Small Is Not Always Beautiful

(p. A16) Zaid Kurdieh has so many fava beans growing at his farm in upstate New York that he could send 4,000 pounds a week to the best chefs in New York City. In Kentucky, Robert Eversole and Thomas Sargent planted enough winter greens to fill the all the salad bars at the University of Kentucky and still have enough left over to feed fans at the state’s two major spring horse races.

But the coronavirus pandemic has postponed the Kentucky Derby and shut the university. And in New York, chefs who would normally be shelling Mr. Kurdieh’s fava beans for their spring menus have closed their restaurants.

So these small farmers, like many others across the country who spent decades building a local, sustainable agricultural system, are staring at their fields and wondering what to do now that the table has been kicked out from under the modern farm-to-table movement.

. . .

Farm-to-table — the term has become a fixture in the culinary lexicon — started in the 1970s, when Chez Panisse and a handful of other restaurants hatched what then seemed like a radical notion: Build menus from food grown by nearby farmers who are thoughtful about everything from the seeds they select and the soil they grow them in to the communities they feed.

That idea grew into a pipeline connecting farmers, ranchers and chefs that in 2019 had generated $12 billion in income for small-scale producers including cheesemakers and vintners. Governments, hospitals and schools have come to see the value in buying locally grown food. No Silicon Valley tech company worth its stock price would dare to design a cafeteria without local food.

Since the pandemic hit, that conduit has shut down. The loss in sales could run as high as $689 million, with much higher costs in jobs and other businesses that make up the farm-to-table economic ecosystem, according to a report compiled in March by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

For the full story, see:

Kim Severson. “Farm-to-Table Falters, and Growers Are in Limbo.” The New York Times (Friday, April 10, 2020): A16.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 9, 2020, and has the title “The Farm-to-Table Connection Comes Undone.”)

An Informed Public Can Protect Themselves Better than Central Planners Can Protect Them

(p. A15) China teaches one thing: When a novel respiratory virus emerges, a free press is on balance an indispensable medical asset. The steps an informed public can take to protect itself are far more potent than any top-down action. Unknown is whether the new disease really originated in a meat market in Wuhan, as was first reported. But suppressing news of its outbreak once it was discovered was China’s most fatal mistake.

For the full commentary, see:

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. “BUSINESS WORLD; Coronavirus Needs a Free Press.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, February 12, 2020): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 11, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

A Map as Large as the Territory It Represents

(p. A4) As more reliable data comes in, said Dr. Spiegelhalter, “the Covid-19 pandemic is rapidly becoming a constrained problem.”

. . .

Statistical science, he said, “is a machine, in a sense, to turn the variability that we see in the world — the unpredictability, the enormous amount of scatter and randomness that we see around us — into a tool that can quantify our uncertainty about facts and numbers and science.”

But as he acknowledged in his book, “The Art of Statistics,” models “are simplifications of the real world — they are the maps not the territory.” (This is reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges’s story, “On Exactitude in Science,” about a map growing as large as the territory it was meant to represent.)

For the full review, see:

Siobhan Roberts. “Embracing the Uncertainties of the Pandemic.” The New York Times (Wednesday, April 8, 2020): A4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 7, and has the title “Embracing the Uncertainties.”)

The Spiegelhalter book mentioned above, is:

Spiegelhalter, David. The Art of Statistics: How to Learn from Data. New York: Basic Books, 2019.

Each Week, Chinese Children Read “Socialism Is Good. Capitalism Is Bad.”

(p. A11) Many Chinese children of my generation read a newspaper column for students called “Socialism Is Good. Capitalism Is Bad.” Each week, it described the wonders of China alongside the hardships of capitalist societies. The lesson: Socialist China takes care of its people, while people in the United States go hungry and the elderly die alone.

For the full commentary, see:

Li Yuan. “THE NEW NEW WORLD; China Builds Culture of Hate With Selective Coverage of the Pandemic.” The New York Times (Thursday, April 23, 2020): A11.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 22, 2020, and has the title “THE NEW NEW WORLD; With Selective Coronavirus Coverage, China Builds a Culture of Hate.”)

Since SARS, Japanese Protect One Another by Wearing Masks

(p. A4) PARIS — Until a few weeks ago, Asian tourists were the only mask-wearers in Paris, eliciting puzzlement or suspicion from French locals, or even hostility as the coronavirus began sweeping across Europe.

. . .

This taboo is falling fast, not only in France but across Western countries, after mounting cries from experts who say the practice is effective in curbing the coronavirus pandemic.

