Ninth Symphony flash mob in Germany

This performance of the Ode to Joy from the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is very similar to one in Catalonia in 2011 (see link below), and as with that one, this was sponsored by a local bank.

The Hans-Sachs Choir and the Philharmonic Orchestra of Nuremberg performed in front of the Lorenz Church in Nuremberg (Nürnberg) Germany 2014 June 14.


Link: https://youtu.be/a23945btJYw

Other flash mob performances of the Ode to Joy:

To see the symphony's entire fourth movement performed in Osaka, Japan, with a chorus of thousands, see this post.

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Getting pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics

Something like the X Prize might encourage drug companies to develop new antibiotics even if they're deliberately held off the market for a while to delay development of resistant pathogens.


Link: https://youtu.be/YU5mPUF99BE

Other parts of this series:

  1. The antibiotic crisis is not getting any better
  2. The economics of new antibiotics
  3. Getting pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics
  4. Farming and antibiotics overuse
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Effort to do something about gerrymandering in North Carolina

A web article (with accompanying videos) from Raleigh's WRAL television reports on efforts to persuade the North Carolina legislature to do something about its extreme gerrymandering. Federal courts, with the backing of the Supreme Court, have ruled that districts were drawn with clear intent to concentrate African American voters into just a few districts, so the legislature is being forced to redraw districts by September 1.

Last year the state's voters elected Democrat Roy Cooper governor, making Republican Pat McCrory the only incumbent Republican governor in the United States to lose a bid for reelection in 2016. But thanks to the aggressive gerrymandering, the legislature is overwhelmingly Republican, by 74-46 in the state House of Representatives and 35-15 in the state Senate.

Unfortunately, the chairman of the Joint House-Senate Redistricting Committee, Representative David Lewis (R-Harnett County), has made it clear he sees nothing wrong with gerrymandering that has given Republicans a 10-3 advantage in its congressional representation. Last year he argued that the split was reasonable by declaring, "I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and 2 Democrats."

Republicans respond that Democrats also engaged in gerrymandering when they were in power prior to 2011. That's true, but their gerrymandering was less extreme. In the 2010 election, for example, 54 percent of the voted cast for federal representatives went to Republican candidates, but Democrats wound up with a 7-to-6 split of the seats. In 2012, the first when the Republican map was in effect, Democratic candidates received 51 percent of the votes but Republicans ended up with a 9-4 advantage in the congressional delegation. (In subsequent years Republican candidates collected 53 or 54 percent of the votes but 77 percent of the seats, a 10-3 split.)

The federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year (PDF) that multiple changes in voting laws passed by the Republican-controlled legislature were clearly designed to suppress black voter turnout in the state. After the court's ruling the state GOP invented ways to get around it, with some success. This past November, in fact, the state Republican Party issued a press release celebrating that (and I quote):

African American Early Voting is down 8.5% from this time in 2012.

Caucasian voters early voting is up 22.5% from this time in 2012.

As a share of Early Voters, African Americans are down 6.0%, (2012: 28.9%, 2016: 22.9%) and Caucasians are up 4.2%, (2012: 65.8%, 2016: 70.0%).

According to WUNC-FM (an NPR affiliate), on July 27 two federal judges expressed concern that the legislature isn't taking the court-ordered redistricting seriously. Indeed, the committee has only just started holding meetings in the wake of court order issued more than a year ago.

Here state Democrats propose ways of conducting future redistricting that give neither party an unfair advantage. (This runs half an hour, so you might not want to sit through the whole thing.)

Below is the hearing at which people spoke on fair rather than partisan redistricting. Be warned that it runs an hour and half.

Related posts from last year:

And from last month:

(Updated 2017 August 9 to add a reference to the WUNC-FM report from July 27.)

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The economics of new antibiotics

The second installment of PBS NewsHour's series on the antibiotics crisis delves into why the pharmaceutical industry has little incentive to develop new ones.

In brief, the wise approach to new antibiotics is to develop them but hold them in reserve until they're really needed. This obviously means that revenues would be delayed. Also, unlike a new cholesterol drug that patients might take for the rest of their lives, most antibiotics are used for only a very limited amount of time.

In passing the report notes that perhaps 30 percent of antibiotics are prescribed unnecessarily, which promotes the development of drug-resistant pathogens.


Link: https://youtu.be/Smztqi1iOOM

Other parts of this series:

  1. The antibiotic crisis is not getting any better
  2. The economics of new antibiotics
  3. Getting pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics
  4. Farming and antibiotics overuse
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The antibiotic crisis is not getting any better

The medical system in encountering more and more drug-resistant disease pathogens, so-called "superbugs," and we're not developing new antibiotics anywhere near fast enough to fight them.

One major reason is the massive overuse of antibiotics, which are too often prescribed unnecessarily, for example for viral conditions such as colds. (Antibiotics have no effect at all on viruses; they require antivirals.)

