The Japan Times
– Jul 3, 7:07 PM
The World Health Organization has updated its account of the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis to say it was alerted by its own office in China, and not by China itself, to the first pneumonia cases in Wuhan. The U.N. health body has been accused…
The New York Times
– Jul 3, 12:00 AM
College students across the country have been warned that campus life will look drastically different in the fall, with temperature checks at academic buildings, masks in half-empty lecture halls and maybe no football games. What they might not…
The Financial Times
Clive Cookson in London
– Jul 4, 7:00 AM
Calls are growing for people to take vitamin D supplements to reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19, as some research suggests they could be especially beneficial to those with darker skin. This week in the UK people were urged to make sure they…
arvindmahajanCalls are growing for people to take vitamin D supplements to reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19, as some research suggests they could be especially beneficial to those with darker skin.
This week in the UK people were urged to make sure they are consuming enough of the vitamin D three influential organisations, including the government’s Scientific Advisory Commission on Nutrition.
But even advocates of the “sunshine vitamin” — so called because the body makes it in the skin through exposure to sunlight — say more evidence is needed to prove definitively that it cuts the risk of coronavirus infection and severity of symptoms.
Vitamin D, a steroid hormone, is essential for maintaining a healthy immune system. In mid-latitude countries such as the UK, people with pale skin can make enough of it during summer by exposing bare arms or legs to sunlight for a few minutes a day.
The process takes longer in those with heavily pigmented skin that blocks more UltraViolet radiation from the sun. In winter all our vitamin D has to come from foods, such as oily fish, egg yolks and mushrooms, or pills.
Other reports promoting vitamin D came from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and the Royal Society, Britain’s senior scientific body. The latter urged the government to strengthen its public health advice for the public to take daily vitamin D supplements while more research takes place.
Charles Bangham, professor of immunology at Imperial College London and co-author of the Royal Society paper, said: “I started from quite a sceptical position, doubting whether vitamin D was going to play an important role in Covid-19, but I am now convinced that there is strong evidence that people who are deficient in vitamin D are more susceptible to acute respiratory tract infections.”
He added: “It is possible that higher rates of vitamin D deficiency could be one reason why people with darker skin are affected more seriously by the disease, but there are a lot of other factors as well so we need to collect this data.”
In the UK people from black and minority ethic groups make up about 13 per cent of the population but account for a third of Covid-19 patients admitted to critical care units. Black Americans represent around 14 per cent of the US population and 30 per cent of Covid-19 hospital admissions.
Vitamin D has long been recognised as essential for bone and muscle health, but other benefits such as warding off infections and cancer are controversial.
The government’s advisory commission on nutrition and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence reviewed evidence from clinical studies to see whether taking vitamin D supplements reduced the risk of acute respiratory tract infections in general or Covid-19 in particular.
Both concluded that research results so far were insufficient to give a clear answer. But Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England which commissioned both reviews, said: “With many people spending more time indoors, particularly the more vulnerable groups and those ‘shielding’, there is a risk that some people may not be getting all the vitamin D they need from sunlight. It’s important they consider taking a daily 10 micrograms vitamin D supplement.”
Naveed Sattar, professor of medicine at Glasgow University, remains sceptical, after leading a study of 340,000 UK Biobank participants, of whom 650 were hospitalised with Covid-19 and 200 died from the disease. After adjusting for other variables the researchers found no association between Covid-19 and vitamin D levels in blood.
“Many want to believe Vitamin D works but we all have to be fully objective and look at the best evidence,” said Prof Sattar. “You can argue biological plausibility for anything but only a well-controlled randomised clinical trial of vitamin D will tell us the answer.”
New Delhi: The Indian economy has been hit hard by the pandemic and the government needs to spend substantially more to revive demand, said Martin Wolf, Chief Economics Commentator at The Financial Times. In a conversation with Editor-in-chief…
Media player Media playback is unsupported on your device Toronto's Immersive Van Gogh exhibition allows audiences to experience art from the comfort of their car. Producers had to rethink how people would experience the show in light of…
arvindmahajanToronto's Immersive Van Gogh exhibition allows audiences to experience art from the comfort of their car.
Producers had to rethink how people would experience the show in light of social-distancing restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
ON JUNE 30TH Vladimir Putin posed in front of a 25-metre bronze statue to the Soviet soldier which he had just unveiled. Filmed from below, to give him extra height, President Putin appealed to his people to vote on a package of constitutional…
arvindmahajanON JUNE 30TH Vladimir Putin posed in front of a 25-metre bronze statue to the Soviet soldier which he had just unveiled. Filmed from below, to give him extra height, President Putin appealed to his people to vote on a package of constitutional changes, for the sake of the motherland that millions of Russians died to defend against Hitler.
