“A Clinical Hunch by a Lot of Really Smart People”

(p. A1) Thomas Oxley wasn’t even on call the day he received the page to come to Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan. There weren’t enough doctors to treat all the emergency stroke patients, and he was needed in the operating room.

The patient’s chart appeared unremarkable at first glance. He took no medications and had no history of chronic conditions. He had been feeling fine, hanging out at home during the lockdown like the rest of the country, when suddenly, he had trouble talking and moving the right side of his body. Imaging showed a large blockage on the left side of his head.

Oxley gasped when he got to the patient’s age and covid-19 status: 44, positive.

The man was among several recent stroke patients in their 30s to 40s who were all infected with the novel coronavirus. The median age for that type of severe stroke is 74.

As Oxley, an interventional neurologist, began the procedure to remove the clot, he observed something he had never seen before. On the monitors, the brain typically shows up as a tangle of black squiggles – “like a can of spaghetti,” he said – that provide a map of blood vessels. A clot shows up as a blank spot. As he used a needlelike device to pull out the clot, he saw new clots forming in real-time around it.

“This is crazy,” he remembers telling his boss.

A surge

Reports of strokes in the young and middle-aged – not just at Mount Sinai but in many other hospitals in communities hit hard by the coronavirus – are the latest twist in our evolving understanding of its connected disease, covid-19. Even as the virus has infected nearly 2.8 million people worldwide and killed 195,000 as of Friday, its biological mechanisms continue to elude top scientific minds. Once thought to be a pathogen that primarily attacks the lungs, it has turned out to be a much more formidable foe – impacting nearly every major organ system in the body.

Until recently, there was little hard data on strokes and covid-19.

There was one report out of Wuhan, China, that showed that some hospitalized patients had experienced strokes but many of those were seriously ill and elderly. But the linkage was considered more of “a clinical hunch by a lot of really smart people,” said Sherry H-Y Chou, a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center neurologist and critical care doctor.

Now for the first time, three large U.S. medical centers are preparing to publish data on the stroke phenomenon. The numbers are small, only a few dozen per location, but they provide new insights into what the virus does to our bodies.

For the full story, see:

Ariana Eunjung Cha. “Strokes Are Striking Younger, Symptomless COVID-19 Victims.” The Washington Post (Saturday, April 25, 2020): A1.

(Note: bold in original.)

(Note: some of the above quote may have been continued onto a later page than A1.)

Data Retrieval Does Not Equal Creativity

(p. F2) Steve Jobs once described personal computing as a “bicycle for the mind.”

His idea that computers can be used as “intelligence amplifiers” that offer an important boost for human creativity is now being given an immediate test in the face of the coronavirus.

In March [2020], a group of artificial intelligence research groups and the National Library of Medicine announced that they had organized the world’s scientific research papers about the virus so the documents, more than 44,000 articles, could be explored in new ways using a machine-learning program designed to help scientists see patterns and find relationships to aid research.

. . .

Jerry Kaplan, an artificial-intelligence researcher who was involved with two of Silicon Valley’s first A.I. companies, Symantec and Teknowledge during the 1980s, pointed out that the new language modeling software was actually just a new type of database retrieval technology, rather than an advance toward any kind of “thinking machine.”

“Creativity is still entirely on the human side,” he said. “All this particular tool is doing is making it possible to get insights that would otherwise take years of study.”

For the full commentary, see:

John Markoff. “You Need A.I. to Spell Creative.” The New York Times (Thursday, April 9, 2020): F2.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 8, 2020, and has the title “You Can’t Spell Creative Without A.I.”)

You Build Your Dream “and You Don’t Let Anybody Stop You”

(p. A10) Though he never became a household name, Chuck Peddle was among the peers of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates in the 1970s who transformed personal computers from curiosities for geeky hobbyists into essential tools for the masses.

Mr. Peddle led a team at MOS Technology Inc. that designed a microprocessor priced at $25, around a 10th of the cost of competing devices. The MOS 6502, introduced in 1975, served as the electronic brain for some of the earliest personal computers, including the Apple I and II, as well as for videogame consoles.

The microprocessor’s low price changed the economics for personal-computer makers, allowing them to offer higher performance at affordable prices, said Douglas Fairbairn, a director at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.

