This Chemical Is So Hot It Destroys Nerve Endings—in a Good Way

In Morocco there grows a cactus-like plant that’s so hot, I have to insist that the next few sentences aren’t hyperbole. On the Scoville Scale of hotness, its active ingredient, resiniferatoxin, clocks in at 16 billion units. That’s 10,000 times hotter than the Carolina reaper, the world’s hottest pepper, and 45,000 times hotter than the hottest of habaneros, and 4.5 million times hotter than a piddling little jalapeno. Euphorbia resinifera, aka the resin spurge, is not to be eaten. Just to be safe, you probably shouldn’t even look at it.

But while that toxicity will lay up any mammal dumb enough to chew on the resin spurge, resiniferatoxin has also emerged as a promising painkiller. Inject RTX, as it’s known, into an aching joint, and it’ll actually destroy the nerve endings that signal pain. Which means medicine could soon get a new tool to help free us from the grasp of opioids.

The human body is loaded with different kinds of sensory neurons. Some flavors respond to light touch, others signal joint position, yet others respond only to stimuli like tissue injury and burns. RTX isn’t going to destroy the endings of all these neurons willy-nilly. Instead, it binds to a major molecule in specifically pain-sensing nerve endings, called TRPV1 (pronounced TRIP-vee one).

This TRPV1 receptor normally responds to temperature. But it also responds to a family of molecules called pungents, which includes capsaicin, the active ingredient in hot pepper. “So when you put hot pepper on your tongue and it feels like it’s burning, it’s not because your tongue is on fire,” says Tony Yaksh, an anesthesiologist and pharmacologist at UC San Diego who’s studied RTX. “It’s simply activating the same sensory axons that would have been activated if your tongue had been on fire.”

So if you wanted to treat knee pain, you could directly inject RTX into the knee tissue. You’d anesthetize the patient first, of course, since the resulting pain would be intense. But after a few hours, that pain wears off, and you end up with a knee that’s desensitized to pain.

Researchers have already done this with dogs. “It is profoundly effective there, and lasts much, much longer than I might have expected, maybe a median of 5 months before the owners of the dogs asked for reinjection,” says Michael Iadarola, who’s studying RTX at the National Institutes of Health. “The animals went from basically limping to running around.” One dog even went 18 months before its owners noticed the pain had returned.

That’s a very targeted application, but what about more widespread pain? Cancer patients, for instance, can live in agony through their end-of-life care. Here, too, RTX might work as a powerful painkiller. In fact, the NIH is in the midst of trials with bone cancer patients.

RTX’s promise lies in its specificity. Think of it like a sniper rifle for pain, whereas opioids are more like hand grenades. Opioids target receptors all over the body, not a specific kind of sensory neuron. “That’s why when you give it to somebody, you get problems with constipation, sedation, they can have respiratory depression,” says Mannes.

That and you have to take opioids constantly, but not so with RTX. “You give it once and it should last for an extended period of time because it is destroying the fibers,” says Mannes. “But the other thing with this to remember is there’s no reinforcement. There’s no high associated with it, there’s no addiction potential whatsoever.”

Read the complete article on Wired here.

 

 

 

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Why house prices in global cities are falling

CENTRE POINT, a tower that looms over central London, was empty for so long in the 1970s that it lent its name to a homelessness charity. Recently it was converted from offices to flats. Half are yet to find buyers. So the developer has taken them off the market pending a clearing of the political fog over Britain. Its boss complained to Estates Gazette, a trade paper, of bids that were “detached from reality”. One-bedroom flats were on sale for £1.8m ($2.4m).

Property used to be thought of as an inflation hedge. But in recent years it has become a substitute for low-yielding Treasury bonds—a safe asset in which the globally mobile can store their wealth. After years of rapid price rises, houses in the most favoured markets are overvalued. Rising bond yields, tighter mortgage credit and shifting politics are now combining to push prices down.

Demand from emerging markets such as China and Russia has been growing. Buyers are willing to pay steeply to secure a safe place for their savings—or a bolthole for themselves. Cristian Badarinza of the National University of Singapore and Tarun Ramadorai of Imperial College London have shown that political trouble in Russia, parts of Africa and the Middle East predicts a rise in the price of prime London property.

Foreign demand has spillovers. If an oligarch buys a house, it drives up the prices of smaller properties nearby. A paper by Dragana Cvijanovic of the University of North Carolina and Christophe Spaenjers of HEC Paris finds similar effects in Paris’s property market. Foreign buyers, mostly from China, have been a force behind booms in the big cities of Australia and Canada.

