Fallows: Flying Will Never Be the Same

James Fallows, writing on what the future of air travel might look like for The Atlantic:

Check-in and security. Anyone who has traveled through China in the 15-plus years since the SARS outbreak is familiar with the large temperature-check gates that inbound and outbound passengers must walk through. Some of them look like bigger versions of the metal-detector gates that are standard-issue in many U.S. buildings. … The gates alert quarantine officers to the presence of anyone who seems to have a fever, enabling individual follow-up examination by thermometer. Virtually no U.S. airports ran passengers through such equipment a year ago, and virtually all of them are likely to do so a year from now.

Our awareness of one another and the germ dangers posed in public spaces has become more acute lately. We should expect public health safety efforts to reach beyond anti-terror measures after 9/11 as more people emerge from self-quarantine into public living.

Imagine, though, the don’t-tread-on-me crowd facing such a portal before a flight. They can’t be troubled or imposed upon to wear a mask for our common good today. Such masks are common in Asian countries where the SARS epidemic killed over 750 patients among 8,000 cases, paling in comparison to COVID-19’s numbers. A fringe of Americans have almost always put their individual liberties ahead of the greater good—contradictions such as world war and natural disaster are the exception for them, not the rule. The future will be a tough place for these folks’ sensibilities.

The Broader Perspective

Of greater concern is the long-term expansion of the underclass. While many small business owners—the largest employment segment—are clamoring to resume operations, my hunch is that we’ll see little increased demand for their products and services until there exists a vaccine. The longer we remain at home the more we learn to make-do without them. Large employers, such as the airlines, will be hard-pressed to employ anything like their current government-supported payrolls. In short, unemployment is going to be a major problem in the American economy throughout 2021 and into 2022, at least.

There will be an ugly recognition on Wall Street when institutional investors give in to this reality. A spike in COVID-19 cases in this areas “re-opening” should trigger it.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given wise business executives an opportunity to clean-sheet redesign their businesses from the ground up. Everything from who and how many they employ to how they operate should be re-considered.

Think on this: What will you, as a consumer, do without down the road now that you’ve successfully suffered it the last couple of months? How does it change our economy and culture if millions share your sentiments?

#COVID19 #publicHealth #airTravel #employment

The Sucker Factor

The trouble with associating a political agenda with a disease possessing a two week incubation time is that, by the time any so-motivated activity yields evidence of error, that error amounts to tragedy.

Looking on the bright side, we’ll get a good read on the agenda vs. relative intellect—aka the sucker factor—in two weeks.

Vox: Essential Workers Have Found Their Power During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Emily Guendelsberger, writing for Vox:

Americans tend to look at big societal problems and see only individualist solutions. Look at the comments on any article about recent work stoppages in Amazon warehouses or fast-food chains, advising workers to improve themselves and find a better job if they don’t like the one they have.

This is what “no society” looks like, and it’s not just ugly — it’s a death cult.There are no free-market solutions to a pandemic. There’s no free-market answer to climate change, or homelessness, or the rise of new germs that shake off our old antibiotics. If there’s no society, there are no solutions to humanity’s looming existential problems. There’s only the grinning skull-face of eat-or-be-eaten capitalism mouthing, “You’re on your own.”

American individualism and the free-market capitalism built America and are what drive our society, but they’re not without a downside. A vocal minority of Americans are irate at being told to stay home and are protesting to re-open the economy.  They employ the harsh rhetoric of individualism, epitomized by a protester’s placard in Nashville, Tennessee this week: “Sacrifice the weak.”

Protester uging

No, thanks.

There’s a divide between when it’s our right to seek our own best fortune and when we should and must submit to the greater good. It’s for wise—and decent, humanitarian—citizens to recognize where it lies. Fortunately, we’re still in good, majority company on the right side of the issue.

For those times when a workers employment hinges on accepting unsafe or disadvantageous circumstances, the right solution is a labor union. American workers have let union membership dwindle over the last few decades to their detriment, ever since President Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers. It’s time to reverse that trend. Employees at Amazon and elsewhere have begun to figure that out.

#employment #individualism #society #culture

NYT: A drug to turbocharge the brain. Who should get it?

Carl Zimmer, The New York Times:

Surveys about gene editing tend to reflect a traditional divide between diseases and enhancement. People are more inclined to approve gene editing to prevent a disease, and tend to say enhancement is wrong.
But if a Klotho-based treatment one day prevents dementia, there may be no way to enjoy those benefits without also accepting its use as a brain enhancement.
“I still struggle with it,” Dr. Dubal said. Despite the ethical complexities, she thinks that cognitive enhancement from Klotho could be a good thing — not just for individuals, but for society.

The article details potentially ground-breaking effects from elevated levels of the hormone Klotho and is worth a read for that alone. It goes further, into the question of whether therapies offering enhancing side effects are ethical.