. . .

In an interview last March with the University of Maine’s alumni magazine, he summed up his engineering philosophy: “You take a dream, and you build a dream, and you keep building on it and you don’t let anybody stop you.”

For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty. “Engineer Helped Launch Personal Computer Era.” The Wall Street Journal (Satursday, January 4, 2020): A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Jan. 1, 2020 and has the title “Chuck Peddle’s $25 Microprocessor Ignited Computer Market.”)

“Masks Are Pilloried Until They Are Mandatory”

(p. 6) The surreal reality of American cities and towns also mirrors the half-remembered, half-empty approximations explored in sleep, ordered by the same pliable, foggy logic: Masks are pilloried until they are mandatory; liquor stores open early for sexagenarians only; an invisible plague makes people fall gravely ill seemingly at random; touching anything — everything — is banned.

For the full story, see:

Caity Weaver. “The Interpretation of Viral Dreams.” The New York Times, SundayStyles Section (Sunday, April 12, 2020): 6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 11, 2020, and has the title “Why Am I Having Weird Dreams Lately?”)

87% of American Liberals Support Some Merit-Based Income Differences

In my Openness to Creative Destruction, I claim that most people do not care as much about inequality per se, as they do about unfair inequality. What they care about is the differences in income be roughly related to differences in contribution. I illustrate this by recounting a famous experiment that Frans de Waal conducted with capuchin monkeys. The evidence in the study quoted below, supports my claim.

(p. B3) In 2018, four economists at the Center for Experimental Research on Fairness, Inequality and Rationality at the Norwegian School of Economics conducted a huge experiment — mostly via face-to-face interviews — using the Gallup World Poll. The Norwegian team — Bertil Tungodden, Alexander Cappelen, Ingvild Almas and Erik O. Sorensen — worked with Gallup to survey 65,000 people across 60 countries about their beliefs related to the gaps between the rich and the poor.

Part of the survey was an experiment. Respondents were randomly assigned to different conditions and presented a real-life scenario: Two people were recently hired to independently complete a short assignment; they were both paid, but one was given an additional $6.

In the first group, survey takers were told that the additional $6 was given out randomly. In the second group, they were told the $6 went to the worker who was more productive in completing the assignment. In both cases, respondents were asked how they would divide the additional earnings: whether they would transfer none of it, some of it or all of it to the other worker.

. . .

American conservatives might assume liberals are averse to merit-based compensation. The experiment proves that’s not so. When told the bonus payment was made only to the most productive worker, only 13 percent of the liberals transferred all of the money equally to the less productive worker, which is within the margin of error of the American conservative response (10 percent).

Americans both liberal and conservative were more likely than most people worldwide to accept merit-based income differences. As one of the study’s investigators, Mr. Tungodden, mentioned in his public presentation on the study, people in richer countries were more likely than people in poorer countries to allow merit-based differences. In the rich and more egalitarian country of Norway, 88 percent of respondents transferred the bonus payment equally when told it was allocated by chance, but only 33 percent did so when allocated by merit.

For the full commentary, see:

Jonathan Rothwell. “THE UPSHOT; Think Only Liberals Will Share the Wealth? A Survey May Surprise You.” The New York Times (Friday, February 14, 2020): B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was last updated February 14, 2020, and has the title “THE UPSHOT; Experiment Shows Conservatives More Willing to Share Wealth Than They Say.”)

The soon-to-be-published version of the research discussed above, is:

Almås, Ingvild, Alexander W. Cappelen, and Bertil Tungodden. “Cutthroat Capitalism Versus Cuddly Socialism: Are Americans More Meritocratic and Efficiency-Seeking Than Scandinavians?” Journal of Political Economy (forthcoming 2020).

My book, mentioned above, is:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

A City’s Prosperity “Can Be Fickle and Fleeting”

(p. 18) As the world pulls up its drawbridges during a time of pandemic and questions the merits of globalization, Malacca is a reminder that such transoceanic exchange has a long history of bringing both promise and peril.

And the city’s ultimate fate may serve as a warning that the prosperity globalization bestows on some can be fickle and fleeting. A city that once stood at the global crossroads can devolve into a backwater, and a once-thriving culture can face extinction.

