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Monthly Archives: December 2021

Chart: Number of U.S and China STEM Ph.D. Graduates

Source : Center for Security and Emerging Technologies

Chart: U.S. IPOs Had a Record 2021. Now They Are Selling Off Like Crazy.

Source : The Wall Street Journal

Chart: U.S. New Home Sales by Price

Source : Calculated Risk

Chuckles of the Day

How is Old Mrs. Kirkland Doing?

Worried because they hadn’t heard anything for days from the widow in the neighboring apartment, Mrs. Silver said to her son, “Timmy, would you go next door and see how old Mrs. Kirkland is?”

A few minutes later, Timmy returned.

“Well,” asked Mrs. Silver, “is she all right?”

“She’s fine, except that she’s pissed at you.”

“At me?” the woman exclaimed. “Whatever for?”

“She said ‘It’s none of your business how old she is,'” snickered Timmy.

* * * * * * *

The Eulogy

An old man had died. A wonderful funeral was in progress and the country preacher talked at length of the good traits of the deceased.

The preacher went on about “what an honest man” he was, and “what a loving husband and kind father” he was.

Finally, the widow leaned over and whispered to one of her children, “Go up there and take a look in the coffin. See if that’s your Pa in there.”

39 and Holding

Johnny asked his grandma how old she was.

Grandma answered, “39 and holding.”

Johnny thought for a moment and then said, “How old would you be if you let go?”

T Cells Come to the Rescue as Studies Show They Fight Omicron

Marthe Fourcade and Michelle Fay Cortez wrote . . . . . . . . .

An unsung arm of the immune system appears to protect against severe disease with the omicron variant even when antibodies wane, helping to explain why a record wave of infections hasn’t engulfed hospitals so far.

T cells, the body’s weapon against virus-infected cells, were primed enough by vaccination that they defended against omicron in separate studies from Erasmus University in the Netherlands and the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

The findings could help explain why the wave of omicron cases hasn’t so far caused a surge in mortality from South Africa to the U.S. and the U.K. Unlike antibodies, T cells can target the whole of the virus’s spike protein, which remains largely similar even in the highly mutated omicron.

The Dutch researchers looked at 60 vaccinated health-care workers and found that while their antibody responses to omicron were lower or nonexistent compared with the beta and delta variants, T cell responses were largely unaltered, “potentially balancing the lack of neutralizing antibodies in preventing or limiting severe Covid-19.”

The study from the University of Cape Town’s Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine looked at patients who had recovered from Covid or been vaccinated with shots from Pfizer Inc. and partner BioNTech SE or Johnson & Johnson. They found that 70% to 80% of the T cell responses they assessed held up against omicron.

Recent weeks have brought evidence that the new strain can erode vaccine protection, prompting governments to push for booster shots to raise the level of antibodies that can fight off the variant.

But immune protection has several layers. While antibodies block infection, T cells kill infected cells, preventing the virus from spreading and causing worse disease, Wendy Burgens, one of the University of Cape Town study authors, wrote on her Twitter account Virus Monologues. “They can’t prevent you from getting infected, but they can minimize the damage that comes afterwards,” she said.

T cells are white blood cells that can remember past diseases, kill virus-infected cells and rouse antibodies to marshal defenses. People infected with another coronavirus that was responsible for the SARS outbreak in 2003, for example, were found to still have a T-cell response to the disease 17 years later.

Source : BNN Bloomberg

Read more at The Conversation

Coronavirus: B cells and T cells explained . . . . .

Why China Could Win the New Global Arms Race

David Brown wrote . . . . . . . . .

China is building up its armed forces at a rapid pace.

Its advances in missile technology, nuclear weapons and artificial intelligence have triggered serious concern among many Western observers, who believe a profound shift in the global balance of military power is under way.

President Xi Jinping has ordered China’s armed forces to modernise by 2035. They should, he says, become a “world-class” military power, capable of “fighting and winning wars” by 2049.

It is a huge undertaking, but the country is on target.

Spending big

China has been criticised by some international experts for a “lack of transparency” over how much it spends on defence, and an “inconsistent reporting of figures”.

Beijing does publish official spending data, but Western estimates of China’s financial support for its armed forces are often significantly higher.

It is widely believed that China currently spends more on its armed forces than any country except the US.

The growth of China’s military budget has outpaced its overall economic growth for at least a decade, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Boosting the nuclear stockpile

In November, the US Department of Defense predicted that China was set to quadruple its nuclear stockpile by the end of the current decade. China, it said, “likely intends to have at least 1,000 warheads by 2030”.

Chinese state media called the claim “wild and biased speculation”, adding that nuclear forces were kept at a “minimum level”.

However, experts at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, who publish annual assessments of global stockpiles, say China has been increasing the number of its warheads over recent years.

China is still a long way short of the US stockpile of 5,550 warheads, but its nuclear build-up is being seen as one of the biggest threats to Western military supremacy.

