What I'm Reading (June 9)

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An immigrants tale of serendipity and finding a vital medication on a distant island
Stupidity is not monolithic; it comes in so many forms. The problem with making something “fool-proof” is that fools are so clever.
Bicyclists killed by autonomous vehicle – what the operator tells us.
What if there is no answer to gun violence?

“One chilly November morning in 1964, the Medical Expedition to Easter Island set out from Halifax on a Canadian Navy vessel. On board were microbiologists, virologists, parasitologists, medical doctors and 200 sailors. Once they reached, they stayed at their destination for the next two months, gathering swabs, collecting urine samples and X-raying the island’s 1,000-odd inhabitants. The earth, too, was thought to yield unanticipated treasures.  Nógrády divided the island into dozens of strips of land and dug out soil from each of them.

Back in Canada, the team disseminated their Easter Island riches to laboratories around the world. But the team never went back as planned, and Skoryna didn’t publish a single report. Still, the expedition was not in vain. In 1969, some of these soil samples made their way to the Ayerst Research Lab in Montreal.”

With that, we begin the story of the discovery of rapamycin, a drug used initially as an anti-fungal but that has revolutionized transplant surgery as an immunosuppressant and plays a role in cancer care. Man of Culture


“Let’s start with the most obvious type of stupidity: shit-for-brains (excuse the scientific jargon). The common sense definition of a stupid person is someone deficient in cognitive ability, specifically the ability to think and reason clearly.”


Stupidity comes in many forms. Here are, Seven Varieties of Stupidity. I bet you can find a person that typifies each one.


“Herzberg’s death is the kind of tragedy the autonomous driving industry claims it can prevent. In the US, car accidents kill more than 38,000 people a year, more than 90 percent of them at least in part due to human error. By taking sleepiness, inattention, drunkenness, and rage out of the equation and replacing them with vigilant, precise technology, self-driving cars promise to make the roads dramatically safer. But to reach that purported future, we must first weather the era we’re in now: when tech is a student driver.”

This is a follow-up, from Wired, on a story we covered several years ago, here and here, on the death of a bicyclist by an autonomous vehicle. This is a report on the vehicle’s “operator.” ‘I’m the Operator’: The Aftermath of a Self-Driving Tragedy. One last comment. In nearly every case of an aircraft accident, and aircraft are our most autonomous of vehicles, the blame falls not on the system but the pilot. That tradition, sadly, continues with autonomous cars.


“The “riot” is ongoing, more and more shooters are following the same deadly scripts, and many of our nation’s most popular gun-control policies haven’t been proved to make a material difference. Against this backdrop of deadly uncertainty, two things are clear—no one has the answer, and unless we approach the question with a proper sense of humility, we could close our minds to creative and new responses that just might work.”

David French writes in The Atlantic that we do not know how to end the epidemic of gun violence in our country. Perhaps we might be more humble in our suggestions, and certainly, the politicians, who speak only in platitudes, should be less certain of the meaning of those platitudes. Time Has Proved the Slow-Riot Theory of Mass Shootings