Malacca’s port, once one of the richest on earth, silted up, and the city became a historical footnote. The spices that drove the age of exploration — nutmeg, cloves and mace — now molder in dusty cabinets, no longer treasured commodities.

And yes, a contagion struck, too, a plague that weakened the Portuguese hold on the city, paving the way for the Dutch and then the British, who favored other entrepôts and left Malacca to its slow decline.

For the full story, see:

Hannah Beech. “A Rich Melting Pot Centuries Ago, a Globalization Relic Today.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, April 12, 2020): 18.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 11, 2020, and has the title “500 Years Ago, This Port Linked East to West. Its Fate Was to Fade Away.”)

“The Licensing and Rollout” of Ebola Vaccine Was Accelerated

(p. 4) To combat Ebola in Congo, one of the world’s poorest nations, health workers are taking a multifaceted approach.

They have worked to win over communities that were sometimes uncooperative — even hostile.

They have drawn on technological innovations, notably a transparent enclosure known as the cube that allows medical workers to reach in and treat patients suffering from the contagious disease through plastic sleeves.

And they have used vaccines, developed relatively recently, which have made it possible to limit the spread of the epidemic.

. . .

The “cube” was . . . a big trust builder.

With transparent walls and integrated plastic sleeves and gloves, the air-conditioned chambers allowed medical teams to tend to Ebola patients without having to put on cumbersome protective gear. The cubes also allowed patients and their family members to see each other without risk of infection.

People were afraid of the treatment centers, where so many had died. But the cubes won trust for the health care workers, said Augustin Augier, chief executive of the Alliance for International Medical Action, the nonprofit aid group that developed the chambers.

“We asked the community to come and visit so they could see what was actually happening,” Mr. Augier said.

At least 500 patients were fully treated in the cubes, which could be set up in 90 minutes and reused up to 10 times, Mr. Augier, said.

But the key factor in curbing the spread of Ebola was the introduction of powerful vaccines and lifesaving antiviral drugs.

In early November 2018, the W.H.O. accelerated the licensing and rollout of the injectable Ebola vaccine Ervebo, made by the American pharmaceutical company Merck. Preliminary study results showed a 97.5 percent efficacy rate, prompting Congo, along with Burundi, Ghana and Zambia, to license the vaccine for wider distribution.

Nearly 300,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered in Congo, said Dr. Moeti of the W.H.O.

For the full story, see:

Abdi Latif Dahir. “Congo, Fresh From 2-Year Ebola Battle, Eyes New Virus.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, April 12, 2020): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 11, 2020, and has the title “Congo Was Close to Defeating Ebola. Then One More Case Emerged.”)

For Venturesome Amazon Toilet Paper Shoppers, “Like Sandpaper” Is “Better than Nothing”

(p. B5) Where name-brand products sell out, off-brand products sold by third-party sellers have filled the void. Many of the top search results for toilet paper with regular Prime delivery were novelty rolls with zombies or the faces of politicians like Hillary Clinton.

In early April, Arielle Ogletree and her mother, who live near Tampa, Fla., were almost out of toilet paper when they turned to Amazon. They found a 16-pack of the large commercial toilet paper rolls found in public restrooms for $42. A few days later, it was at their door.

“It was the only one they had, and we figured it would last a while,” Ms. Ogletree said.

The roll, too big for a regular holder, sits awkwardly on their bathroom counter. Though the single ply feels “like sandpaper,” Ms. Ogletree said, it was better than nothing.

For the full story, see:

Karen Weise. “Confusion And Chaos At Amazon.” The New York Times (Saturday, April 18, 2020): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 17, 2020, and has the title “When Even Amazon Is Sold Out of Exploding Kittens.”)

Baiju May Violate the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility

I remember Gary Becker suggesting that there may be rare exceptions to the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility. Maybe baiju, discussed below, is one of those rare exceptions?

(p. A13) Newcomers to China are usually horrified by their first encounter with baijiu, the fiery spirit consumed at banquets and family dinners, typically comparing it to jet fuel, paint stripper or drain cleaner. Even long-term expatriates often shudder at the stuff. So can foreigners learn to love baijiu? Derek Sandhaus proves it is possible. But it takes some work, as he describes in “Drunk in China.”

