Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, June 02, 2017

Four Things

1. This was by Arsenal's standards, a disappointing season, but it ended on the high note of a third FA Cup win in four years for the Gunners:

More than anything, they were free of the self-doubt that has often infiltrated their performances against Chelsea. Mesut Özil, for instance, seemed absolutely determined to leave his imprint on the final. Alexis Sánchez, possibly making his last appearance in Arsenal's colours, shimmered with menace and now has 30 goals for the season. Danny Welbeck brought a mix of speed and directness and when Olivier Giroud came on as a substitute, just after Diego Costa's equaliser, it was his first touch that set up Aaron Ramsey for the game's decisive moment. The cross was delivered so expertly it would have been almost impolite for Ramsey, with a stooping header, not to accept the chance.
Had Arsenal managed this level of intensity throughout the season, they would have also won the league, whose champions they defeated that day, as well as 3-0 during the regular season. That earlier result prompted Chelsea's Antonio Conte to re-think his tactical approach. To his great credit, he changed it, and Chelsea didn't look back from that game forward.

2. Researchers have found a way to make the antibiotic vancomycin both more potent and more difficult for bacteria to evolve around:
Time has shown that bacteria are bad at evolving resistance to the brick attack -- there's no simple genetic mutation to get around it. In nearly 60 years of clinical use, resistance to vancomycin has developed relatively slowly. And the resistance that has shown up is complicated and bulky: bacteria use a two-component signaling system that first senses if vancomycin is invading, then they trigger a late-stage switch in building materials, swapping D-Alanine-D-Alanine bricks for D-Alanine-D-Lactate in their walls. Facing this defense, vancomycin is a thousandfold less lethal to bacteria.

Lucky for us, there is a simple trick to defeat this cumbersome resistance: a chemical tweak to the part of vancomycin's structure that binds to the brick can make it just as likely to glom onto D-Ala-D-Lac as D-Ala-D-Ala.
Head over to the rest of the article for "harder to evolve around."

In other promising news on the antibiotic resistance crisis comes a report on the successful use of "bacteriophages -- viruses that target and consume specific strains of bacteria -- to treat a patient near death from a multidrug-resistant bacterium."

3. When we first visited the city to find a place to live during my wife's medical fellowship, I wondered why everything in St. Louis is made of brick. Now I know, thanks to some spur-of-the-moment googling.

But there are things even that modern-day oracle can't answer, such as a question I have about where I currently live: Why are so many parking lots in Maryland so awful? Very common examples: Tiny parking spaces; one outlet, without a light, to a busy intersection for a huge shopping center; adjacent, non-competing stores whose lots don't connect to each other. (My "favorite" is a site that has all three deficiencies.) Sure, these things occur everywhere, but the parking lots of Maryland really stand out. One -- yes, my "favorite" -- that I will have to use this summer caused me to look into changing my schedule so I could avoid rush hour to leave more quickly -- until I learned that wouldn't be an option. I suspect that all this accounts for something else that has stood out to me in Maryland: lots of drivers here back into parking spaces. That has stood out to me about as much as the courtesy of Midwestern drivers. Indeed, wondering about that practice helped me realize how atrocious the parking lots are. (Of course, my inability to find answer may be related to small sample size: Maybe it's just my immediate locale that is bad. Or, there is no one reason.)

4. Only in a world populated by people used to fiat currencies could there be an example of counterfeiters arguably helping an economy keep going:
Old legitimate 1000 shilling notes and newer counterfeit 1000 notes are worth about 4 U.S. cents each. Both types of shillings are fungible -- or, put differently, they are accepted interchangeably in trade, despite the fact that it is easy to tell fakes apart from genuine notes. This is an odd thing for non-Somalis to get our heads around since for most of us, an obvious counterfeit is pretty much worthless. The exchange rate between dollars and Somali shillings is a floating one that is determined by the cost of printing new fake 1000 notes. For instance, if a would-be counterfeiter can find a currency printer, say in Switzerland, that will produce a decent knock off and ship it to Somalia for 2.5 U.S. cents each (which includes the cost of paper and ink), then notes will flood into Somalia until their purchasing power falls from 4 to 2.5 U.S. cents... at which point counterfeiting is no longer profitable and the price level stabilizes.
Just to be clear, none of this makes me a fan of fiat currency or government control of money.

-- CAV

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