Monday, August 18, 2014
by Tamuira Reid
I don't like writing about depression. Because it's hard to get right in words. Because I sound like an asshole when I try. Because I am too close to it still. Because my memory of what happened feels faulty at best.
I remember light streaming through the blinds, big fat rays of sun, hitting me in the face. I remember a phone next to me, maybe in the palm of my hand, maybe wedged between the mattress and my thigh. Cold coffee on the nightstand. Cigarette ash on the sheets. I remember the sounds of kids playing on the street below, throwing rocks at a metal shop gate.
Friends told me to buck up. Pull it together. Muscle through. They said things like fake it till you make it and everything happens for a reason. They blamed it on global warming. Growing pains. Venus is in retrograde, after all.
They wanted me to will myself better and all I wanted was to write my will. I thought I was dying. I believed with every fiber left of my being that I was dying. Case closed. The party is over.
The more I needed people the more I retreated from them. How could I tell them that I couldn't feel my body? That it was completely disconnected from my mind? I was a person in parts, each part trying to function in its dysfunction. Pieces that no longer fit together in a way that made any sense.
My neighbor at the time, a well-meaning philosophy professor that only left his apartment long enough each day to teach and buy wine, told me that depression comes in waves. But that made it sound too beautiful. There was nothing good about the bad. He suffered from melancholy, a sort of condition that he became addicted to, enamored of. A powerful, deep sadness that became life-affirming for him. People broke his heart but in a pretty, poetic way. And this somehow gave him buoyancy in this world.
But my depression felt different.
by Brooks Riley
by Dwight Furrow
The world of food and wine thrives on a heavy dose of nostalgia. Culinarians ("foodies'" in the vernacular) chase down heritage tomatoes, ferment their own vinegar, and learn to butcher hogs in the name of "how things used to be" before the industrial food business created TV dinners and Twinkies. As we scour the Internet for authentic recipes, we imagine simpler times of family farms supporting family feasts consisting of real food, prepared in homey, immaculate kitchens with fruit pies on the windowsill, and the kids shelling beans at the table. Similarly, the wine industry continues to thrive on the romantic myth of the noble winemaker diligently tilling a small vineyard year after year to hand-produce glorious wines that taste of the local soil and climate.
Of course, in reality the winemaking of days past was not so romantic. Bad weather would have ruined some vintages and difficulties in controlling fermentation temperatures and unsanitary conditions in the winery rendered many wines barely drinkable. As to the way we ate in the not-to-distant past, for most people, food was scarce, expensive, of poor quality and often unsafe. Kitchens, if they existed, were poorly equipped and their operation depended on difficult, relentless work by women. Only the wealthy could eat in the manner approaching the quality of contemporary nostalgic yearnings, but that quality usually depended on the work of underpaid kitchen staff after slavery was abolished.
Nostalgia is a form of selective memory, history without the bad parts, enabling us to enjoy the past without guilt.
Does this dependency on myth render our contemporary fascination with the foods of the past a kind of kitsch—a sentimental, clichéd, easily marketed longing that offers "emotional gratification without intellectual effort" in Walter Benjamin's formulation, an aesthetic and moral failure? Worse, is this longing for the past a conservative resistance to the modern world. The word "nostalgia" has Greek roots—from nostos and algia meaning "longing to return home". Are contemporary culinarians and wine enthusiasts longing for a return to the "good" old days?
by Kathleen Goodwin
Few students of colonial history can deny the power of spoken and written language to subject and subdue a population. Zia Haider Rahman's "dazzling debut" of a novel, "In the Light of What We Know", contrasts two South Asian characters who attended Oxford together as undergrads—a privileged Pakistani narrator who becomes an investment banker in London and his friend Zafar, an impoverished refugee of the 1971 Bangladeshi Liberation War turned Harvard educated international human rights lawyer. One of the central themes of the novel is the way language can exert power over individuals and groups, as well as entire nations. Spoken language is an obvious manifestation of the tension created by modern day neo-colonialism or the 1971 splintering of Bengali-speaking East Pakistan from Urdu-speaking West Pakistan. But Rahman also explores a parallelism in the way language—in the form of industry jargon, acronyms and other forms of coded phrasing— can create power structures with remarkable potency.
