Monday, October 2nd, 2023


Medicine Chestbump

Hey Hey I saved the world today / Everybody's happy now / The bad thing's gone away. —Eurythmics

Every year I link to a story about the winners of the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Most of the time, I copy and paste the key paragraph, but I really don't understand what was discovered or its relationship to the broader world of medicine that we all regularly encounter. This year, I still might not really understand the science. But even a humanities major can appreciate exactly how this year's winners impacted our daily lives, or more accurately, how they gave us back our daily lives. "Two pioneers of mRNA research — the technology that helped the world tame the virus behind the Covid-19 pandemic — won the 2023 Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology on Monday. Overcoming a lack of broader interest in their work and scientific challenges, Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman made key discoveries about messenger RNA that enabled scientific teams to start developing the tool into therapies, immunizations, and — as the pandemic spread in 2020 — vaccines targeting the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. " (I know, I know. I hate to start off the week with something as contentious and controversial as life-saving science.)

+ "Before messenger RNA was a multibillion-dollar idea, it was a scientific backwater. And for the Hungarian-born scientist behind a key mRNA discovery, it was a career dead-end. Katalin Karikó spent the 1990s collecting rejections. Her work, attempting to harness the power of mRNA to fight disease, was too far-fetched for government grants, corporate funding, and even support from her own colleagues." Luckily, she kept working at it. StatNews, back in November of 2020, when this story couldn't have been more urgent. The story of mRNA: How a once-dismissed idea became a leading technology in the Covid vaccine race.


Animal House

"Speaker Kevin McCarthy began the final day before a government shutdown pinned against the ropes ... He ended it still on the ropes, having bucked expectations and passed a spending bill to keep the government open through mid-November — but only after being forced to turn to Democrats for help pushing through the legislation that his detractors denounced as a Republican surrender. In between, there was a game of chicken between the House and the Senate over their competing stopgap spending plans, a fire alarm pulled by a progressive congressman in the Capitol complex, a 50-minute filibuster by the House minority leader as Democrats sought more time to figure out whether they wanted to help pass Mr. McCarthy's plan, and more threats by Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida and his hard-right cohorts to call a vote to oust the speaker." NYT (Gift Article): Inside McCarthy's Shutdown Turnabout That Left His Speakership at Risk. (It would all be almost funny if it weren't, you know, our actual democracy being endlessly soiled by complete whack jobs.)

+ Vox: Congress just avoided a shutdown. Kevin McCarthy's fight is just beginning. At this point, this town's not big enough for Kevin McCarthy and Matt Gaetz. (FWIW, it's ideally sized for neither.)


The Worst Monday in October

"It's a delicate dance: All of the justices on the right flank of the court support in principle the deregulatory, pro-business, vote-suppressive, pro-gun agenda of the appeals court's nuttiest fringe. But the exigent questions around how far they wish to be prodded from courts below, and how much of their precious remaining public confidence they wish to squander, means that the cases before them are analyzed not so much for neutral legal principles as for strategic, publicly acceptable gains for Leonard Leo's Christmas list." Slate: This Supreme Court Term's Grimmest Cases Share One Thing in Common.


Hostel Environment

"In 1969, the Intercontinental Hotel, Afghanistan's first luxury hotel, opened. It was built in a time that feels much further away than the year suggests. Afghanistan was at war for more than forty years. Rulers came and went, and every one of them was here, at the Intercontinental. Its former luxury has faded, but the Intercontinental has remained a symbol: Those who rule Kabul rule Afghanistan, and those who rule Kabul rule the Intercontinental. Today, the hotel is run by the Taliban." Andreas Babst: Inside the Taliban's luxury hotel. "The automatic sliding doors rattle with age as they open. The Intercontinental welcomes its guests at a massive marble counter. Behind it, a wood-paneled wall with four clocks – Kabul, New York, London, Dubai. Cosmopolitanism in a closed-off country. The Intercontinental does not accept credit cards, since Afghanistan is largely cut off from international banking. A guest arrives with a plastic bag full of cash."


Extra, Extra

The Mayor: "California Gov. Gavin Newsom will appoint EMILY's List President Laphonza Butler to fill the seat of the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein, elevating the head of a fundraising juggernaut that works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights." Dianne Feinstein, who will lie in state in San Francisco, was a trailblazer who led in various roles for decades. But to those of us in the Bay Area, her defining moment will always be when was thrust into the role of SF Mayor after a shocking double murder at City Hall. Here's the moment she made the announcement. And here's a look at Dianne Feinstein's life in pictures.

+ Another Day, Another Trial: "The first day of the civil fraud trial against former President Donald Trump, his eldest sons, their companies and Trump Organization executives has started. Trump is in court and is attending the trial." Of course, Trump is lashing out against yet another team of prosecutors and yet another judge. But much of this case has been decided already and it's bad news for Trump. Here's the latest. Meanwhile, all Trump's lies about the election, the trials, and his political opponents are having a predictable effect. A MAGA gunman in New Mexico and ‘the end of politics' in America.

+ The Putin Parties: NYT: "Russia's strategy to win the war in Ukraine is to outlast the West. But how does Vladimir Putin plan to do that? American officials said they are convinced that Mr. Putin intends to try to end U.S. and European support for Ukraine by using his spy agencies to push propaganda supporting pro-Russian political parties and by stoking conspiracy theories with new technologies." (Well, he's already convinced Tucker Carlson, Elon Musk, and a huge swath of the House GOP. So I guess the plan is going pretty well.)

+ Numbers Racket: "When California released a revised draft of the math framework last year, I decided someone should read the whole thing, so I dove in. Sometimes, as I pored over the CMF, I could scarcely believe what I was reading. The document cited research that hadn't been peer-reviewed; justified sweeping generalizations by referencing small, tightly focused studies or even unrelated research; and described some papers as reaching nearly the opposite conclusions from what they actually say." The Atlantic (Gift Article): California's Math Misadventure Is About to Go National. (From my friend Norman who is a longtime math teacher in CA and who was rooting for the US in the Ryder Cup: "This is an absolute disaster. Think the Ryder Cup to the 100th power.")

+ The Cream Rises: "If you are a connoisseur of fancy coffee and fancy coffee shops (or even just fancy-ish), you've probably noticed that the price of your favorite drink is higher than it used to be." Why your $7 latte is $7. (Consider yourself lucky. According to Trump Org valuation math, it's worth $700.)

+ Sword Fight: "The inventor of the world's first cosmetic penile implant says a group of Houston doctors is trying to steal his ideas. Inside the multimillion-dollar feud." Texas Monthly: The Big Penis War.


Bottom of the News

"I might be the only photographer who wants people to laugh at their photography." From traditional Japanese log riding to charitable llama races in Colorado, this photographer has seen it all.

+ "For five months, my career has been exactly the same as Shonda Rhimes and Jesse Armstrong. That would be good enough, getting to freeze our careers in amber before young people push us into irrelevancy or, worse yet, back into network television. But we also got to picket." Joel Stein: The 148 days of the Writers Guild strike were the happiest of my career.

+ Chicago woman, 104, skydives from plane, aiming for record as the world's oldest skydiver.