A medical historian narrates the last century of scientific struggle against an enduring enemy: deadly contagious disease. Ever since the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, scientists have dreamed of preventing catastrophic outbreaks of infectious disease. Yet despite a century of medical progress, viral and bacterial disasters continue to take us by surprise, inciting panic and dominating news cycles. From the Spanish flu to the 1924 outbreak of pneumonic plague in Los Angeles to the 1930 “parrot fever” pandemic, through the more recent SARS, Ebola, and Zika epidemics, the last one hundred years have been marked by a succession of unanticipated pandemic alarms. In The Pandemic Century, a lively account of scares both infamous and less known, Mark Honigsbaum combines reportage with the history of science and medical sociology to artfully reconstruct epidemiological mysteries and the ecology of infectious diseases. We meet dedicated disease detectives, obstructive or incompetent public health officials, and brilliant scientists often blinded by their own knowledge of bacteria and viruses. We also see how fear of disease often exacerbates racial, religious, and ethnic tensions―even though, as the epidemiologists Malik Peiris and Yi Guan write, “‘nature’ remains the greatest bioterrorist threat of all.” Like man-eating sharks, predatory pathogens are always present in nature, waiting to strike; when one is seemingly vanquished, others appear in its place. These pandemics remind us of the limits of scientific knowledge, as well as the role that human behavior and technologies play in the emergence and spread of microbial diseases.
The real story of AIDS―how it originated with a virus in a chimpanzee, jumped to one human, and then infected more than 60 million people―is very different from what most of us think we know. Recent research has revealed dark surprises and yielded a radically new scenario of how AIDS began and spread. Excerpted and adapted from the book Spillover, with a new introduction by the author, Quammen's hair-raising investigation tracks the virus from chimp populations in the jungles of southeastern Cameroon to laboratories across the globe, as he unravels the mysteries of when, where, and under what circumstances such a consequential "spillover" can happen. An audacious search for answers amid more than a century of data, The Chimp and the River tells the haunting tale of one of the most devastating pandemics of our time.
This week.... Afghanistan reports Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar has died; it's been revealed that he actually died in 2013 and the Taliban has been lying about it ever since, and has even been releasing statements in his name. Three teenage girls in Chechnya bilked ISIL fighters, who thought they were securing themselves brides, out of thousands of dollars. A member of British Parliament, Lord Sewel resigns as deputy speaker of the House of Lords in the wake of a scandal after a video surfaced purportedly showing him taking cocaine with prostitutes. John Oliver supplies some context on the House of Lords. And Now: Ten Actual Titles of Current Members of the British House of Lords, Paired With Photos of Pets Who Look Like They Would Have That Name. Main story: On statehood for Washington D.C. (YouTube, 17m) John Oliver presents a rewrite of the song that names the fifty states alphabetically to cover the plight of Washington D.C., and sings it with 19 kids. [more inside]
The story of how punk rock's arrival in Cuba allowed a small band of outsiders to sentence themselves to death and set themselves free. [more inside]
Looking: Looking for Results Season 2, Ep 2
Patrick gets anxious. Augustin gets stoned. Doris meets a new guy. Oh, and Russell Tovey gets naked. [more inside]
Parting Glances was one of the first major films about out, gay characters and AIDS and portrayed an unusual (for Hollywood) love triangle that was deeply grounded in queer sensibilities. The film launched the career of Steve Buscemi and featured hits from Bronski Beat. Reviews were mixed at the time, but it continues to be recognized as groundbreaking.
An intimate and moving documentary about the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco, told through interviews with just five people who lived through its beginnings. [more inside]
Using yards of archival footage, most shot by activists, How to Survive a Plague documents the work of ACT UP New York and their splinter group, TAG - Treatment Action Group - in their efforts to push the government to increase research into HIV treatment in the 1980s and 90s. Not just an informative and moving historical chronicle, this film uses tight editing and directing to create an exciting and compelling storyline. [more inside]