“China’s nuclear weapons are the most important issue,” according to Veerle Nouwens, of the Royal United Services institute in London.

“There is a huge lack of trust on both sides and dialogue is nowhere near the level needed. There are big risks and the off-ramps are difficult to see.”

Hypersonic future

Hypersonic missiles travel at more than five times the speed of sound.

They are not as fast as intercontinental ballistic missiles, but they are so difficult to detect in flight that they may render some air defences useless.

“The Chinese understand that they are a long way behind, so they are trying to make big breakthroughs to leap-frog other powers,” according to Dr Zeno Leoni, of King’s College London.

“Developing hypersonic missiles is one of the ways they’re trying to do this.”

China has denied testing hypersonic missiles, but Western experts believe that two rocket launches last summer indicate that its military is well on the way to acquiring them.

It’s unclear exactly what systems China may be developing. There are two main types:

  • Hypersonic glide missiles stay within the Earth’s atmosphere
  • Fractional orbital bombardment systems (FOBS) fly in low orbit before accelerating towards a target

It is possible that China may have succeeded in combining the two systems, firing a hypersonic missile from an FOBS manoeuvrable spacecraft.

Dr Leoni says that while hypersonic missiles may not – on their own – be a game-changer, they will make some targets highly vulnerable to attack.

“Hypersonic missiles make aircraft carriers in particular much more difficult to defend,” he says.

However, he also suggests that that the threat from Chinese hypersonic missiles may have been overstated by some Western officials, who are keen to make as strong a case as possible for the financing of military space technology.

“The threat is real. Yet, it is possible that this is being exaggerated.”

Artificial intelligence and cyber-attacks

China is now fully committed to developing “intelligentised” warfare, or future military methods based on disruptive technologies – especially artificial intelligence, according to the US Department of Defense.

China’s Academy of Military Science has been given a mandate to make sure that this happens, through “civil-military fusion”, in other words joining up Chinese private sector technology companies with the country’s defence industries.

Reports suggest that China may already be using artificial intelligence in military robotics and missile guidance systems, as well as unmanned aerial vehicles and unmanned naval vessels.

China has already conducted large-scale cyber-operations abroad, according to a recent expert assessment.

In July the UK, US and EU accused China of carrying out a major cyber-attack targeting Microsoft Exchange servers.

It is believed that the attack affected at least 30,000 organisations globally and aimed to enable large-scale espionage, including the acquisition of personal information and intellectual property.

The world’s largest, but not most powerful, navy

China has overtaken the US to become the largest navy in the world – but experts point out that a simple comparison of ship numbers leaves out numerous factors which determine a navy’s capabilities.

But, they say, an examination of the trends can be useful.

For now, the US maintains a strong lead in many naval capabilities, with 11 aircraft carriers to China’s two, and more nuclear-powered submarines, cruisers and destroyers – or larger warships.

But China is expected to expand its navy much further.

Former People’s Liberation Army Senior Colonel Zhou Bo, of Tsinghua University in Beijing, says he believes it is “critically important” for China to strengthen its navy to counter the sea-based threats which it faces.

In particular, he says: “The most outstanding problem we face is what we perceive to be American provocation in China’s waters.”

The US Navy predicts that between 2020 and 2040, the total number of Chinese navy ships will increase by nearly 40%.

Uncertain future

Is China moving away from non-confrontation towards a more threatening stance?

For now, the Chinese approach is still “win without fighting”, says Dr Leoni, although he adds that it could change this strategy some time in the future.

“Becoming a fully modernised naval power could be one tipping point.”

But Senior Colonel Zhou insists that Western fears are unfounded.

“China has no intention of policing the world, unlike the United States,” he says. “Even if China becomes much stronger one day, it will maintain its basic policies.”

China has not fought a war since 1979, when it went into battle with Vietnam, so much of its military capabilities are completely untested.

Many in both the West and in China will hope it stays that way.

Source : BBC

Science Reveals How Red Meat Harms the Heart

Amy Norton wrote . . . . . . . . .

Red-meat lovers may raise their risk of heart disease through a chain of events that plays out in the gut, a new study suggests.

Many studies over the years have tied diets heavy in red and processed meats to a heightened risk of heart disease and stroke. That type of evidence does not, however, prove red meat is the problem — or, if it is, why.

The new findings offer more clues about the “why.”

Researchers found that particular gut bacteria, more abundant in red-meat eaters, are key in turning a dietary nutrient called carnitine into a foe: a chemical known as TMAO, which helps promote blood-clotting and clogged arteries.

For the average person, the insights reinforce what’s already known about heart-healthy eating, said study co-author Dr. Stanley Hazen, who directs Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Microbiome and Human Health.

In particular, he pointed to the traditional Mediterranean diet, which has been shown in clinical trials to cut the risks of heart disease and stroke.