He did not mention the real reason for the vote: to let him stay in power beyond 2024, when he is obliged by the current constitution to stand down. The next day Mr Putin declared victory, after a whopping 78% of Russians were declared to have voted to approve the 200-odd changes which together mark a new phase in his reign. He hopes to move from being merely the second president of post-Soviet Russia to being its life-long supreme leader.
Mr Putin’s moment before the statue was the culmination of a week-long circus, full of parades, trickery, games and prizes. Muscovites received text messages telling them that if they turned out to vote, they could win one of 2m vouchers together worth 10bn roubles ($140m). In Siberia voters were lured with prizes ranging from a smartphone to an apartment. One flat was won by the head of a local polling station. Employers ordered staff to vote.
Mobile polling stations were set up in playgrounds and courtyards, and on lorries parked by the sides of the road, where ballots could be cast into cardboard boxes. The voting was stretched over a week and was partly conducted electronically, creating ample opportunity for rigging.
It was not a proper referendum. It had no precedent or legal basis. It did not require a minimum threshold, was not independently monitored and did not follow any clear rules. The changes had already been passed by Russia’s servile parliament, approved by its constitutional court and signed into law by the president.
The 206 proposals in the referendum were designed to confuse. Voters were asked to approve a long list of crowd-pleasing ideas: inflation-proof pensions, protected status for the Russian language and the banning of gay marriage. Adding to the flim-flam were proclamations of faith in God and ancestors. Voters were not allowed to pick and choose which elements to support: it was either yes or no to the whole lot.
Buried in the middle of this haystack of populist pledges was the real point of the exercise. The number of terms Mr Putin has served as president is to be set back to zero. More power is to be concentrated in his hands. He will be able to fire judges of the supreme and constitutional courts.
It was less brazen than rolling tanks into Red Square and declaring a coup, but only just. The referendum flagrantly violates the post-Soviet constitution of 1993, which Mr Putin swore to uphold. Constitutional amendments are meant to be voted on separately by parliament, so that Russians are not forced to choose between their own moderately comfortable retirement and Mr Putin’s.
How to win a referendum
Instead, MPs passed a law allowing them to vote on the entire package of changes. Mr Putin’s liberation from the two-term limit was kept out of official advertising material because, so an independent opinion poll showed, three-quarters of Russians opposed it. Kirill Rogov, a political analyst, likens Mr Putin’s win to Russia’s victories in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, achieved by doping athletes and swapping their urine samples through a secret hatch in a laboratory. “It shows Putin can win because nobody can stop him. But it also shows he can only win by breaking the rules,” he says.
Big electoral victories have been at the core of Mr Putin’s claims to legitimacy. He also relies on a mix of personal charisma and appeals to nationalism—hence his constant evocations of the spirit of the second world war. But after 20 years in power, his legitimacy appears to be melting away, and his attempts to restore it through fakery and coercion risk eroding it further.
Appointed as acting president of Russia by Boris Yeltsin at the end of 1999, Mr Putin long ago did away with free and fair elections. Genuine opponents are harassed, imprisoned or barred from standing. State media are thoroughly one-sided. Nonetheless, there has been a degree of popular consent to his rule. It has rested on the concept of “Putin’s supermajority”—an idea first introduced by one of his spin-doctors, Gleb Pavlovsky, months before Mr Putin’s first election victory in 2000. It drew on the antique notion of a special bond between ruler and people. It embraces the populist claim that Mr Putin speaks for the majority of former Soviet citizens who lost out during the country’s transformation in the 1990s, at the hands of a minority who benefited from liberal reforms. In time, the new Russian elite became reliant on Mr Putin to protect their status and (often ill-gotten) wealth.
This broad consent started to crack in 2011, when Mr Putin announced that he would return to the presidency after getting round term limits (for the first time) by spending a spell as prime minister. Protests broke out in large Russian cities. In 2014 Mr Putin arrested that discontent and boosted his faltering popularity by annexing Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea belonging to Ukraine. This act of war drew global condemnation but sparked a wave of nationalist euphoria within Russia.
However, by 2018 the Crimean bounce had largely dissipated. International sanctions and the cronyism of the new elite made Russians poorer. With less money to go around, regional bigwigs started to grumble and fight. Mr Putin was too preoccupied with his military adventures in Syria and elsewhere to arbitrate over domestic power struggles. Local mayors and governors were ousted by rivals backed by the security services. Those who tried to resist by appealing to the electorate, like Alexander Shestun, the head of a district near Moscow, ended up in prison.