"In The Light of What We Know" skips around temporally but the narrative is centered around London in 2008, in the midst of the unfurling financial crisis. The nameless narrator is revealed to not only be a banker, but the head of the mortgage-backed securities unit of his (also unnamed) global investment bank and thus on the verge of losing his job as the public condemns him and his counterparts for the calamity that is taking place. Tellingly, Rahman's résumé includes a stint as a Wall Street investment banker prior to becoming a novelist. His purpose does not appear to be to crucify the financial sector, rather his novel explores the great irony of the financial crisis—the securities derived from residential mortgages, which when the American housing market collapsed became essentially worthless and set off the chain of events that have changed history forever, were vetted and encouraged by the entities that should have understood and prevented the systemic risk to global markets these securities posed. Rahman's narrator explains this as being a function of the incestuous and hierarchical relationship between the big banks and the ratings agencies and regulators. The narrator describes a financial club of sorts, headed by chummy Oxford classmates who maintain a revolving door hiring policy and most importantly—speak a financial language incomprehensible to the ignorant public. The critical point is the way these hidden power structures allowed the conditions preceding the financial crisis to occur. The ratings agencies and regulators were compliant with the investment banks while the rest of society was unaware of the huge gambles being sanctioned, which eventually proved to be detrimental to the stability of the global economy.
by Shadab Zeest Hashmi
Starry night, a large starry night with infinite trees, is the background of what seems to be an architectural form— a balcony, bridge, courtyard with pillars? In the foreground, a sphere with a curve draped over it like an arm. This drawing has the expansiveness that suggests eternity (or waiting for what seems like an eternity) and monumentality, as well as intimacy, a sense of security. A birthday present from my teenage son, this abstract drawing is titled “colic.” The architectural form is a crib, the starry sky is the sleepless, endless night of shared anxiety between a mother and her colicky newborn.
I am handed this drawing on my return from an evening in New York City, my eyes still filled with the lambent and the monumental, with sorrows hidden under careful inscriptions; riches, anxiety, loneliness, poverty, and also a plentitude of heart, a sharing of burdens. My son’s drawing belongs in the series of photographs I have just taken of the city— of monumentality and intimacy: endless tunnel ceilings, vertiginous buildings, old trees, sparkle, strangers caught sharing a laugh as they contend with waiting in queue together. Wear this city like a jewel if you will, or a sensible shoe— carry it like a bouquet of nerves, or an empty envelope— New York is resplendent and humble, so high and mighty it gives you the cold shoulder, so electric it sings you into rebirth.
“Colic” is about birth, and the anxiety and excitement of growth. When I read New York into this drawing, I see the loftiness of empire— starry and sorry— the darkness of hierarchies, the bond of empathy. I see the struggle for meeting the definition of nationhood, the founding fathers are in the high rises, in the homeless, in the cogs and wheels, in the sobs and hiccups of the centuries.
But it is my birthday today and this drawing jolts me into the realization that the night sky is still full of uncertainty, mystery and hope— colic is still a good metaphor for life, that I still long for my own mother’s protective arms, that nothing is sweeter than to be remembered as an extended arm by my son.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
Carl Zimmer in the New York Times:
Your body is home to about 100 trillion bacteria and other microbes, collectively known as your microbiome. Naturalists first became aware of our invisible lodgers in the 1600s, but it wasn’t until the past few years that we’ve become really familiar with them.
This recent research has given the microbiome a cuddly kind of fame. We’ve come to appreciate how beneficial our microbes are — breaking down our food, fighting off infections and nurturing our immune system. It’s a lovely, invisible garden we should be tending for our own well-being.
But in the journal Bioessays, a team of scientists has raised a creepier possibility. Perhaps our menagerie of germs is also influencing our behavior in order to advance its own evolutionary success — giving us cravings for certain foods, for example.
