Weekly Meanderings, 15 August 2020 | Jesus Creed

Weekly Meanderings, 15 August 2020 | Jesus Creed

Good morning!

Lisa Bowens, this book will be awesome:

Lisa Bowens, PhD ’14, is the first African American woman to earn tenure in Princeton Theological Seminary’s Biblical Studies Department.

Growing up in a Pentecostal family, Bowens had a straightforward relationship with the biblical writings attributed to Paul. “Paul was venerated in my tradition,” she says. “I grew up loving Paul.”

But when she arrived in academia, she realized it wasn’t so simple for many people. One example that stands out to her is the story theologian and civil rights leader Howard Thurman often told about his grandmother. She was a slave and never learned to read, so Thurman would read passages of scripture to her — with one exception. “She would hardly ever let him read anything from Paul, except on rare occasions 1 Cor. 13, and one day he summoned the courage to ask her why,” Bowens says. “She said when she was a slave, it was preached from Paul that slaves must obey their masters. She promised herself that if freedom ever came, she wouldn’t want to hear anything from Paul again.”

This story moved Bowens to learn more about the complex history between the African American community and the teachings of Paul. The culmination of her research is African American Readings of Paul: Reception, Resistance, and Transformation, a new book arriving September 2020, which examines interpretations from the 1700s through the civil rights movement. The research for this book was supported by a grant awarded for the 2017-2018 academic year from the Louisville Institute, called the First Book Grant for Scholars of Color. This grant is specifically designed to provide funds for a first or second book that completes a major research project on an issue pertinent to North American Christianity.

On the one hand, Bowens’ research confirms the use of Paul to support racism, slavery, sexism, and other forms of discrimination and violence. “We have to reckon with that,” she says. “People want healing, and the first step is recognizing the way scripture has been used to dehumanize people and legitimize murder.”

On the other hand, Bowens was surprised to find that, more often than not, there were many positive interpretations of Paul in African American sermons, speeches, essays, autobiographies, and letters, from a 1774 petition that used Paul to argue against slavery to numerous mentions by Martin Luther King, Jr. “It was an interesting journey for me to get a more robust picture of how African Americans have utilized Paul for liberation, freedom, and justice,” she says.

Remember Blockbuster?

(CNN) — You can — and should — eat popcorn in bed at this one-of-a-kind Airbnb. Located in Bend, Oregon, this rental has everything: a sofabed, free snacks, a VCR and a big TV.

Yes, you can sleepover at the world’s last Blockbuster video store.

Since 2004, store manager (and would-be superhost), Sandi Harding, has run the operation in the spirit of the time when Blockbuster stores and their laminated rental cards and late fees were part of the cultural vernacular, when everyone was encouraged to “Make it a Blockbuster night!”

Yale discrimination:

Yale University’s undergraduate admissions process “illegally discriminates” against White and Asian students, the Department of Justice said Thursday.

A two-year investigation into the Ivy League school found that “race is the determinative factor in hundreds of admissions decisions each year,” in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the DOJ said in a press release.

The department said Yale must agree not to use race or national origin as criteria in its next admissions cycle, and that if it plans to consider race in the future, “it must first submit to the Department of Justice a plan demonstrating its proposal is narrowly tailored as required by law, including by identifying a date for the end of race discrimination.”

Yale denied the allegation. Karen Peart, a spokeswoman for the university, said in a statement to CNBC that the Justice Department made its conclusions before Yale had provided enough information to show that its practices “absolutely comply with decades of Supreme Court precedent.”

“At Yale, we look at the whole person when selecting whom to admit among the many thousands of highly qualified applicants,” Peart said.

“We are proud of Yale’s admissions practices, and we will not change them on the basis of such a meritless, hasty accusation.”

Black pit masters, a story often not known:

If the Caribbean region gave our unique culinary form its name, barbecue, the uniquely hemispheric cooking form was perfected in the hands of Black pit masters in the American South. At plantations throughout the South, barbecues (in the second sense of the word) were often staged when there were guests or festivities at the Big House. The cooks for these events were enslaved and free black men who used their talents to create an iconic Afro-Southern dish. The cooking ritual was a complex process replicated today by Black pit masters throughout the South.

