Audiences Know Showmen Often Lie “as an Act of Self-Promotion”

Showman and medical entrepreneur Martin Couney has been dismissed because he claimed credentials that he may not have possessed. The passage quoted below suggests that this behavior was common for showmen during the late 1800s and the early decades of the 1900s. Perhaps this mitigates what Couney claimed?

(p. C7) But Mr. Begley’s book is indeed brief, offering a brisk passage through the facts so far as they can be known. The accusation Houdini made against Robert-Houdin of “utter disregard for the truth” applied to Houdini with a vengeance; he lied not merely as an act of self-promotion, which could be said about many showmen and performers of his time and our own, but also about things that really didn’t matter.

For the full review, see:

Robert Wilson. “Houdini.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 14, 2020): C7-C8.

(Note: the online version of the review was updated March 13, 2020, and has the title “Two New Lives of Harry Houdini.”)

The book discussed in the passage quoted above, is:

Begley, Adam. Houdini: The Elusive American New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020.

“Two Promising Approaches” for Drugs to Reduce Severe Cases of Covid-19

(p. A19) Americans would have the confidence to return to work, even if the virus is still circulating in the fall, if they knew that a robust screening system is in place to identify and arrest new outbreaks and medication can significantly reduce the chance of becoming severely ill. Kevin Warsh, a former Federal Reserve governor, estimates that such a drug could restore at least $1 trillion in economic activity.

. . .  There are two promising approaches, and both could be available soon if government and private industry do things right.  . . .

One approach involves antiviral drugs that target the virus and block its replication. Think of medicines for treating influenza, HIV or cold sores. The drugs work by blocking the mechanisms that viruses use to replicate.  . . .

The other approach involves antibody drugs, which mimic the function of immune cells. Antibody drugs can be used to fight an infection and to reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19. These medicines may be the best chance for a meaningful near-term success.

Antibody drugs are based on the same scientific principles that make “convalescent plasma” one interim tactic for treating the sickest Covid-19 patients. Doctors are taking blood plasma from patients who have recovered from Covid-19 and infusing it into those who are critically ill. The plasma is laden with antibodies, and the approach shows some promise. The constraint: There isn’t enough plasma from recovered patients to go around.

For the full commentary, see:

Scott Gottlieb. “Bet Big on Treatments for Coronavirus; Antivirals and antibody therapies are showing promise. The FDA needs to step up its pace.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, April 6, 2020): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 5, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

In Covid-19 Lockdown, Cars Allow a Private Escape from Crowded Noisy Homes

(p. D6) Public spaces are hard to safely navigate, or totally off-limits and, as a result, I haven’t felt this strongly about my car since I was 16 — not just grateful, but deeply attached. Not just attached, but somehow amalgamated.

Every car is a getaway, even when it’s parked.

In my neighborhood, where so many people live in multigenerational homes, parked cars now double as quiet meeting spaces, meditation rooms, listening stations, nap pods, whatever extra spaces we need.

We sip coffee, fight loudly and make out in our cars. We eat snacks and take important phone calls and watch TikTok videos and put the seats way back and just breathe.

I haven’t seen my brother, who lives 15 minutes away from me, in weeks. He uses his tiny car as an office. Never mind that the floor is covered in Cheerios, and the windows are dotted with peeling stickers.

Week Three of lockdown, and it’s a privilege if you can work safely, in isolation, if you can escape momentarily into your car. Even if — especially if — you have nowhere else to go but home.

For the full commentary, see:

Tejal Rao. “Car Culture Has a New Meaning.” The New York Times (Wednesday, April 1, 2020): D6.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 31, 2020, and has the title “Dining and Driving on the Empty Freeways of Los Angeles.”)

Fossil of Oldest Air-Breathing Animal Found

(p. A3) In a trove of fossils dug up decades ago in Wisconsin, a team of paleontologists say they have discovered the oldest known prehistoric scorpion species—and clues about how early organisms evolved to venture onto land.

The arachnids, which were well-enough preserved that researchers could study their internal anatomy, wandered the rich shallow waters of its ancient habitat. Yet the species had cardiovascular and respiratory systems like modern scorpions that could breathe air, say researchers who described their findings in a paper published Thursday in Nature Scientific Reports.

. . .

The researchers dated the fossils to the Silurian Age, a period in the Paleozoic Era between 443 million and 416 million years ago when shallow waters and abundant sunlight allowed colorful reefs and other ancient life to make their debut.

. . .

Joanna Wolfe, who works in the organismic and evolutionary biology department at Harvard University, said the Wisconsin quarry is famously home to marine fossils, so they are “definitely not fully terrestrial, but they are older than the oldest truly terrestrial body fossil of a millipede-like [organism] 427 million years ago.”

“It’s plausible to me that indeed there was a more complex pattern of evolution where we’re going from water to land and back to water, and that that could’ve happened more than once,” said Dr. Wolfe, who wasn’t involved in the research.

For the full story, see:

Katie Camero. “Scorpions Among Earth’s First Air Breathers.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, January 17, 2020): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 16, 2020, and has the title “Ancient Scorpion Offers Clues to How Animals Moved From Sea to Land.”)