The yield on Treasury bonds, the world’s benchmark safe asset, is rising. A tightening of credit standards on mortgages in Australia and Canada has squeezed housing in cities there. Uncertainty about Brexit has made London a place of political risk rather than a refuge from it. Meanwhile, capital is moving less freely. Governments are charier of Russian money. China is shaking down its super-rich for taxes and is zealous in its policing of capital outflows.

A corollary of stronger links between global cities is a kind of “waterbed” effect. For instance, when taxes were levied on foreign homebuyers in Vancouver in 2016, the market cooled, but Toronto took off. There are buyers who will compare prices in, say, Mayfair in London and Park Avenue, New York. They look for value. But it is vanishingly scarce. The market is turning. Those who bought at the peak, or are hoping to sell, will slowly adjust to a new reality.

Read the complete article on the Economist web site here.

Feel the love, feel the hate in the cauldron of Trump’s wild rallies: Ed Pilkington

There is no understanding Donald Trump without understanding his rallies.

They are the crucible of the Trump revolution, the laboratory where he turns his alternative reality into a potion to be sold to his followers. It is at his rallies that his radical reimagining of the US constitution takes shape: not “We the people”, but “We my people”.

As America reels from a gunman killing 11 Jewish worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue; pipe bombs being sent to 14 of the US presidents’ leading opponents, and Trump declaring himself a nationalist and sending thousands of troops to the US border to assail unarmed asylum seekers; the most powerful person on earth continues to rely on his rallies as seething cauldrons of passion.

And that’s not all. Trump is using them as a test run for his 2020 bid for re-election.

Which is why I have crisscrossed the country, from Montana and Wisconsin in the north to Texas in the south, Arizona in the west to North Carolina in the east, to observe the president delivering his message to his people.

On the morning of the fourth rally, the outside world blasts its way into Trumpland. Shortly after 10am, as CNN anchors are telling their viewers about a series of pipe bombs mailed to the Clintons, the Obamas and to George Soros, they have to rush off air because the network has received its own explosive device.

At the same time, Jacob Spaeth and three of his buddies are lining up in a field in Mosinee, Wisconsin. They are all wearing the same distinctive red T-shirt. It bears a cartoon sketch of a smiling Trump urinating profusely over the CNN logo.

Spaeth never watches CNN – he occasionally sees clips of it on Facebook. He gets his information from Infowars, the website of Alex Jones. Jones, a conspiracy theorist, is on the record as saying 9/11 was a government set-up and that the 2012 Newtown school shooting in which 20 children were killed was fabricated. Within hours he will be broadcasting that this week’s pipe bombs are also a hoax.

Spaeth embodies one of the most puzzling aspects of my week in Trumpland. Throughout the five rallies, I talk to scores of people, all of whom, without exception, are welcoming and pleasant. Yet hours later, in the pressure-cooker of the rally, they will turn on me and my mainstream media colleagues and hurl insults at us.

Spaeth admits that when he went to a Trump rally in Minnesota last month he took part in the finger-jabbing and the chanting of “CNN sucks”. It made him feel happy to be able to express his feelings so openly among like-minded folk. “I don’t see it as bullying,” he says.

There’s only one explanation for this pattern of behavior: that Trump enables good, civil Americans to metamorphose into media baiters. “Those people, fake news,” the president says sneeringly at almost every rally, pointing to the caged pen where reporters are cooped up during his speeches.

Read the compete article in The Guardian newspaper here.

 

Older People Are Worse at Telling Fact From Opinion

Americans over 50 are worse than younger people at telling facts from opinions, according to a new study by Pew Research Center.

Given 10 statements, five each of fact and opinion, younger Americans correctly identified both the facts and the opinions at higher rates than older Americans did. Forty-four percent of younger people identified all five opinions as opinions, while only 26 percent of older people did. And 18-to-29-year-olds performed more than twice as well as the 65+ set. Of the latter group, only 17 percent classified all five facts as factual statements.

The research tacks against the idea that younger people who are extremely online (or “digitally savvy,” in Pew’s terms) might be more exposed and/or more susceptible to misinformation. But the real correlation with poor performance is exposure to television news, which has fallen off among young people but remains very high among older people. This shouldn’t be surprising if we consider the evolution of American media over the past 60 years. Someone born in 1958, now 60, witnessed two revolutions in media before the internet: talk radio and 24-hour cable news. Both blended facts and opinions in new and unprecedented ways, and they matured with the cohort of Americans who are now over the age of 50.