That same basic process of slow cooking over smoke took place throughout the barbecue belt that runs from Maryland on down through Mississippi. Post Emancipation, it was carried North and West with The Great Migration by the likes of Henry Perry, born in Shelby County, Tennessee, who learned his trade working in steamboat kitchens plying the Mississippi River, and opened the first barbecue restaurant in Kansas City. Other early Black barbecue entrepreneurs included Arthur Bryant and George Gates of Kansas City and John “Big Daddy” Bishop of Dreamland Barbecue in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Is this the best option for diminishing Covid?

Anybody who has waited for hours in line for a coronavirus test, or who has had to wait a week or more for results, knows there has to be a better way. In fact, the next generation of tests will focus on speed.

But what should the Food and Drug Administration do with a rapid test that is comparatively cheap but much less accurate than the tests currently on the market? A test like that is ready to go up for FDA approval, and some scientists argue it could be valuable despite its shortcomings.

At first blush, you wouldn’t want a medical test to be pushing out untrustworthy results. And that’s certainly the case for a medical diagnosis. But rapid test could be valuable if used to screen large numbers of people for infection repeatedly and frequently.

For example, some of the rapid tests under development don’t detect the virus in a person who is in the early or late stages of infection — they only catch an infection at its peak. Dr. Michael Mina at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health says that’s OK, under certain circumstances.

“As long as you’re using the test on a pretty frequent basis,” Mina says, “you will be more likely than not to catch the person on the day they might go out and transmit. And they’ll know to stay home.”

To be useful, such tests need to be widely available and affordable, he says. “I envision a time when everyone can order a pack of 50 tests for $50 and have those and use them every other day for a couple of months.”

When it comes to controlling the epidemic, that could be an appealing alternative to the current laboratory-based system, an overburdened process that has become a serious bottleneck. These days, some people are waiting a week or more for results, and by then they have potentially spread the virus to others.

Highly accurate at-home tests are probably many months away. But Mina argues they could be here sooner if the FDA would not demand that tests for the coronavirus meet really high accuracy standards of 80 percent or better.


Debate about how to best approach this school year is widespread, even among some government experts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently called reopening schools “critically important for our public health.” And the agency’s newly updated guidance strongly emphasizes the importance of resuming in-person learning within the next couple of months.

Yet Erin K. Sauber-Schatz, Ph.D., the lead for the CDC Community Interventions and Critical Populations Task Force for the COVID-19 response, said that “decisions about how to reopen schools safely should be made on local needs and the level of community transmission. Each school in each community will have different needs and should implement the strategies that meet those needs.”

Tough days:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Vilified, threatened with violence and in some cases suffering from burnout, dozens of state and local public health leaders around the U.S. have resigned or have been fired amid the coronavirus outbreak, a testament to how politically combustible masks, lockdowns and infection data have become.

One of the latest departures came Sunday, when California’s public health director, Dr. Sonia Angell, was ousted following a technical glitch that caused a delay in reporting hundreds of thousands of virus test results — information used to make decisions about reopening businesses and schools.

Last week, New York City’s health commissioner was replaced after months of friction with the Police Department and City Hall.

A review by the Kaiser Health News service and The Associated Press finds at least 49 state and local public health leaders have resigned, retired or been fired since April across 23 states. The list has grown by more than 20 people since the AP and KHN started keeping track in June.

Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the numbers stunning. He said they reflect burnout, as well as attacks on public health experts and institutions from the highest levels of government, including from President Donald Trump, who has sidelined the CDC during the pandemic.

“The overall tone toward public health in the U.S. is so hostile that it has kind of emboldened people to make these attacks,” Frieden said.

Not Flannery:

The deed is done. A week after the decision by Loyola University Maryland to remove Flannery O’Connor’s name from one of its buildings, the cherry-pickers arrived on the school’s bucolic campus in northeast Baltimore and, letter by letter, the name of one America’s most iconic Catholic writers disappeared from the dormitory that had been known for more than a decade as Flannery O’Connor Hall.