“Working-Class Louis-François Cartier” Succeeded Through “Industry, Shrewdness, and Sheer Luck”

(p. 21) While Cartier is now a fixture in every major city, a synonym for international panache, its origins were modest. The author’s great-great-great-grandfather, , founded his eponymous company in 1847. Through a combination of industry, shrewdness, and sheer luck, he managed to transform his small shop into a fashionable destination: no small task in an era of civil unrest and regime change.

Thriving in the fickle fine jewelry market required finesse, and Brickell highlights the complementary skills different members of the close-knit Cartier clan brought to their ever-shifting business: innovative design, meticulous craftsmanship, an early appreciation for the power of public relations, and a keen eye for spotting counterfeit stones. Early on, Cartier also, crucially, developed a reputation as an honest and reliable dealer when droves of aristocrats were hocking their jewels following the Franco-Prussian War.

For the full review, see:

Sadie Stein. “Family Jewelers.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, December 22, 2019): 21.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. [sic] 26, 2019, and has the title “Can’t Afford a Shopping Spree at Cartier? This Book Is the Next Best Thing.”)

The book under review, is:

Brickell, Francesca Cartier. The Cartiers: The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewelry Empire. New York: Ballantine Books, 2019.

“Local Adaptations” Might Be a “Workable Solution” to Global Warming

(p. 5) Around the time of every new and full moon, the sea rushes soundlessly past the trash-strewn shores, up over the single road running along the spine of Batasan, population 1,400, and into people’s homes. The island, part of the Tubigon chain in the central Philippines, is waterlogged at least one-third of the year.

. . .

“People say this is because of the Arctic melting,” said Dennis Sucanto, a local resident whose job is to measure the water levels in Batasan each year. “I don’t understand but that’s what they say.”

. . .

“They wanted us to go to a hilly farming place,” said Rodrigo Cosicol, 66, shaking his head at the affront. “We are fishermen. We need fish.”

“We don’t fear the water anymore,” Mr. Cosicol added. “This is our way of living.”

This unwillingness of people on Batasan to abandon their homes — instead choosing to respond, inch by inch, to a new reality — may hold valuable lessons for residents of other vulnerable island states. Rather than uprooting an entire population, with the enormous trauma and cost that entails, the more workable solution might be local adaptations.

“The climate refugee message is more sensational but the more realistic narrative from the islanders themselves is adaptation rather than mass migration,” said Laurice Jamero, who has researched the Tubigon islands for five years and runs the climate and disaster risk assessment efforts at the Manila Observatory, a research institute.

And Batasan’s residents have adjusted. They have rolled up their hems. They have placed their houses on blocks of coral stone. They have tethered their goats to sheds on stilts. They have moved most plant life from floodable patches of land to portable pots.

There are other concessions. The Roman Catholic priest at the local church declared that parishioners no longer have to kneel for prayer when the tides are high.

“We will find a way to do things because this is our home,” said Annie Casquejo, a local health committee member who once worked off the island but has, like many others, returned to Batasan.

Nature’s constant threat has imprinted resilience on the Philippine DNA.

. . .

Children on Batasan who are lucky enough to own bikes have one option — up and down the main road, the only road.

The concrete strip runs for less than two-thirds of a mile, then peters out in a mangrove swamp near the home of Alma Rebucas, where thigh-high waters regularly infiltrate. She secures the family’s utensils lest they float away. Her dog and goats are swimmers. So is the cat.

Ms. Rebucas said she has no plans to move away.  . . .

She oversees a fishing business, plucking sea cucumbers, crabs and grouper from the shimmering sea. Life here is like a magic trick, Ms. Rebucas said, making something from nothing.

“We don’t need much land,” she said. “We have the whole sea.”

For the full story, see:

Hannah Beech. “PHILIPPINES DISPATCH; Life on an Island Being Devoured by the Rising Sea.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, February 23, 2020): 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 22, 2020, and has the title “PHILIPPINES DISPATCH; Adapting to Rising Seas, Schools Move to the Rafters and Cats Swim.”)

Seeing Patterns Is Important Knowledge

Collecting, categorizing, and taxonomizing, are early steps toward scientific knowledge, as the example below illustrates. But these activities are often dismissed or ridiculed by members of the scientific establishment.

(p. A23) In the 1970s, Dr. Melzack turned to another problem he had been thinking about for years: pain measurement. At the time, doctors had only very crude instruments, like simply asking people to rate their pain level on a scale from 1 to 10 (a method that is still in use). As a young researcher, Dr. Melzack had worked in a chronic pain clinic and befriended a 70-year-old woman with diabetes.

“She was a highly intelligent person with a good vocabulary, and I began to collect her descriptive words about pain, like ‘burning,’ ‘shooting,’ ‘horrible’ and ‘excruciating,’” he told McGill Reporter in a 2008 interview.

He continued to build his adjective collection by listening to many patients’ descriptions and, working with a statistician, divided them into 20 categories, each describing a particular kind of pain: “tugging,” “pulling” and “wrenching” in one category, for instance, and “pinching,” “pressing” and “gnawing” in another.

This descriptive catalog, published in the journal Pain in 1975, became the McGill Pain Questionnaire. It soon became a standard measure worldwide, deeply enriching the conversations doctors have with their patients, and in many cases helping with diagnosis.

For the full obituary, see:

Benedict Carey. “Ronald Melzack, Cartographer of Pain, Is Dead at 90.” The New York Times (Monday, January 13, 2020): A23.

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Jan. 12, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)