Even worse, antibiotics are given routinely to livestock because for reasons that are not entirely clear they make animals grow faster. To add insult to injury, pharmaceutical companies sell antibiotics to farmers for a tiny fraction of the price charged to human consumers. Some food companies advertise that they don't use antibiotics, and their competitors have countered with ads falsely implying that the only thing wrong with antibiotics in livestock is antibiotic residue in the meat.

The report below aired earlier tonight on PBS NewsHour as the first of a series:


Link: https://youtu.be/F42NPOnMIwQ

Other parts of this series:

  1. The antibiotic crisis is not getting any better
  2. The economics of new antibiotics
  3. Getting pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics
  4. Farming and antibiotics overuse
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Hans Rosling: Religion and population growth

In this TED Talk from 2012 Hans Rosling show data that suggest that the world's population will not continue to explode but will likely stabilize at about 10 billion (as the United Nations estimates). This is a modest increase from the estimate he offered in the video I posted a week ago, but the basic idea remains the same.

Rosling also disputes -- with hard data -- the notion that there is a strong connection between religion and birth rates. In fact, better education -- especially better education and equality for women -- and higher rates of child survival have led to declining family size everywhere in the world.


Link: https://youtu.be/ezVk1ahRF78

More posts about Rosling on this blog can be found here. His website (maintained by his family since his death last December) is here.

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Game of Thrones: English is not their forte

Fear not, no spoilers or even a review below, just one incredibly picky gripe.

Sunday night I watched the third episode of season 7 of Game of Thrones, and one of the main actors, as well as one of the showrunners in the post-episode making-of bit, managed to mispronounce the word forte in the context of the expression "That's not [someone's] forte."

That usage of the fencing term forte is often confused with the Italian word forte, spelled the same way and used in music to mean "loud." The Italian word is pronounced with two syllables, roughly "FOR-tay," just as the people pronounced forte on Game of Thrones.

But it's the wrong word. It's like called the element lead "leed." There is a word in English that's spelled lead and pronounced "leed," but it doesn't mean the metal.

As Jaime Lannister would tell you, if I'm holding a sword and you want to knock it aside, it's to your advantage to use the part of your sword blade nearest your hand to strike the part of mine closer to the tip. (Try it with pencils or chopsticks if you don't immediately see why.) In fencing terminology, at least in English, the near, relatively strong part of one's blade is called the forte (pronounced "fort") and the weaker far part the foible, both words taken from a slightly archaic form of French. You would usually want to use the forte of your sword to attack the foible of mine.

By analogy, people also have their metaphorical fortes (strengths) and foibles (weaknesses). If we say something is "not our forte" we mean "not our strength" (or not our "strong suit" if we prefer to borrow terminology from the card game bridge). If we say "it's not our forte" and pronounce it as in Italian, we're basically saying it's "not our loud," which is just weird, or at least indicative of a foible.

(Updated 2017 August 2 and 10, as usual to fix typos and try to improve the wording.)

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Shields and Brooks on the Trump White House

This is from July 21 but it's still relevant. Mark Shields is a moderate liberal and David Brooks is a moderate conservative, which means among other things that they can talk to each other without yelling. I have my disagreements with both, sometimes strong ones, but I still find what they have to say at least interesting.

Here they talk about several things, including Senator John McCain and recent events the White House, and despite their political differences they pretty much agree with each other. They speak with respect for people they disagree with -- albeit with one exception -- but they they do so bluntly and honestly. I'd like to see more discussions like this from sober moderates.


Link: https://youtu.be/C3MXqcoPkMM

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Best of Rahat's robot driver at the drive-thru

This is a best-of compilation of Rahat's robot driver pranks.

Rahat is a magician who has made a long series of videos in which he hides behind a fake seatback to drive his car while the driver's seat is apparently occupied by a robot, a skeleton, a Muppet, the evil puppet from the Saw movies, the animatronic monsters from Five Nights at Freddy's, or nobody at all. In these bits the driver is a robot, and as usual the reactions range from fright to amusement to mild annoyance, but are generally pretty funny.


Link: https://youtu.be/1UxCFo8ribo

Other Rahat videos I particularly liked can be found here, and you can click this link to go to his YouTube channel, which has over five million subscribers.

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Another Beethoven flash mob

You may have seen the flash mob performing the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in the Plaza San Roc in Sabadell, Catalonia (in Spain). If you haven't, you can find it here, and it's definitely worth seeing, both for the performance and the delighted reactions of the people present.

Here's a similar performance at a shopping mall in Tokyo:


Link: https://youtu.be/3lNaajK3Scc

And here's another in Nuremberg.

The Ninth Symphony is so popular in Japan that it's often just called "Number Nine." Performances on New Year's Day have become traditional. A truly remarkable one takes place in Osaka with one of the largest choruses ever assembled. See this link.

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