The unnaming was anticlimactic. The campus is empty, not only because it is high summer, but also because of COVID-19. As a result, there were few witnesses. When students arrive back on campus, whenever that might be, few are likely to notice the change, because these days so few undergraduates are devotees of literature. Most are probably unaware of who Flannery O’Connor was and of the books she wrote. She meant little to them before, and will mean less than little after this.

But to a great many people, Flannery O’Connor means a great deal. This has never been more evident to me than now. In the wake of the public statement issued by the university’s president, Rev. Brian Linnane, SJ, explaining that O’Connor’s name would be removed because she does not “reflect Loyola’s Jesuit values,” hundreds of writers, scholars, readers, and admirers of O’Connor’s work have expressed their shock and sorrow to see her repudiated by the university. Many have posed the question, in essays, in emails, and in social-media posts: How is it possible that O’Connor, a devout Catholic who embraced her vocation as a Catholic as passionately as she embraced her vocation as a writer, could be ‘cancelled’ by a Catholic university, and, effectively, her own Church?

This question is easier to answer than one might suppose. It’s possible because of an essay published in the June 22 issue of the New Yorker, a magazine not generally sympathetic to Catholic writers, and written by Catholic critic and biographer Paul Elie. In the essay, bearing the incendiary title “How Racist Was Flannery O’Connor?,” Elie replicates passages from a recent book on Flannery O’Connor and race, using them to try to prove that O’Connor was a racist.

In the interest of full disclosure, I wrote the book in question, Radical Ambivalence: Race in Flannery O’Connor, wherein I present and explore those passages in an effort to arrive at an understanding of how a writer who created the powerful anti-racist parables we all know and admire—“Everything That Rises Must Converge,” “The Artificial Nigger,” “Judgment Day,” “Revelation,” and more—was in her personal correspondence also capable of entertaining and confessing racist thoughts.

Elie mines the book for what he refers to as “nasty” passages, removes them from the historical and personal context necessary for understanding them, and presents them to the New Yorker readership with little explanation, all as evidence of O’Connor’s American sin of racism. The problems with his essay are many. It is confusing, it is irresponsible, and it is an attempt to make the erroneous claim that he is the only critic ever to deal frankly with O’Connor’s complex attitude toward race. Critics have been wrestling with this since the early 1970s. Readers of Elie’s essay are never informed of this. There is, in short, nothing new or notable in what he presents.

Vaccines and the Virus:

(CNN)As US leaders work to control the spread of coronavirus, researchers across the globe are working to answer the mysteries that remain around infections.

One of those mysteries: why the experience can be so different from person to person. One expert says the answer may involve lookingat previous vaccines individuals have had.

“When we looked in the setting of Covid disease, we found that people who had prior vaccinations with a variety of vaccines — for pneumococcus, influenza, hepatitis and others — appeared to have a lower risk of getting Covid disease,” Dr. Andrew Badley, an infectious disease specialist at Mayo Clinic, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Monday night.

It’s what immunologists call immune training: how your immune system creates an effective response to fight off infections, Badley says.

“A good analogy is to think of your immune system as being a muscle,” he said. “The more you exercise that muscle, the stronger it will be when you need it.”

There’s been no definitive evidence of any other vaccines boosting immunity against Covid-19. But some researchers have suggested it’s possible.

Dogs and the Virus:

WHAT DOES A PANDEMIC SMELL LIKE? If dogs could talk, they might be able to tell us.

We’re part of an international research team, led by Dominique Grandjean at France’s National Veterinary School of Alfort, that has been training detector dogs to sniff out traces of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) since March.

These detector dogs are trained using sweat samples from people infected with COVID-19. When introduced to a line of sweat samples, most dogs can detect a positive one from a line of negative ones with 100% accuracy.

Across the globe, coronavirus detector dogs are being trained in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Belgium.

In the UAE, detector dogs – stationed at various airports – have already started helping efforts to control COVID-19’s spread. This is something we hope will soon be available in Australia too.

A KEEN NOSE — Our international colleagues found detector dogs were able to detect SARS-CoV-2 in infected people when they were still asymptomatic, before later testing positive.

