600-Year-Old Ginkgo Trees Are as Vigorous as 20-Year-Old Ginkgo Trees

(p. D2) . . . a January [2020] study on ginkgo trees, which can live for over a thousand years . . . found that 600-year-old ginkgos are as reproductively and photosynthetically vigorous as their 20-year-old peers. Genetic analysis of the trees’ vascular cambium — a thin layer of cells that lies just underneath the bark, and creates new living tissue — showed “no evidence of senescence,” or cell death, the authors wrote.

For the full story, see:

Cara Giaimo. “Holding On; Can Trees Live Forever? A New Study Adds Kindling to the Debate.” The New York Times (Tuesday, August 4, 2020): D2.

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

(Note: the online version of the story was updated July 27, 2020, and has the title “Can Trees Live Forever? New Kindling for an Immortal Debate.”)

The January 2020 study mentioned above is:

Wang, Li, Jiawen Cui, Biao Jin, Jianguo Zhao, Huimin Xu, Zhaogeng Lu, Weixing Li, Xiaoxia Li, Linling Li, Eryuan Liang, Xiaolan Rao, Shufang Wang, Chunxiang Fu, Fuliang Cao, Richard A. Dixon, and Jinxing Lin. “Multifeature Analyses of Vascular Cambial Cells Reveal Longevity Mechanisms in Old Ginkgo biloba Trees.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117, no. 4 (Jan. 28, 2020): 2201-10.

China’s “Emergency-Use” Rule Allows Vaccinating Hundreds of Thousands Against Covid-19

(p. A1) A Chinese pharmaceutical company has injected hundreds of thousands of people with experimental Covid-19 vaccines, as its Western counterparts warn against administering mass vaccinations before rigorous scientific studies are complete.

China National Biotec Group Co., a subsidiary of state-owned Sinopharm, has given two experimental vaccine candidates to hundreds of thousands of people under an emergency-use condition approved by Beijing in July [2020], the company said this week.

For the full story, see:

Chao Deng. “China Tests Vaccines on Hundreds of Thousands.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, September 12, 2020): A1 & A8.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated September 12, 2020, and has the title “China Injects Hundreds of Thousands With Experimental Covid-19 Vaccines.”)

”There Was a Great Marxist Called Lenin”

(p. C11) Robert Conquest (1917-2015) was what used to be called a Renaissance man. He was so good at everything he did—soldier, diplomat, historian and poet—that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he also left behind a few sonatas and paintings in oil. His histories of the Soviet Union’s failures and atrocities include “The Great Terror” (1968) and “The Harvest of Sorrow” (1986), meticulously researched and humane investigations of a criminal state, surely among the major historical achievements of the 20th century. His television documentary series, “Red Empire” (1990), distills this work and makes grimly compelling viewing.

But Conquest first came to readers’ attention as a poet of sophistication and grace, . . .

. . .

”There was a great Marxist called Lenin,
Who did two or three million men in;
That’s a lot to have done in
But where he did one in
That grand Marxist Stalin did ten in.”

For the full review, see:

David Mason. “The Impervious Dream.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020): C11.

(Note: ellipses added; the limerick in quotation marks is by Robert Conquest.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 21, 2020, and has the title “‘Robert Conquest: Collected Poems’ Review: The Impervious Dream.”)

The book under review is:

Conquest, Robert. Collected Poems. New York: The Waywiser Press, 2020.

Before Covid-19, Poverty and Unemployment Were Lowest in 50 Years

(p. B8) WASHINGTON — A record-low share of Americans were living in poverty, incomes were climbing, and health insurance coverage was little changed in 2019, a government report released on Tuesday showed — though the circumstances of many have deteriorated as pandemic lockdowns and industry disruptions have thrown millions out of work.

The share of Americans living in poverty fell to 10.5 percent in 2019, the Census Bureau reported, down 1.3 percentage points from 2018. That rate is the lowest since estimates were first published in 1959.

Household incomes increased to their highest level on record dating to 1967, at $68,700 in inflation-adjusted terms. That change came as individual workers saw their earnings climb and as the total number of people working increased.

. . .

Unemployment was hovering at around 3.5 percent before the crisis took hold, the lowest in 50 years, and wages were steadily rising.