Still, in presidential elections in March 2018 the Kremlin managed to spend, coerce and finagle its way for Mr Putin to win 77% of the votes cast. Ekaterina Schulmann, a political scientist, characterises this as an election won on credit—and the Kremlin has struggled to pay it off. The government has felt obliged to raise the official retirement age. This has provoked an uproar among Mr Putin’s traditional supporters.
In late 2018 the Kremlin suffered upsets in several regional elections, and in the summer of 2019 mass protests broke out in Moscow after the Kremlin disqualified all the independent candidates in (relatively unimportant) municipal elections. The police brutally put the protests down, but the sympathies of perhaps half the population were with the protesters.
Mr Putin acknowledged the shift in public opinion. On January 15th he told the nation: “Our society is clearly calling for change. People want development, and they strive to move forward.” The package of constitutional tweaks he proposed was supposed to give the impression of real reform, while in fact it cements his power. In initial discussions, Mr Putin did not say anything about his role after 2024. His plan may have been to keep people guessing. This would have been a risky tactic, however. Though no one really expected him to retire at the end of his current term, uncertainty within the Russian elite over what would happen at that point risked turning Mr Putin into a lame duck.
So on March 10th a codicil to the reforms was added. After they were passed, Mr Putin’s term-limit clock would be reset to zero. The deal was to be sealed in an “all people’s vote” on April 22nd—Lenin’s birthday—and followed by a military parade on May 9th, the 75th anniversary of the Soviet victory in the second world war, to be attended by many foreign leaders including the presidents of America, China and France.
Covid-19 disrupted this plan. Mr Putin reluctantly postponed both the parade and the vote, and all but disappeared from view. Sergei Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, imposed a strict lockdown on March 29th which he said should last until daily new cases were in only double figures.
According to the Levada Centre, an independent pollster, Mr Putin’s already shaky position has deteriorated further during the covid-19 crisis. Russia has been hit badly by the pandemic—much worse, it appears, than official statistics reveal. A focus group conducted by sociologists and psychologists led by Sergei Belanovsky, who accurately predicted the mass protests of 2011-2012, shows that dissatisfaction is directed personally against Mr Putin. “This is not irritation. This is anger. Anger is boiling over because of their stupid decisions. We should tell them to go to hell,” one respondent said.
Postponing the vote until the autumn seemed too risky. So on May 26th, despite new covid cases running at nearly 9,000 a day, Mr Putin announced that the Victory Day parade would be held on June 24th, the day on which Stalin held his own parade in 1945. The Soviet dictator had stood on the Lenin Mausoleum, watching Red Army soldiers drag captured Nazi banners over the wet cobblestones and toss them in the gutter in front of the podium. Seventy-five years later Mr Putin stood in front of the same mausoleum, surrounded by decorated veterans who had been quarantined for two weeks so as not to infect the commander-in-chief and the few post-Soviet autocrats who attended. Moving the commemoration from May 9th to June 24th had been a setback for Mr Putin. But it ended up being held on the date of the event in 1945 it most closely resembled: the parade of Stalin’s power, not the people’s earlier joyful celebration of victory back on May 9th.
(CNN) A glove that translates sign language into speech in real time has been developed by scientists -- potentially allowing deaf people to communicate directly with anyone, without the need for a translator. The wearable device contains sensors…
A TV commercial for a Dutch-made bicycle has been banned by France's advertising watchdog for creating a “climate of fear” about cars. Despite being aired on Dutch and German television, the Autorité de régulation…
arvindmahajanA TV commercial for a Dutch-made bicycle has been banned by France’s advertising watchdog for creating a “climate of fear” about cars.
Even prior to extended quarantines, lockdowns, and self-isolation, it was hard to imagine life without the electronic escapes of noise-cancelling earbuds, smartphones, and tablets. Today, it seems impossible. Of course, there was most certainly a…
arvindmahajanThe Walkman débuted in Japan, in 1979, to near silence. But, within a year and a half, Sony would produce and sell two million of them.
Journal of Beautiful Business
– Jun 29, 6:21 AM
If we want a true reset after this crisis, and not go back to “normal,” we need to do much more than reexamine shareholder value, profit maximization, and other business fundamentals. We need to loosen our attachments to money and…
The New York Times
– Jun 27, 2:45 PM
What if a single injection could lower blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides — for a lifetime? In the first gene-editing experiment of its kind, scientists have disabled two genes in monkeys that raise the risk for heart disease.
arvindmahajanA novel gene-editing experiment seems to have permanently reduced LDL and triglyceride levels in monkeys.