Johnson and Johnson:

Six companies are currently evaluating COVID-19 vaccine candidates in late-stage testing. Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) isn’t one of them.

J&J was among the first to commit resources to a major effort to fight COVID-19. It established a partnership with the U.S. government early on to develop a novel coronavirus vaccine. It’s the biggest healthcare company in the world, with massive resources. And yet Johnson & Johnson lags well behind multiple rivals, both big and small.

Don’t discount J&J’s prospects, though. The healthcare giant’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate could have an ace in the hole that just might make it the biggest winner of all.

Johnson & Johnson announced the publication of results from a preclinical study of its lead vaccine candidate, Ad26.COV2-S, on July 30. You might not think preclinical results would be a big deal. After all, several of J&J’s rivals in the race to develop COVID-19 vaccines have already announced results from early-stage clinical studies in humans.

The company reported that its experimental vaccine induced a robust immune response in nonhuman primates. In particular, vaccination with Ad26.COV2-S resulted in the production of high levels of neutralizing antibodies, which hold the potential to prevent infection by the coronavirus. J&J noted that its vaccine candidate provided “complete or near-complete protection in the lungs from the virus” in the animals in the preclinical study.

All of that was great news. But what really made these preclinical results stand out was that the impressive immune response was obtained with only a single dose of Ad26.COV2-S. Other COVID-19 vaccine candidates that are farther along in clinical testing require two doses.

There are a couple of key reasons why a “one-and-done” vaccine is preferable to vaccines that require multiple doses. First, a single-dose vaccine is cheaper. Second, people would be more likely to receive a single vaccine dose than they would be to get both doses of a vaccine that requires two.

Better than empty malls:

Amazon may replace closed department stores at struggling malls.

The company is in talks with Simon Property Group, the largest mall owner in the United States, to convert former or current JCPenney and Sears stores into distribution hubs to deliver packages, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday. Both retail chains have filed for bankruptcy (Sears has since emerged from Chapter 11) and are closing hundreds of stores. Simon malls have 63 JCPenney and 11 Sears stores, according to its most recent public filing.

The deal could make sense for both Amazon and Simon as the e-commerce landscape shifts and many traditional brick-and-mortar stores are in collapse.

Amazon wants more space closer to where customers live as it builds out its one-day delivery strategy. Malls are typically located closer to highways and residential areas than mammoth warehouses, which would allow Amazon to speed up shipping times to customers.

Mall owners need cash-rich tenants to replace their bankrupt anchor stores. Although Amazon warehouses won’t be attracting much foot traffic, they’ll help to pay the bills.

“It is a win-win for both sides,” said Chris Walton, a former Target executive and now CEO of the retail blog Omni Talk. “Simon gets an anchor tenant and Amazon gets a more localized fulfillment center. For Amazon, the deal would also give it “a front row seat into developing the mall infrastructure for the future.”

It isn’t clear how many stores are under consideration for Amazon, and it is possible that the two sides may fail to reach an agreement, the Journal reported, citing people briefed on the matter. Amazon declined to comment to CNN Business. Simon did not respond to a request for comment.

The talks between Amazon and Simon reflect a growing trend in the retail industry of stores and malls turning into warehouses.

Catholic schools in trouble:

NEW YORK — As the new academic year arrives, school systems across the United States are struggling to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Roman Catholic educators have an extra challenge — trying to forestall a relentless wave of closures of their schools that has no end in sight.

Already this year, financial and enrollment problems aggravated by the pandemic have forced the permanent closure of more than 140 Catholic schools nationwide, according to officials who oversee Catholic education in the country.

Three of the nation’s highest-ranking Catholic leaders, in a recent joint appeal, said Catholic schools “are presently facing their greatest financial crisis” and warned that hundreds more closures are likely without federal support.

“Because of economic loss and uncertainty, many families are confronting the wrenching decision to pull their children out of Catholic schools,” said New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

They urged Congress to include funding in the next pandemic relief bill for scholarship assistance for economically disadvantaged families to use at Catholic or other private schools.

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