New York: What Happened to Paxlovid?

Paxlovid, the COVID antiviral developed by Pfizer, was hailed as a miracle drug against COVID-19 when it was approved for use by the FDA in December. But it was nowhere to be found during the Omicron wave that followed and now is little discussed and underused, with doses reportedly piling up on pharmacy shelves. Has Paxlovid failed to live up to the hype as a pandemic game changer, or is it another effective defense against COVID that’s been unjustly snubbed by a misinformed public?

For a frontline view I turned to my brother-in-law, John Emy, a doctor of internal medicine who practices with CareMount Medical in Manhattan and has been prescribing Paxlovid to his patients with COVID. He said he’s a fan — with qualifications. “I think it’s a great drug. It’s certainly very effective. It starts working pretty quickly,” he told me over the phone while walking to work. “Usually within 24 hours, the symptoms start to improve.” He wondered how badly it was really needed, though. “It’s probably wasted on the mildly ill,” he said. “Before we had Paxlovid, plenty of people who had mild symptoms would get over it and they were fine.”

Five hours later, he texted me that he’d thought of another argument for taking Paxlovid. “By reducing viral load quickly it could reduce contagiousness,” he wrote, before dropping the lede: “I woke up feeling not great, but then much worse on the subway after I spoke with you. I have COVID.” Continue reading New York: What Happened to Paxlovid?

New York: The Hunt for the Butchers of Bucha

Lena, a corporate executive living in Germany, left her native Ukraine in the 1990s but stays in regular contact with her extended family there. When Russia struck the family’s town soon after the invasion started, they sent Lena photos of bomb damage. Around the same time, she was searching for news about the war on social media when she came across an appeal by Ben Strick, an open-source investigator, for images to geolocate. She sent him one picture, and then more. “After three or four images, he offered me to join the team on a voluntary basis,” she says. “So I did.”

Today, Lena spends three hours a day of her spare time working with Strick’s team at the Center for Information Resilience, a U.K.-based nonprofit dedicated to countering misinformation, part of a worldwide community of open-source intelligence (OSINT) researchers studying the war in Ukraine. Like the rest of the world, the team has been shaken by the images from Bucha, where Russian forces are accused of executing civilians and torturing Ukrainian soldiers. For the past week, Lena and her colleagues have contributed to a collective effort to identify and locate the perpetrators — a task that’s especially relevant to Lena because her family members are currently living under Russian occupation as Bucha’s residents were. “Right now, it’s pretty peaceful where they live, but I don’t think it will stay that way. The fights will come,” she says. (Out of concern for their safety, she asked me to change her name.) Continue reading New York: The Hunt for the Butchers of Bucha

New York: The Superyacht Market Just Lost Some of Its Best Customers. It Doesn’t Care.

The 2022 Palm Beach International Boat Show is getting under way this weekend in Florida with all the lavishness you’d expect: $1.2 billion worth of boats glistening along the inland waterway, a VIP pavilion with open bar, and an accompanying contemporary-art fair. What it won’t have is many customers from the country that until recently was the second-largest market in the world for high-end yachts. Russia, which according to market observers has made up 9 percent of the total superyacht market, has been abruptly sidelined by the west’s unprecedented economic sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine. You’d never know it from the way the yacht market is booming.

“2022 started extremely well and we have seen strong sales activity across the board, which we expect to continue,” says Richard Lambert, head of sales at the yacht-brokerage firm Burgess, which sold more than $2 billion worth of yachts last year.

Losing a tenth of your customer base isn’t such a big deal, apparently, when the market is white-hot. For one thing, the sort of person who might buy a superyacht — often defined as any vessel for personal use over 131 feet in length — is in plentiful supply these days. Though the COVID pandemic triggered a worldwide recession, it saw the number of the world’s billionaires climb from 2,095 to 2,755 and their cumulative wealth increase by 60 percent, or $5 trillion.

If the sudden disappearance of Russian yacht buyers does ultimately have an effect, it may only be at the very highest end of the market. “Clients from Russia and the Middle East have a higher average length of yachts,” says Merijn de Waard, founder and director of SuperYacht Times. “They are more keen on the very big boats.” According to the publication’s statistics, the average Russian-owned superyacht is 200 feet long, compared to 177 feet for American-owned ones. Of the 13 superyachts that are over 140 meters in length (459 feet), nine are owned by Arab royalty and four of them are owned by Russians. Or maybe five. Italian authorities are currently holding the 459-foot Scheherazade in a small port on the Tuscan Coast. The owner might be the richest Russian of all, Vladimir Putin — no one’s completely sure. Continue reading New York: The Superyacht Market Just Lost Some of Its Best Customers. It Doesn’t Care.