For the full story, see:

Jeanna Smialek, Sarah Kliff and Alan Rappeport. “Census Shows Record-Low Poverty in U.S. Before Virus Struck.” The New York Times (Wednesday, September 16, 2020): B8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 15, 2020, and has the title “U.S. Poverty Hit a Record Low Before the Pandemic Recession.”)

Chinese Communist Authoritarian System Inhibited Local Officials From Sharing Covid-19 Information

(p. A5) Communist Party leaders oversee an authoritarian system that inhibits local officials from freely sharing information with national-level officials, they said, and this has had deadly consequences for the world. It is a version of the so-called Chernobyl effect, where local officials avoid telling central authorities about a catastrophic event until it is far too late, American officials said.

Moreover, officials in Beijing have tried to spread disinformation about the origins of the virus. The C.I.A. has said since at least February [2020] that Chinese central officials were not sharing everything they knew about the virus — including a more accurate case count — or doing all they could to help the world prepare for the pandemic.

For the full story, see:

Edward Wong, Julian E. Barnes and Zolan Kanno-Youngs. “Local Officials Hid Dangers From Beijing, Says U.S. Report.” The New York Times (Thursday, August 20, 2020): A5.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Sept. [sic] 17, 2020, and has the title “Local Officials in China Hid Coronavirus Dangers From Beijing, U.S. Agencies Find.”)

Blocking Some of the Virus Reduces Odds of Catching Covid-19 and Reduces Odds of a Severe Case, If Covid-19 Is Caught

(p. D8) As the world awaits the arrival of a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine, a team of researchers has come forward with a provocative new theory: that masks might help to crudely immunize some people against the virus.

The unproven idea, described in a commentary published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, is inspired by the age-old concept of variolation, the deliberate exposure to a pathogen to generate a protective immune response. First tried against smallpox, the risky practice eventually fell out of favor, but paved the way for the rise of modern vaccines.

Masked exposures are no substitute for a bona fide vaccine. But data from animals infected with the coronavirus, as well as insights gleaned from other diseases, suggest that masks, by cutting down on the number of viruses that encounter a person’s airway, might reduce the wearer’s chances of getting sick. And if a small number of pathogens still slip through, the researchers argue, these might prompt the body to produce immune cells that can remember the virus and stick around to fight it off again.

. . .

Experiments in hamsters have hinted at a connection between dose and disease. Earlier this year, a team of researchers in China found that hamsters housed behind a barrier made of surgical masks were less likely to get infected by the coronavirus. And those who did contract the virus became less sick than other animals without masks to protect them.

. . .

But despite decades of research, the mechanics of airborne transmission largely remain “a black box,” said Jyothi Rengarajan, an expert in vaccines and infectious disease at Emory University who was not involved in the commentary.

That is partly because it is difficult to pin down the infectious dose required to sicken a person, Dr. Rengarajan said. Even if researchers eventually settle on an average dose, the outcome will vary from person to person, since factors like genetics, a person’s immune status and the architecture of their nasal passages can all influence how much virus can colonize the respiratory tract.

For the full story, see:

Katherine J. Wu. “Masks May Act as a Crude Vaccine.” The New York Times (Tuesday, September 15, 2020): D8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 8, 2020, and has the title “A New Theory Asks: Could a Mask Be a Crude ‘Vaccine’?”)

“Bench-to-Bedside Research”

Serendipity is a key driver of innovation in health care and in entrepreneurship. The book discussed below documents a key episode of serendipity.

(p. A17) For any cancer patient who has experienced the gruesome side effects of chemotherapy, it may not be surprising to learn that anti-cancer drugs have their origins in the toxic chemical agents designed for warfare. In “The Great Secret,” Jennet Conant describes how researchers stumbled on the therapeutic value of the same compounds that wreaked havoc in two world wars. The discovery revolutionized cancer treatment, but in Ms. Conant’s telling a story of scientific triumph is clouded by a parallel tale of official cover-ups and ethical quagmires.

Chemical agents were first deployed in World War I by the Germans, who had perfected mustard gas: It inflicted horrifying damage on the skin, eyes and internal organs. By World War II, the Allies had their own stockpiles of it. The official policy was to stick to the Geneva protocols and avoid their use except in retaliation for a first attack. Thus supplies of chemical weapons were sent to Europe in case Germany made the first move.