The internet, of course, became like the previous iterations of the media, but more so. While the bulk of coverage is close to the political center, the far-right media grew to serve ever-larger numbers of older Americans, mostly with the same undifferentiated mix of fact and opinion that talk radio pioneered. “Our own study of over 1.25 million stories published online between April 1, 2015 and Election Day [2016] shows that a right-wing media network anchored around Breitbart developed as a distinct and insulated media system,” wrote a team of Harvard scholars, “using social media as a backbone to transmit a hyper-partisan perspective to the world.”

In short, for decades now, older people, especially conservatives, have experienced an erosion of the line between fact and opinion in every media form. The only surprising thing about the new research’s results is that every group’s performance was not worse.

Read the complete article on The Atlantic here.

Men are just Tall Babies. A new ebook by Ted Summerfield.

Tall Babies is about self-centered determination and absolute acceptance of ones’ imperfections. “You can’t truly change who you are. But you can profit by it.”

Tall Babies does contain some sex, for Sybil always mixed business with pleasure for thirty-four years before retiring her stable of ‘boys’. Sybil isn’t an erotic tale of sexual explorations or expectations, or some ‘50 Shades’ of fantasies. It is a story of one woman who strove to make wealthy men feel more confident, more aggressive in business, better husbands or boyfriends, and, most importantly, fulfilled her need to be loved and to give love in return. While allowing her to make a buck or two doing so. What’s the harm in that?

Available now for $2.99 here at Smashwords and at all major online retailers like Apple, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, etc.

Available for Kindle devices at Amazon here.

Quantum computers will break the encryption that protects the internet

Quantum computers rely on the famous weirdness of quantum mechanics to perform certain sorts of calculation far faster than any conceivable classical machine. Their fundamental unit is the “qubit”, a quantum analogue of the ones and zeros that classical machines manipulate. By exploiting the quantum-mechanical phenomena of superposition and entanglement, quantum computers can perform some forms of mathematics—though only some—far faster than any conceivable classical machine, no matter how beefy.

In 1994 Peter Shor, a mathematician then working at Bell Laboratories, in America, came up with a quick and efficient way to find a number’s prime factors. The only catch was that for large numbers his method—dubbed Shor’s algorithm—needs a quantum computer to work.

Big quantum computers will have applications in fields such as artificial intelligence and chemistry. But it is the threat posed by Shor’s algorithm that draws most public attention. Large organisations may be able to get around the problem using so-called quantum cryptography. This detects eavesdroppers in a way that cannot be countered. But it is expensive, experimental and unsuitable for the internet because it must run on a special, dedicated network. For most people, therefore, the best hope of circumventing Shor’s algorithm is to find a bit of one-way maths that does not give quantum computers an advantage.

But translating a piece of maths into usable computer code and then delivering it to the zillions of machines that will need updating will not be easy.

Despite—or perhaps because of—the information-technology industry’s obsession with novelty, the internet resembles ancient cities like Rome and Istanbul, with modern structures built atop forgotten layers of old, unmaintained code.

Read the complete article in The Economist here.

 

After a year of #MeToo, American opinion has shifted against victims

Oct 15th 2018 by THE DATA TEAM

ONE year ago Alyssa Milano, an American actress, posted on Twitter: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Within 24 hours she had received more than 500,000 responses using the hashtag “#MeToo”. Ms Milano’s tweet came days after the New York Times and New Yorker had published detailed allegations of sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood producer. Mr Weinstein was the first in a long line of prominent entertainers and executives to be toppled by such investigations, which dominated the headlines throughout late 2017.

Even as these stories broke, it was #MeToo that resonated most on social media, as millions of women shared their experiences of abuse, intimidation and discrimination. In the past 12 months, the hashtag has been tweeted 18m times according to Keyhole, a social-media analytics company. The phrase has come to encapsulate the idea of sexual misconduct and assault. In recent months American journalists have used the hashtag in their articles more frequently than they have mentioned “sexual harassment”, according to Meltwater, a media analytics company.

Yet surveys suggest that this year-long storm of allegations, confessions and firings has actually made Americans more sceptical about sexual harassment. In the first week of November 2017, YouGov polled 1,500 Americans about their attitudes on the matter, on behalf of The Economist. In the final week of September 2018, it conducted a similar poll again. When it came to questions about the consequences of sexual assault and misconduct, there was a small but clear shift against victims.

Read the complete article on The Economist here.