New York: Is the U.S. Facing Another COVID Wave?

COVID is like Michael Myers in Halloween: just when you think it’s finally out of the picture, it comes back to threaten you again. Coronavirus cases in the U.S. have been plummeting for weeks, and hospitalizations are near an all-time low. But with another Omicron variant pushing up case numbers around the world, it seems depressingly plausible that at least one more wave — the sixth, if you’re counting — could be headed America’s way.

Omicron BA.2 is similar to the variant that caused this winter’s spike, BA.1. But it has 20 different mutations, four of them on a crucial region of the spike protein. These disparities are likely part of the reason BA.2 appears to be considerably more transmissible than the original Omicron — 33 percent, according to one Danish study. BA.2 is also thought to infect vaccinated people more easily than its forebear, though, fortunately, it does not appear to be any deadlier. First detected in the Philippines in November, the variant spread widely in South Africa and India in December and has since become the dominant strain around the world.

It’s hitting parts of Asia particularly hard. China, which imposed strict, widespread lockdowns during the early days of the pandemic and has maintained a “Zero COVID” strategy since, mostly avoided the waves that hit the U.S. and Europe. Then BA.2 showed up. In the last few weeks, the number of cases in China has surged from 300 a day to more than 3000. In response, the Chinese authorities have re-imposed lockdown measures affecting more than 50 million people. Continue reading New York: Is the U.S. Facing Another COVID Wave?

New York: The DIY Intelligence Analysts Feasting on Ukraine

Alex McKeever, a part-time furniture mover in Ridgewood, Queens, woke up Wednesday and started scrolling on his phone. Like many of us, he’s been obsessed with the invasion of Ukraine and has been spending ten hours a day trying to piece together what was happening from news coverage and social media. That morning, McKeever, who is 30, saw that someone had tweeted a video of destroyed vehicles in a suburb of Kyiv called Bucha. It appeared to be the aftermath of a significant battle. The blackened wreckage of numerous Russian military vehicles lay scattered and smoldering along the road. Where exactly, McKeever wondered, had it taken place?

He wasn’t idly musing. For the last six years, McKeever has been active in open-source intelligence, or OSINT, which involves gathering and analyzing online information in much the same way that government intelligence professionals analyze classified data: identifying when and where events took place, who was involved, what kinds of weapons were used, and so on.

The movement began in 2011, when internet hobbyists began studying social-media posts to identify war crimes and human-rights violations in Syria. It grew steadily in the years that followed, then accelerated when Russian forces started massing near Ukraine late last year. OSINT findings proved vital in validating the Biden administration’s claims throughout February that an attack was imminent, and they informed subsequent coverage by traditional print and broadcast outlets. That exposure, in turn, drew a wave of new volunteers, many of them eager to help the Ukrainian cause. “I’ve had 50, 60 people a day getting in touch, offering their skill sets,” says Ross Burley, executive director of the Centre for Information Resilience, a U.K. nonprofit focused on countering misinformation. “We’ve had teachers, engineers, doctors. It’s staggering how everyone is coming together for this.” Continue reading New York: The DIY Intelligence Analysts Feasting on Ukraine

Putin’s War Isn’t Just in Ukraine. It’s in America, Too

Photo by Matti from Pexels

The specter of Russian troops and tanks pouring into Ukraine has shocked the world and generated collective revulsion. Putin’s motives in carrying out this unprovoked attack are clear. Ukraine’s democratic society presents an existential threat to his regime, because it shows the Russian people that there is a better alternative to Putin’s oppressive and corrupt autocracy.

Scenes of Ukrainian resistance have stirred onlookers around the globe, and caused many to wonder: what can I do to help? Some answers including attending rallies, donating to charities that support Ukraine, and letting your legislators know how you feel. But the most important — indeed, the super urgent — thing any of us can do is to realize that the fight isn’t just over there. The invasion of Ukraine is just one battle in a worldwide campaign of fascist aggression. And one of the most important theaters of war is right here in the United States.

This has been true for a long time, but so far it’s been hard for the majority of Americans to accept. As we saw during the buildup to the invasion of Ukraine, even in the face of clear evidence, it’s difficult for many to grasp the extent of Putin’s ruthlessness and ambition. Hopefully the launching of this conventional aggression will stir Americans out of their slumber.