That plan went horribly wrong in Bari, Italy, on Dec. 2, 1943, when German planes bombed the Allied port, sinking 17 ships and killing more than 1,000 servicemen and hundreds of civilians.

. . .

Ms. Conant ultimately shifts gears to the postwar medical research—at what is now Memorial Sloan Kettering and other institutions—that led to a generation of cancer drugs. The research saga has been covered in other works, notably Siddhartha Mukherjee’s “The Emperor of All Maladies” (2010), but she does a creditable job of pulling the highlights together and keeping her focus on the less-celebrated figures who came out of the chemical-warfare complex.

The most fascinating of them is Col. Cornelius Rhoads, a brilliant but arrogant and overzealous scientist who fully grasped the importance of Dr. Stewart’s findings. Although his career ended in ignominy because of a rant against Puerto Ricans and allegations—stoked by a jesting comment he had made—that he had deliberately given his Puerto Rican patients cancer, Rhoads was an early champion of fighting cancer with nitrogen mustards. And he pioneered the concept of “bench-to-bedside research,” which allows doctors to draw constantly on new clinical evidence to treat patients.

For the full review, see:

Laura Landro. “BOOKSHELF; Life-Saving Toxicity.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, September 10, 2020): A17.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sep. 9, 2020, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘The Great Secret’ Review: Life-Saving Toxicity.”)

The book under review is:

Conant, Jennet. The Great Secret: The Classified World War II Disaster That Launched the War on Cancer. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2020.

Founder of Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Newspaper: “We Will Persevere”

(p. A12) HONG KONG — After more than 200 police officers raided the newsroom of Hong Kong’s biggest pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, a staff reporter messaged the editor in chief with a question: Should I still go to work?

“You decide,” the top editor, Ryan Law, replied. “This is the biggest news story in the world.”

The reporter hurried to the office. The Monday [Aug. 10, 2020] raid led reporters and editors to produce livestreams and more than two dozen articles that day about the police sweep. They detailed the arrest of the newspaper’s founder, Jimmy Lai, analyzed the legal implications of the crackdown, and covered the international outrage that it triggered.

“Apple will definitely keep fighting,” screamed a bold red banner headline in Tuesday’s edition.

. . .

On Wednesday [Aug. 12, 2020], Apple Daily staff took a brief moment to celebrate the return of Mr. Lai, their embattled owner, after he was released on bail.

Mr. Lai, who had been marched through his newspaper in handcuffs while police officers carried out the search on Monday [Aug. 10, 2020], was given a hero’s welcome. He bowed and waved as employees applauded and handed him a bouquet of flowers. Cheung Kim-hung, the Next Digital chief executive who had also been arrested, gave him a hug.

“We will persevere and just keep going,” Mr. Lai told the team.

For the full story, see:

Tiffany May and Austin Ramzy. “‘We Will Persevere’: A Newspaper Faces the Weight of a Crackdown.” The New York Times (Thursday, August 13, 2020): A12.

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

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

Mainland Communists Capture Speedboat Taking Hong Kong Activists to Freedom in Taiwan

(p. A13) HONG KONG — Chinese authorities have detained a dozen activists from Hong Kong who were attempting to leave the territory via speedboat, according to people familiar with the attempt and the individuals captured, as Beijing intensifies a campaign to seek out protest leaders and others resisting the Communist Party’s tightening grip.

At least one of the people on board the boat, seized on Sunday [Aug. 23, 2020] by the Chinese Coast Guard, was an activist who was being investigated under the city’s new national security law, said one of the people familiar with the capture.

The group was apparently trying to flee to Taiwan, said a second person familiar with the episode. More than 200 Hong Kong protesters and activists have sought refuge in Taiwan over the past year. The detentions on Sunday were the first confirmed case of such activists being caught by the Chinese authorities at sea.

For the full story, see:

Austin Ramzy and Elaine Yu. “China Captures Speedboat Ferrying Hong Kong Dissidents to Taiwan.” The New York Times (Saturday, August 29, 2020): A13.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 28, 2020, and has the title “China Captures Hong Kong Activists Fleeing to Taiwan by Sea.”)