The shift for Western nations is profound and has had to overcome not merely the logistical challenges of securing enough masks, which are significant enough, but also a deep cultural resistance and even stigma associated with mask-wearing, which some Western leaders described flatly as “alien.”

Seemingly, it won’t be for much longer. After discouraging people from wearing face masks, France, like the United States, has begun urging its citizens to wear basic or homemade ones outside. And some parts of Europe are moving faster than the United States by requiring masks instead of simply recommending their use.

. . .

. . . masks were . . . alien to Asia until it was struck by the SARS pandemic in 2003.

In Japan, after people got used to masks, they continued to wear them against seasonal allergies or to protect one another from germs. Unlike in other Asian nations, where many wear masks against air pollution, mask-wearing became widespread despite the absence of immediate threats.

Mask-wearing has become such a part of daily life that it now plays a role in maintaining an overall feeling of being “reassured” in Japanese society, said Yukiko Iida, an expert on masks at the Environmental Control Center, an environmental consulting company based in Tokyo.

“When you put on a mask, you’re not inconveniencing others when you cough,” Ms. Iida said. “You’re showing others that you’re abiding by social etiquette, and so people feel reassured.”

. . .

Daniel Illouz, a pharmacist in eastern Paris, said that he had been skeptical of the government’s repeated message that widespread mask-wearing was not helpful in fighting the epidemic.

“I don’t see why in all the Asian countries, where they have masks, it would work, but it wouldn’t work for us,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Norimitsu Onishi and Constant Méheut. “Wearing Masks, Common in Asia, Rises in the West.” The New York Times (Friday, April 10, 2020): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 9, 2020, and has the title “Mask-Wearing Is a Very New Fashion in Paris (and a Lot of Other Places).”)

Hospitals Punish Workers Who Expose Management Failures

(p. B5) In New York City, the epicenter of the crisis in the United States, every major private hospital system has sent memos in recent weeks ordering workers not to speak with the media, as have some public hospitals.

One system, NYU Langone Medical Center, which has more than 30,000 employees at six inpatient centers, dozens of outpatient facilities and the New York University School of Medicine, sent an email on March 27 [2020] warning that staff members speaking to the media without permission “will be subject to disciplinary action, including termination.” The email was reported earlier by Bloomberg.

Administrators suggested “appropriate” posts on social media instead. “Please share positive and uplifting messages that support your colleagues and our organization,” they said in another email.

Similar lines are being drawn nationwide. A doctor in Washington State was removed from his hospital position after speaking publicly about a shortage of protective equipment and testing; the staffing firm that employs him said he was being reassigned. Nurses in Detroit recently walked off the job to protest critically low staffing after a colleague who had spoken up on the issue was fired.

For the full story, see:

Noam Scheiber and Brian M. Rosenthal. “Nurse Questions Hospital On Safety. He’s Out a Job.” The New York Times (Friday, April 10, 2020): B1 & B5.

(Note: bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 15, 2020, and has the title “Nurses and Doctors Speaking Out on Safety Now Risk Their Job.”)

Entrepreneurially Nimble Amish Pivot to Make Face Masks

(p. A9) SUGARCREEK, Ohio — On April 1, John Miller, a manufacturer here with deep connections to the close-knit Amish community of Central Ohio, got a call from Cleveland Clinic. The hospital system was struggling to find protective face masks for its 55,000 employees, plus visitors. Could his team sew 12,000 masks in two days?

He appealed to Abe Troyer with Keim, a local lumber mill and home goods business and a leader in the Amish community: “Abe, make a sewing frolic.” A frolic, Mr. Miller explained, “is a colloquial term here that means, ‘Get a bunch of people. Throw a bunch of people at this.’”

A day later, Mr. Troyer had signed up 60 Amish home seamstresses, and the Cleveland Clinic sewing frolic was on.

. . .

Almost overnight, a group of local industry, community and church leaders has mobilized to sustain Amish households by pivoting to work crafting thousands of face masks and shields, surgical gowns and protective garments from medical-grade materials. When those run scarce, they switch to using gaily printed quilting fabric and waterproof Tyvek house wrap.

For the full story, see:

Elizabeth Williamson. “In Ohio, Amish Families Pivot to Make Medical Gear.” The New York Times (Friday, April 10, 2020): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 16, 2020, and has the title “In Ohio, the Amish Take On the Coronavirus.”)

“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.”)

“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?”)