream is replaced almost immediately by a continuity of thought from the previous day. And behind this are layers of familiar sensation: the dryness of my skin; the exaggerated sensitivity of my hands; the way my eyes want to hide from the daylight; the empty feeling of my typical morning hunger; and the bodily restlessness that will soon get me out of bed. Words are there even before I realise it, and I feel a pang of regret as I break the silence. Then I look at my partner, stirring next to me, and recognise another whole domain of identity: the people I share my life with and the feelings they bring to life. It’s a cascade of embodiment, of tendency, of self, that emerges. Doubtless, if I survived a brain injury, some of these things might change or disappear. But not all of them.

Memory involves the whole body. It’s how the self defies amnesia

Ben Platts-Mills

A portrait of the coronavirus


The first pictures of the coronavirus, taken just seven months ago, resembled barely discernible smudges. But scientists have since captured the virus and its structures in intimate, atomic detail, offering crucial insights into how it functions. 
Less than a millionth of an inch wide, the virus is studded with proteins called spikes that attach to cells in people’s airways, allowing the virus to infiltrate. But under an electron microscope, the proteins look more like tulips than spikes, consisting of long stems topped with what looks like a three-part flower. These spikes also swivel on a three-way hinge, which may increase their odds of encountering and attaching to proteins on human cells.
As the spikes sweep around, they can also be attacked by antibodies. But they are protected by shields made of sugar. Sugar molecules, in navy below, swirl around the proteins and hide them from antibodies.
The coronavirus genome consists of 30,000 letters that hold the information for making its proteins. The genes are arrayed on a molecular strand called RNA. 
After the virus enters a human cell, our ribosomes — the tiny cellular factories that pump out proteins — attach to its RNA strands and glide down them like a roller coaster car running along a track. As the ribosomes pass over the genetic letters, they build proteins with corresponding structures.
In just a few hours, an infected cell can make thousands of new virus genomes. Ribosomes read the genes and create more viral proteins, which then combine with the new genomes to make more viruses. 
Already, the new pictures of SARS-CoV-2 have become essential for the fight to end the pandemic. Vaccine developers study the virus’s structure to ensure that the antibodies made by vaccines grip tightly to the virus. Drug developers are concocting molecules that disrupt the virus by slipping into nooks and crannies of proteins and jamming their machinery. 
A drug molecule, in blue, blocks the tip of the coronavirus spike.Ian Haydon, Institute for Protein Design
But while the past few months have delivered a flood of data about the virus, some studies have made it clear that it will take years to fully make sense of SARS-CoV-2.  

The Coronavirus Unveiled 

Carl Zimmer . New York Times 

Re-arrange bathroom


 

Musical Thinking

The present pandemic has brought us closer to ourselves. There is dissonance. The rhythms are haphazard. Contrary motions of jangling melodies confront us. We seem to be living in a maze of minor keys and open-ended cadences. We move chromatically, step by step. The array of discord challenges us. We’re searching for resolution. 

If this gamut of expressions seems familiar, you’re right. They are the building blocks of music. We might not ordinarily say to ourselves, let’s modulate, or let’s change key, but every day we unconsciously conduct our lives as a musical composition, a symphonic masterpiece, an anthem, or a slice of hip-hop.

Music is a philosophy, rich in ideas that language cannot say





Waking from the American dream

The cult singer-songwriter made his name as a whimsical chronicler of US history. Now he’s made an electropop album about his country’s evils.

Stevens’s latest and perhaps boldest work, The Ascension, is another exercise in changing direction after a brief flirtation with fame. His 2015 album Carrie and Lowell was a bare-bones exploration of grief, inspired by the death of his mother, and hailed as Stevens’s greatest achievement yet. Rather than more of the same, its follow-up is a beautiful, scuffed electropop album that swaps Carrie and Lowell’s introspection for outward-looking lyrics, grappling with an American culture he perceives as up in flames. “I wanted to respond to changes in the political climate and changes in human engagement, influenced by the internet and technology,” he says. 
 

'I have a sense of urgency': Sufjan Stevens wakes from the American dream

Al Horner . The Guardian

Re-arranging


 

Ami, a tiny cube on wheels

Classed as a light quadricycle, the Ami is, Citroën says, an “urban mobility object”. All-electric, 2.4 metres long and 1.4m wide, with a top speed of 45km/h (28mph) and a range of 75km (46 miles), it can be driven in France without a full licence by anyone aged 14 or over. It can be recharged from a standard home socket in three hours and costs €6,000 

Turn the key, select D for drive from the three buttons to the left of your seat, release the handbrake and depress the accelerator pedal – and off you go. In front of you is a monochrome display showing speed, battery level and kilometres remaining before the next charge. There’s a rudimentary heater, a solid tubular steel frame. 

Ami, the tiny cube on wheels that French 14-year-olds can drive

Jon Henley . The Guardian 

London is one of the most corrupt cities on Earth


When you connect the words corruption and the United Kingdom, people tend to respond with shock and anger. Corruption, we believe, is something that happens abroad. Indeed, if you check the rankings published by Transparency International or the Basel Institute, the UK looks like one of the world’s cleanest countries. But this is an artefact of the narrow criteria they use.

As Jason Hickel points out in his book The Divide, theft by officials in poorer nations amounts to between $20bn and $40bn a year. It’s a lot of money, and it harms wellbeing and democracy in those countries. But this figure is dwarfed by the illicit flows of money from poor and middling nations that are organised by multinational companies and banks. The US research group Global Financial Integrity estimates that $1.1tn a year flows illegally out of poorer nations, stolen from them through tax evasion and the transfer of money within corporations. This practice costs sub-Saharan Africa around 6% of its GDP.

The looters rely on secrecy regimes to process and hide their stolen money. The corporate tax haven index published by the Tax Justice Network shows that the three countries that have done most to facilitate this theft are the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. All of them are British territories. Jersey, a British dependency, comes seventh on the list. These places are effectively satellites of the City of London. But because they are overseas, the City can benefit from “nefarious activities … while allowing the British government to maintain distance when scandals arise”, says the network. The City of London’s astonishing exemption from the UK’s freedom of information laws creates an extra ring of secrecy.

A new and terrifying book by the Financial Times journalist Tom Burgis, Kleptopia, follows a global current of dirty money, and the murders and kidnappings required to sustain it. Again and again, he found, this money, though it might originate in Russia, Africa or the Middle East, travels through London. The murders and kidnappings don’t happen here, of course: our bankers have clean cuffs and manicured nails. The National Crime Agency estimates that money laundering costs the UK £100bn a year. But it makes much more. With the money come people fleeing the consequences of their crimes, welcomed into this country through the government’s “golden visa” scheme: a red carpet laid out for the very rich.

The UK is one of the most corrupt nations on Earth 

George Monbiot . The Guardian