The Case for Canceling “Yale,” and Renaming it “Dummer University”

(p. A5) I see that #CancelYale is trending on Twitter and elsewhere in social media. It’s a development I’d like to encourage—not, to be frank, because I think that canceling things is a good idea. Quite the opposite. But if the Left is going to pursue its dream of destroying every reminder of our past it doesn’t like, and if woke institutions like Yale, bloated with too much money and far too much self-regard, are going to betray their raison d’être and join in the effort to control the present by destroying the past, then I think an example should be made of corrupt institutions like Yale and craven leaders like Peter Salovey, the university’s president.

Besides, if the Left can deface or destroy statues of George Washington, Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson, and countless others, shouldn’t we insist that they live up to their own ideals and cancel racially tainted liberal institutions like Yale?

A few years ago, Yale, in a fit of woke panic, decided to change the name of Calhoun College—named for John C. Calhoun, Yale graduate and valedictorian—because his position on slavery was not consonant with the position today advocated by Yale.

. . .

President Salovey’s letter announcing that Calhoun College would be renamed argues that “unlike . . . Elihu Yale, who made a gift that supported the founding of our university, . . . Calhoun has no similarly strong association with our campus.” What can that mean? Calhoun graduated valedictorian from Yale College in 1804. Is that not a “strong association”? . . .

As far as I have been able to determine, Elihu Yale never set foot in New Haven. His benefaction of some books and goods worth £800 helped found Yale College, not Yale University. And whereas the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica praises Calhoun for his “just and kind” treatment of slaves and the “stainless integrity” of his character, Elihu Yale had slaves flogged, hanged a stable boy for stealing a horse, and was eventually removed from his post in India for corruption. In Calhoun’s day, although one could own slaves, participating in the international slave trade was a capital crime. Yale, as an administrator in India, was deeply involved in the slave trade. He always made sure that ships leaving his jurisdiction for Europe carried at least 10 slaves. Is all that not “fundamentally at odds” with the mission of Peter Salovey’s Yale?

. . .

But if the institution currently known as Yale wants to capitalize on its colonial origins, how about naming the university a%er Jeremiah Dummer, the Harvard chap who induced Elihu Yale to make his benefaction in the first place. Shouldn’t he, and not the slaver Yale, have the honor of having a (once) great university named after him? To ask the question is to answer it.

By all means, cancel Yale. Remove the horrid name from clothing and other merchandise. But replace it with a more honorable name: Dummer. Dummer University. The Dummer School of Law. The Dummer School of Art. A Dummer degree.

For the full commentary, see:

Kimball, Roger. “Rename Yale Now.” The New York Times (Thursday, July 2, 2020): A5.

(Note: ellipses internal to paragraphs, in original; other ellipses, added.)

(Note: Roger Kimball’s commentary appeared as a full-page ad sponsored by the Center for American Greatness. I have searched for the ad on nytimes.com and did not find it. )

“Biology’s Many Unanswered Questions”

Unanswered questions in science provide grounds for thinking that future scientific advances may provide grist for the innovation mill. Some argue innovation has slowed because we have picked all the low-hanging fruit. I doubt it. But if so, the fruit can grow back.

(p. C9) The irresistible enthusiasm of “Great Adaptations” couldn’t come at a better time—science is under assault not merely by know-nothing deniers but in how it is taught and presented to the general public. It’s dispensed as a collection of facts, recitations of what past research has uncovered, findings to be understood, which all too often means just “memorized.” By contrast, as Mr. Catania clearly understands, and demonstrates beautifully in his book, science offers adventures in trying to decode the mysteries of the natural world.

This open-minded, openhearted attitude toward biology’s many unanswered questions is the organizing principle of “Great Adaptations”: how to recognize those mysteries, how to go about solving them, and most important, how to appreciate them. In science, working out the solutions to a puzzle inevitably raises new questions in a process not unlike nuclear fission, in which splitting one nucleus generates the energy to split more—except in this case, the energy released isn’t dangerous but illuminating.

For the full review, see:

David P. Barash. “Biology’s Unanswered Questions.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, September 5, 2020): C9.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sep. 4, 2020, and has the title “‘Great Adaptations’ Review: Survival of the Weirdest.”)

The book under review is:

Catania, Kenneth. Great Adaptations: Star-Nosed Moles, Electric Eels, and Other Tales of Evolution’s Mysteries Solved. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2020.