Maybe the microbiome is our puppet master.
“One of the ways we started thinking about this was in a crime-novel perspective,” said Carlo C. Maley, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, San Francisco, and a co-author of the new paper. “What are the means, motives and opportunity for the microbes to manipulate us? They have all three.”
Massimo Pigliucci in Scientia Salon:
Graham Priest is a colleague of mine at City University of New York’s Graduate Center, a world renowned expert in logic, a Buddhist connoisseur, and an all-around nice guy . So I always pay attention to what he says or writes. Recently he published a piece in Aeon magazine  entitled “Beyond true and false: Buddhist philosophy is full of contradictions. Now modern logic is learning why that might be a good thing.” I approached it with trepidation, for a variety of reasons. To begin with, I am weary of attempts at reading things into Buddhism or other Asian traditions of thought that are clearly not there (the most egregious example being the “documentary” What The Bleep Do We Know?, and the most frustrating one the infamous The Tao of Physics, by Fritjof Capra). But I quickly reassured myself because I knew Graham would do better than that.
Second, Graham knows a lot more than I do about both logic and Buddhism (especially the latter), so surely I was going to learn new things about both topics and, more crucially, how they are related to each other. The problem is that I ended up learning and appreciating more about logic, not so much about Buddhism, and very little about their congruence. Hence this essay.
I am going to follow Graham’s exposition pretty closely, and will of course invite him to comment on my take at his pleasure. Broadly speaking, my thesis is that the parallels that Graham sees between logic and Buddhism are more superficial than he understands them to be and, more importantly, that Buddhism as presented in his essay, is indeed a type of mysticism, not a philosophy, which means that logic (and, consequently, argumentation) are besides the point. Moreover, I will argue that even if the parallels with logic run as deep as Graham maintains, Buddhism would still face the issue — fundamental in any philosophy — of whether what it says is true of the world or not, an issue that no mystical tradition is actually equipped to handle properly.
As Iraq faces a new crisis, the novel Baghdad Central explores the freighted “moment of ambiguity” a decade earlier.
Guernica: Baghdad Central is unusual first of all for its Iraqi protagonist. What was the genesis of the book?
Elliott Colla: I saw The Hurt Locker in August 2009. I thought it was a great film but it also really disappointed and infuriated me. Here was another great work about American war in the Middle East, and yet again there are no non-American characters. Iraqis in that film are either victims or perpetrators and Americans get to be heroes. I was with a friend, and we talked about how we should just flip that on its head. What would it be like to have a movie where all the heroes were Iraqi and all the Americans are on the periphery? I sat down and wrote, and when I woke up the next morning I had this character, Khafaji, in my mind. Then there was the work of imagination and research. I was going to take the American bogeyman, the villain—the Baathist war criminal—and see what it would be like to make this kind of person into a hero. What would it take to make a reader like him, or become interested in his story before they learn that he’s a war criminal?
Guernica: How knowledgeable of Iraq were you at the time?
Elliott Colla: Recently I heard Barbara Ehrenreich talk about her writing process, and in response to a question on whether to write what you know, she said, “Listen, I write what I want to know.” I couldn’t put it any better.
Justin E. H. Smith in his own blog:
There have been many forceful contributions recently to the discussion of academic philosophy's 'white man problem' (see in particular here). I have been trying in my own way to contribute to these discussions, but what I am able to contribute is limited by the fact that in my social identity I am pegged as a cis straight white man (though in truth, I feel like protesting, it is far more complicated than this; and isn't it always!), and also by the fact that I disagree with my political allies in the effort to make academic philosophy more inclusive on some fundamental philosophical points as to what this inclusiveness must involve. Allow me to elaborate briefly on this latter limitation.