How do we know that America is under Russian attack? The evidence has been sitting in plain sight. Continue reading Putin’s War Isn’t Just in Ukraine. It’s in America, Too

New York: What to Expect From the Variants to Come

It was a reasonable hope: that in time, the novel coronavirus would steadily evolve to become a less dangerous version of itself. We’ve certainly seen this happen with diseases before, such as the 1918 influenza, which killed millions during its first two years but then mutated into a relatively benign form that still circulates today. Likewise, Omicron, though far more infectious than the variants that preceded it, has proven to be somewhat less deadly on a case-for-case basis. Assuming that trend continues, SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, is in the process of evolving into a relatively symbiotic companion to the human species.

But that idea is a fantasy, say virologists who study the disease closely. “We’re not going to see that,” says Ravindra Gupta, a microbiologist at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. “It’s factually wrong.” Variants will keep coming, and we have no reason to expect that they’ll be less virulent. They could well be both more transmissible and more deadly than anything we’ve seen so far. Continue reading New York: What to Expect From the Variants to Come

New York: 5G Will Not Make Your Plane Fall Out of the Sky

The U.S. aviation industry has been in a tizzy this week over fears that Wednesday’s launch of national 5G cellular service would create chaos by interfering with aircraft sensors. Ten major airlines wrote to the Biden administration predicting that the “nation’s commerce will grind to a halt.” Sure enough, come Wednesday, a number of airline flights were canceled, including all of Emirates’ U.S. flights. Emirates president Tim Clark called the 5G rollout “delinquent, utterly irresponsible.”

But by Thursday, the story had already fizzled. As commerce trundled along unfazed, several airlines un-canceled their flights and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that at least 78 percent of the U.S. commercial fleet would be unaffected in any way by the 5G rollout. Some observers went so far as to label the issue “incredibly dumb.” The main remaining question was why it had even turned into a thing in the first place. Continue reading New York: 5G Will Not Make Your Plane Fall Out of the Sky

New York: Ian Urbina’s Perfect Storm: Did a journalist get into the music business to help the oceans or help himself?

By the time I get Ian Urbina on the phone Wednesday afternoon, he’s ready to tell his story. He picks up on the first ring and makes quick work of the pleasantries. “So, if it’s okay with you,” he says, “my inkling would be to start with kind of its origin story? You’re welcome to record.” Sure, I say, and away he goes.

It’s not hard to hear the edge of unease in his voice, the anxiety of a veteran newspaperman who has had a hand in crafting many narratives and has spent the last five days watching his own spin decisively out of control. To be fair, his particular crisis is one that a Pulitzer Prize–winning former New York Times reporter could scarcely have imagined unfolding even a few years ago. It’s a distinctly 2021 scandal, and one he’s figuring out how to navigate on the fly.

The week before had started out actually quite well for Urbina. On Sunday, November 28, the New Yorker published his 10,000-word opus about Libya’s renegade coast guard militias, a piece that landed him a spot on MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes and NPR’s All Things Considered. But then, on Thursday, came something unexpected. A musician and YouTuber named Benn Jordan posted a 20-minute video entitled “How A NYTimes Reporter Collects Royalties From Hundreds of Musicians” that accused him of engineering an elaborate swindle in an entirely different line of business. Urbina was signing up artists to make music for a side project by promising them huge exposure that never materialized in exchange for collecting half the revenue. The case laid out by Jordan was strange, outrageous, and not entirely accurate —and triggered a swift Twitter pile-on.

It was at this juncture that Urbina made a questionable tactical decision. He went on the attack. Instead of engaging with the charges, he tried to crush them, blocking Jordan on Twitter along with anyone else who criticized him. He posted a statement on Medium calling Jordan’s video a “mass trolling.” And he shut down journalists trying to report out the story. When Inputmagazine reached out to him, Urbina declined to answer questions, nor did he respond when Rolling Stone asked for comment.

The results were not good. “Folks were making death threats,” Urbina tells me.

“You’re getting death threats?” I ask.

“Not a lot of them. But yes, we’ve gotten, you know, it’s just — you would be amazed.” Then he catches himself, and I feel the weird hall-of-mirrors effect of interviewing someone who is very experienced at interviewing others and therefore very aware of how his words sound and how they might be used. “But, you know, I don’t know if I should say that on record, because it could be like, ‘Oh, look, he’s complaining and he’s trying to play this.’ And I’m not doing that.”

He presses on, explaining in a clear, steady cadence what happened and why. It’s all a misunderstanding, he says; and where Jordan sees a scam, Urbina describes a plan to expand the reach of his journalism to a new audience. The case he makes is mostly compelling, but there are gaps. Continue reading New York: Ian Urbina’s Perfect Storm: Did a journalist get into the music business to help the oceans or help himself?