That diet is high in fish, fruits and vegetables, legumes, olive oil and nuts — and low in red meat and processed foods.

The new study was published in Nature Microbiology. It is among the latest to delve into the relationship among diet, the gut microbiome and human health.

“Microbiome” refers to the vast collection of bacteria and other microbes that naturally inhabit the human body, especially the gut. Research in recent years has begun to reveal just how vital those gut microbes are — not only in digestion, but in immune system defenses, brain function and the health of the cardiovascular system.

It’s well-established, Hazen said, that people with diets high in red meat typically have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke than those who eat little red meat.

The traditional suspect was saturated fat, found almost exclusively in animal products. Saturated fat can boost “bad” LDL cholesterol, which contributes to cardiovascular disease.

But, Hazen said, research has shown that any ill effects of saturated fat are not enough to explain the excess heart disease risks linked to heavy red-meat consumption. There had to be other mechanisms.

The new findings point to one, said Lauri Wright, chair of nutrition and dietetics at the University of North Florida, in Jacksonville.

There is still much to learn about the gut microbiome, said Wright, who is also a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. But in general, she said, diets rich in foods like vegetables, fruits and high-fiber grains help “feed” beneficial gut microbes.

“It still goes back to food,” Wright said.

Hazen, too, said he is a “big supporter” of using diet to change the gut microbiome, rather than adding certain bugs via probiotic supplements.

“Changing your diet changes the soil” that feeds gut microbes, he explained.

The latest findings build on earlier work by Hazen and his colleagues focusing on TMAO. The chemical is generated when gut bacteria break down carnitine, a nutrient particularly abundant in red meat.

The researchers had already shown that TMAO appears to raise the risk of heart disease and stroke. And in a 2019 study, they found that adding red meat to healthy people’s diets for a short time boosts blood levels of TMAO. Those levels went back down, though, when red meat was swapped for either white meat or vegetable proteins.

In the latest study, looking at both humans and lab mice, the researchers found that a cluster of gut bacteria — within a group called Emergencia timonensis — transform carnitine into TMAO. While meat-eaters harbor a decent amount of those microbes, longtime vegetarians and vegans have very few.

In the experiments with mice, the researchers found that introducing E. timonensis boosted TMAO levels and the blood’s propensity to form clots.

The researchers also analyzed stool samples from people who took part in the 2019 diet study. They found that when participants were eating a lot of red meat, their stool harbored more of the culprit E. timonensis microbes; when they switched to non-meat protein sources, those microbial levels dropped.

There are blood tests available to measure people’s TMAO levels. And Hazen said that these could potentially allow health-care providers to give patients more personal diet advice: If someone’s TMAO levels were high, limiting red meat would be particularly important.

But what you take in, Wright noted, is as important as what you limit. She said that fermented foods like yogurt and kimchi, which contain certain microbes, can be good choices. But again, she stressed, overall diet is what’s key in supporting a healthy gut.

Source : HealthDay

China Develops AI ‘Prosecutor’ that Can Press Charges with ‘97% Accuracy’

Amit Chaturvedi wrote . . . . . . . . .

China has been making rapid advancements in the technology field. And now, Chinese scientists have claimed that they have developed a machine that can charge people with crime using artificial intelligence. This is the world’s first such machine.

The AI “prosecutor” can charge people with over 97 per cent accuracy, the researchers further claimed, adding that it works on verbal description.

The machine was built and tested by the Shanghai Pudong People’s Procuratorate, the country’s largest and busiest district prosecution office, reported South China Morning Post.

Project’s lead scientist told local media that the machine has been created to reduce the current workload of prosecutors. “The system can replace prosecutors in the decision-making process to a certain extent,” Professor Shi Yong, the lead scientists of the project, was quoted as saying by one of the publications.

It can also identify “dissent” against the state, the researchers further claimed.

Explaining how the computer programme works, the scientists said that it can press charges based on 1,000 human-generated case description texts.

The machine received training for five years – from 2015 to 2020 – reported South Chia Morning Post. It was fed 17,000 cases and was able to identify and press charges for common crimes.

The cases given to the AI machine during training involved credit card frauds, gambling crimes, dangerous driving, theft and obstruction of official duties, according to South China Morning Post.

The researchers are now hoping that their machine can soon replace prosecutors in the “decision-making” process to certain extent. With more training, it will become perfect in recognising more types of cases and pressing charhes accordingly.

However, some prosecutors have raised concern about the new system, asking who will take responsibility in case of a mistake? Some of them also told local Chinese media that humans do not want computers interfering in their work.

Digital technology is being used extensively by law enforcement agencies around the world, but are limited to evaluation of evidence or in forensics. This is the first time that AI is being pushed in the decision-making process.

Source : Hindustan Times

Charts: U.S. Initial Jobless Claims Dropped Slightly Last Week

Continuing jobless claims at the lowest level since March 2020

Source : Trading Economics

Music Video: Hold Me Tight