Jonardon Ganeri, following Homi Bhabha, articulates a distinction between two sorts of intercultural communication: cosmopolitanism and pluralism. Cosmopolitanism tends to interpret different viewpoints as "co-inhabitants in a single matrix, and to that extent [as] susceptible to syncretism," while the cardinal tenet of pluralism "is that the irreconcilable absence of consensus is itself something of political, social, or philosophical value" (31). It has come to seem to me that most proposed solutions to the 'white man problem' in philosophy are based on a philosophical commitment to pluralism, in the sense defined, whereas I believe that cosmopolitanism is far more appropriate to the subject under investigation: expressions of philosophical ideas about, say, mind-body dualism, or the relationship between utterances and the things the utterances are about, really do exist in a universal matrix, bounded by the evolutionary history of the human species, whether they occur in Europe, India, or Amazonia. To study any of these ideas as if they were the particular property of any constituency in virtue of affiliation or ancestry is simply bad scholarship.
Nina Martyris in Forbes India:
Gabriel García Márquez, the genius of the imagination who died in April at the age of 87, may not have written on India, but he had a multifaceted connection with the country that can be boiled down to three people: A Gandhi, a gypsy, and a Rushdie. Gandhi first, and for that we must wind back to a magical morning in October, 1982, when the news broke that the Latin American writer who had enchanted the world with One Hundred Years of Solitude had been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.
In that joyous moment, Gabo became to Colombia what Pele is to Brazil. For this beautiful Caribbean country battered by poverty, drug violence and civil war, the fact that one of its countrymen had won the Nobel was akin to it winning the World Cup. And because Gabo had grown up dirt poor and could be as coarse as a sailor and as chivalrous as Don Quixote, celebrations erupted not just in Bogota’s linen-clad salons but in the country’s barrios and villages as well. Taxi drivers in Barranquilla, where Gabo had spent his early years as a journalist, heard the news on their radios and began to toot their horns in unison. One excited reporter asked a prostitute if she had heard, and she replied, yes, a client had told her in bed. This nugget would have delighted the new laureate, for not only are prostitutes—especially the trembling child prostitute—portrayed with extraordinary sympathy in his stories (his depiction reminds one of Manto’s Bombay prostitutes), he himself had lived above a brothel in his youth when he was unable to afford more respectable quarters. Publicly Gabo maintained that winning the Nobel would be “an absolute catastrophe”, but secretly he longed for it. And so, when the Swedish minister called his home in Mexico City with the news, he put down the phone, turned to his beloved wife Mercedes, and said: “I’m fucked”.
That day, his telephone was so jammed with calls that his old friend Fidel Castro was forced to send a telegram: “Justice has been done at last… Impossible to get through by phone.” Far away in New Delhi, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi thrilled to the news, not least because she happened to be in the middle of One Hundred Years of Solitude. In a lucky turn of events, Gandhi got a chance to meet Castro the very next month in Moscow, where they’d both gone to attend Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev’s funeral. Why don’t you bring your friend to India for the Non Aligned Movement summit next year, she suggested. Why not, said Castro.
Jake Flanagin in The Morning News:
There is an old Tamil proverb: “Even an elephant can slip.” It is not a challenging metaphor to parse out—even the greatest beasts may fall. And when they do, the impact is ground-shaking. After all, their physical magnitude is biblically ordained: “Behold now Behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox… His bones are as strong as pieces of brass; his limbs are like bars of iron” (Job 40:15-18). And yet, despite inch-thick skin and bones like brass, Behemoth feels pain—great pain. And has a corresponding capacity for great relief. His nerves function like those of any other warm-blooded creature; bundling and fraying, crackling with neuro-electric energy. And when that signal ascends the spinal column, arriving at the thalamus and dispersing to the various cortexes that register hurt and reprieve, Behemoth may even shed a tear or two. When Raju the Indian elephant was unshackled from the chains that bound his “bars of iron” for more than five decades, rescuers observed what they described as “gushes of liquid” pouring forth from the animal’s eyes, cascading down his cheeks. A video of his rescue by Indian animal-rights advocates, and the accompanying tears, rode through the public consciousness on a wave of internet virality: “50 Years a Slave,” “This Elephant Was Released After 50 Years in Chains… You Won’t Believe What Happened Next,” et cetera.