A Mandarin-speaker and the trailing spouse of an American diplomat to China, Mr. Sandhaus sniffs his first glass of baijiu and compares it to “the last whiff one senses before waking up in a serial killer’s rumpus room.” So when a friend tells him it takes 300 shots to learn to love the liquor, he accepts the challenge and starts a blog about his odyssey. The promised epiphany comes after 70 shots when Mr. Sandhaus cracks open a bottle of National Cellar 1573, made by Sichuan’s Luzhou Laojiao distillery. “This was not simply a magnificent baijiu,” he writes. “It was a magnificent drink. Period.”

. . .

China’s distillers need to find new markets for baijiu, and Mr. Sandhaus has embraced this mission with the zeal of a convert. He co-founded Ming River Sichuan Baijiu to sell a baijiu produced by Luzhou Laojiao, the same distillery that produces the 1573 hooch he first fell in love with. He believes that cosmopolitans will embrace authentic Chinese baijiu if it is presented in a familiar form. To that end, he promotes the creation of baijiu cocktails. It’s a gutsy bet, especially by one who initially thought baijiu “smelled as if someone had wrung a garbage bag of soiled gym shorts into a bucket of fish sauce, stirred in an equal measure of Drano, rotten fruit, and blue cheese, and left it to marinate a few days.”

For the full review, see:

Hugo Restall. “BOOKSHELF; The Proletariat’s White Wine.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, January 17, 2020): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 16, 2020, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Drunk in China’ Review: The Proletariat’s White Wine.”)

The book under review, is:

Sandhaus, Derek. Drunk in China: Baijiu and the World’s Oldest Drinking Culture. Lincoln, NE: Potomac Books, 2020.

Starkweather Never Imagined How Low the Price of a Laser Printer Would Fall

(p. A20) Gary Starkweather, an engineer and inventor who designed the first laser printer, bringing the power of the printing press to almost anyone, died on Dec. 26 [2020] at a hospital in Orlando, Fla.

. . .

Mr. Starkweather was working as a junior engineer in the offices of the Xerox Corporation in Rochester, N.Y., in 1964 — several years after the company had introduced the photocopier to American office buildings — when he began working on a version that could transmit information between two distant copiers, so that a person could scan a document in one place and send a copy to someone else in another.

He decided that this could best be done with the precision of a laser, another recent invention, which can use amplified light to transfer images onto paper. But then he had a better idea: Rather than sending grainy images of paper documents from place to place, what if he used the precision of a laser to print more refined images straight from a computer?

. . .

Because his idea ventured away from the company’s core business, copiers, his boss hated it. At one point Mr. Starkweather was told that if he did not stop working on the project, his entire team would be laid off.

. . .

But he soon finagled a move to the company’s new research lab in Northern California, where a group of visionaries was developing what would become the most important digital technologies of the next three decades, including the personal computer as it is known today.

At the Palo Alto Research Center, or PARC, Mr. Starkweather built the first working laser printer in 1971 in less than nine months. By the 1990s, it was a staple of offices around the world. By the new millennium, it was nearly ubiquitous in homes as well.

. . .

His father owned a local dairy; his mother was a homemaker. Their home was near a junk shop, where Gary would bargain for old radios, washing machines and car parts that he could tinker with in the basement, taking them apart and then putting them back together.

“As long as I didn’t blow up the house, I was allowed to do whatever I wanted down there,” he said in a 2010 interview with the Computer History Museum.

. . .

In 1997, while still at Apple, he gave a speech about the rise of the laser printer.

The first successful product sold by Xerox in the late 1970s cost more than $5,000 to manufacture, he said. He then held up a circuit board that drove the printers of the late 1990s. It cost just $38, making his product accessible to nearly any home or business.

That was not something he had ever imagined.

For the full obituary, see:

Cade Metz. “Gary Starkweather, Inventor of the Laser Printer, Is Dead at 81.” The New York Times (Thursday, January 16, 2020): A20.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Jan. 15, 2020 and has the title “Gary Starkweather, Inventor of the Laser Printer, Dies at 81.”)