No doubt this question requires in-depth thought. My initial take, though, is that protecting humans from degenerative brain disorders outweighs any fair-play concern over brain enhancement. Whether a patient acquires enhanced capabilities or only protection from disease, the benefit is positive. And if the benefit is made widely available to all manner of patients, we have an evolution of the human condition.

Broadly solve the problem of degenerative brain disorders with a daily pill and few will quibble over enhanced SAT scores.

#medicine #brainDisorders #klotho

The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous

Gabrielle Glaser—The Atlantic:

The 12 steps are so deeply ingrained in the United States that many people, including doctors and therapists, believe attending meetings, earning one’s sobriety chips, and never taking another sip of alcohol is the only way to get better. Hospitals, outpatient clinics, and rehab centers use the 12 steps as the basis for treatment. But although few people seem to realize it, there are alternatives, including prescription drugs and therapies that aim to help patients learn to drink in moderation. Unlike Alcoholics Anonymous, these methods are based on modern science and have been proved, in randomized, controlled studies, to work.

This excerpt from a fascinating article about an alternative alcoholism treatment points to Americans’ white-knuckled grasp on the eighty-year old AA twelve-step program and its attendant dismal results.

Finnish therapists use a science-based approach that provides a high success rate by blocking opiate receptors in the brain. The result is reduced interest in alcohol as the comfort it provides evaporates. Conditioned craving ebbs.

The opioid antagonists used are naltrexone and a more contemporary drug, nalmefene:

Among other effects, alcohol increases the amount of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a chemical that slows down activity in the nervous system, and decreases the flow of glutamate, which activates the nervous system. (This is why drinking can make you relax, shed inhibitions, and forget your worries.) Alcohol also prompts the brain to release dopamine, a chemical associated with pleasure.

Over time, though, the brain of a heavy drinker adjusts to the steady flow of alcohol by producing less GABA and more glutamate, resulting in anxiety and irritability. Dopamine production also slows, and the person gets less pleasure out of everyday things. Combined, these changes gradually bring about a crucial shift: instead of drinking to feel good, the person ends up drinking to avoid feeling bad.

Sinclair theorized that if you could stop the endorphins from reaching their target, the brain’s opiate receptors, you could gradually weaken the [alcohol-strengthened] synapses, and the cravings would subside. To test this hypothesis, he administered opioid antagonists—drugs that block opiate receptors—to specially bred alcohol-loving rats. He found that if the rats took the medication each time they were given alcohol, they gradually drank less and less. He published his findings in peer-reviewed journals beginning in the 1980s.

Subsequent studies found that an opioid antagonist called naltrexone was safe and effective for humans.

This was a good long read about an aspect of substance abuse that’s always around us: recovery. The upshot is that for most patients this drug therapy provides potentially life-long benefit. The only thing standing in the way of applying this promising therapy is America’s infatuation with twelve-step programs, specifically AA.

Maybe we should use science to combat addiction, rather than misplaced faith.

#alcoholAbuse #substanceAbuse #sobriety #scientific #evidenceBased

3D color x-rays could help spot deadly disease without surgery

Emily Baumgaertner—The New York Times:

Researchers in New Zealand have captured three-dimensional color X-rays of the human body, using an innovative tool that may eventually help diagnose cancers and blood diseases without invasive surgery.

The new scanner matches individual X-ray photon wavelengths to specific materials, such as calcium. It then assigns a corresponding color to the scanned objects. The tool then translates the data into a three-dimensional image.

Fascinating images of the co-inventor’s wrist and ankle using this new scanning technology. A clinical trial begins in New Zealand in the coming months.

#medicalTechnology #scanning #imaging #diagnosis #nonInvasive

How much alcohol is too much? The science is shifting.

Julia Belluz—Vox:

“We wanted to find how much alcohol people can drink before they started being at a higher risk of dying,” said the lead author on the study, Cambridge University biostatistics professor Angela Wood. “Our results suggest an upper safe limit of drinking of around 100 grams of alcohol per week [about seven 12-ounce beers or 5-ounce wine pours or 1.5-ounce liquor servings] for men and for women. Drinking above this limit was related to lower life expectancy.”

The article is worth a read for its more detailed comparison of what we thought we knew about alcohol intake and what the subject meta-study suggests. I’m mildly surprised, but not shocked at the results. I’m still below the exponential departure from “safe,” but I’ll bet a quid this opens a few eyes.

Amusing that some craft beers (imperials, doubles) rate as malt liquor in this article, and that a standard pour of wine amounts to about one-fifth of a bottle. 750 ml is roughly 25 ounces. Five, not four, and not a half-bottle.

This piece reminded me of an article from the New York Times Magazine—Is Sugar Toxic? Turns out it is. And the American diet is full of it.

Keep thinking.

(Hat tip to Dr. Kenning for this article.)

#drinking #alcohol #health