...In March of this year, a wild male elephant raged through a village in the state of West Bengal. Dipak Mahato awoke to violent crashing sounds as the bull besieged his home. He recalled hearing a loud “cracking sound” coming from the bedroom of his 10-month-old daughter: “We ran over and were shocked to see the wall in pieces and a tusker standing over our baby,” he said, according to the Times of India. “She was crying and there were huge chunks of the wall lying all around and on the cot. The tusker started moving away but when our child started crying again, it returned and used its trunk to remove the debris.” Mahato’s wife, Lalita, was shocked by the beast’s seemingly instantaneous shift from furor to almost parental tenderness. “We worship Lord Ganesh in our village. Still, I can’t believe that the tusker saved my daughter after breaking down the door and smashing a wall. We watched amazed as it gently removed the debris that had fallen on her. It’s a miracle.”
Sanjiv Bhattacharya in The Telegraph:
Here was a young couple driving home through Hancock Park, a well-heeled suburb of mansions and manicured lawns. Lewis was a thriving film producer of 36, best known for the huge comedy hit Look Who’s Talking, starring John Travolta, and Marcy, 27, was in marketing. They’d been married five months. Then out of nowhere, a white Chevrolet van hit them at 75mph, an absurd speed for the neighbourhood. Marcy was killed outright and Lewis was so thoroughly broken that the paramedic on the scene took him for dead. The Chevrolet driver, meanwhile, fled the scene, and was never caught. That was the story the Times ran with – the destructive experience of a hit-and-run in a city where everyone drives everywhere.
Twenty years on, that crash continues to reverberate. Only this time, it’s a happier story, one that Lewis has told in a book, Rise and Shine, and before large audiences at numerous public events. It’s the story of his astonishing recovery, and it not only gives hope to sufferers of traumatic brain injury (TBI), but provides proof, in the most dramatic fashion, of the brain’s incredible ability to regenerate and reorganise itself. Doctors simply didn’t expect Lewis to live on the night of “the trauma”, as his mother Pat calls it. When two Jaws of Life machines freed him from the wreckage, he’d sustained a broken skull, jaw, arms, clavicle and pelvis, with compound fractures in nine ribs. And then there was the “catastrophic brain insult” he’d suffered – a stroke that destroyed a third of his right hemisphere and caused a contusion to the brainstem and severe internal bleeding.
Saturday, August 16, 2014
Matthew Hennessey in City Journal:
Comedy, they say, is tragedy plus time. It may take a while for the world to laugh again at the comic genius of Robin Williams, who died this week, apparently at his own hand, after what he himself called a long struggle with addiction and depression. This sudden and tragic ending seems at odds with the joie de vivre that he brought to his work. Manic, magical, incandescent, uncontainable—there aren’t adjectives enough to describe Williams’s improvisational talent and the role he played in American popular culture over four decades.
He was the Keith Moon of comedy, barely believable, a sweaty mess yet somehow right on the beat, a size XXXL figure with almost no earthly point of reference. It seemed as if he’d arrived fully formed, in an interstellar egg-ship like his first, wholly original creation—the now nearly non-translatable icon of the late 1970s, Mork from Ork. Then it seemed as if he’d always been here, as Popeye, as Garp, as the tweedy English teacher you never had but always wanted, as the zany and improbably Scottish Mrs. Doubtfire. He was a slam dunk on Leno or Letterman. In fact, he was a slam dunk everywhere. There were no half-assed Robin Williams appearances. He never phoned it in; you got the sense that he couldn’t. Like any comedian, some of his gags didn’t land, but not for lack of trying. Williams was all-in to make us laugh. The price, it seems, was paid mostly by him. His public exuberance masked private anguish. And in the end, tragedy won out of over comedy, as it does for many who strive to make us laugh.
Rebecca Willis in More Intelligent Life:
Forty-five years ago today, four young men walked across a zebra crossing in north-west London, the shutter of a camera clicked, and history was made. The cover of the Beatles' 11th studio album immortalised the Abbey Road crossing—and everything else in the picture, too. (Apparently the number plate of the white VW Beetle parked half on the pavement in the background was repeatedly stolen.) Paul McCartney, who still lives around the corner, had the idea for the image and sketched it out. The creative director decided not to put the name of the band or the album on the cover—even though EMI wanted it—because "they were the most famous band in the world". And so, thanks to the contagion of celebrity, it's now the most famous zebra crossing in the world. Those of us who live nearby are accustomed to being asked for directions to Abbey Road by strangers outside the tube station. Legions of fans crowd the crossing—especially at this time of year, and no doubt even more today—eager for their chance to get “The Shot”. There is even a "crossing cam", so you can watch it live online.
If you drive regularly over it, as I do, you soon learn that the rules of the Highway Code are virtually impossible to implement here. You can still "look out for pedestrians waiting to cross" and "be ready to slow down or stop to let them cross", but however much you may want to "give way when a pedestrian has moved onto a crossing", they just don't want you to. They wave you impatiently on, scanning the road beyond for a break in the traffic. The last thing they want is your car in their photo—even my little electric car, which is white and could do a passable imitation of the Beetle behind George Harrison's head. What the fans possibly don't know is that, at 11.35am on August 8th 1969 (also a Friday), a policeman stopped the traffic for the shoot, and the photographer, Iain Macmillan, stood on a stepladder in the middle of the road to get his vantage point.
Laurie Garrett in Foreign Policy (Sean Gallup/Getty Images for Siemens):
Last week, my brilliant Council on Foreign Relations colleague John Campbell, former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, warned that spread of the virus inside Lagos -- which has a population of 22 million -- would instantly transform this situation into a worldwide crisis, thanks to the chaos, size, density, and mobility of not only that city but dozens of others in the enormous, oil-rich nation. Add to the Nigerian scenario civil war, national elections, Boko Haram terrorists, and a countrywide doctors' strike -- all of which are real and current -- and you have a scenario so overwrought and frightening that I could not have concocted it even when I advised screenwriter Scott Burnson his Contagion script.
Inside the United States, politicians, gadflies, and much of the media are focused on wildly experimental drugs and vaccines, and equally wild notions of "keeping the virus out" by barring travelers and "screening at airports."
Let's be clear: Absolutely no drug or vaccine has been proven effective against the Ebola virus in human beings. To date, only one person -- Dr. Kent Brantly -- has apparentlyrecovered after receiving one of the three prominent putative drugs, and there is no proof that the drug was key to his improvement. None of the potential vaccines has even undergone Phase One safety trials in humans, though at least two are scheduled to enter that stage before December of this year. And Phase One is the swiftest, easiest part of new vaccine trials -- the two stages of clinical trials aimed at proving that vaccines actually work will be difficult, if not impossible, to ethically and safely execute. If one of the vaccines is ready to be used in Africa sometime in 2015, the measure will be executed without prior evidence that it can work, which in turn will require massive public education to ensure that people who receive the vaccination do not change their behaviors in ways that might put them in contract with Ebola -- because they mistakenly believe they are immune to the virus.
We are in for a very long haul with this extremely deadly disease -- it has killed more than 50 percent of those laboratory-confirmed infections, and possibly more than 70 percent of the infected populations of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Nigeria is struggling to ensure that no secondary spread of Ebola comes from one of the people already infected by Liberian traveler Patrick Sawyer -- two of whom have died so far.
Few habits are as prone to affliction, or as vulnerable to an ordeal, as the bent of a peddler’s consciousness. Placeless, the peddler completes an untold number of transactions; there are ideas to conduct (through language, which can transact a mind) and feelings to certify (through tasks, repeated interminably).
One example: Kleist, writing at the start of the nineteenth century, wanted the mind to catch up to language, which leads the way. Ideas, in Kleist’s view, can be made to syncopate with speech—and the mind can arrive at the summit or at the top of an idea—but through language alone, which forms and dispatches a thought spontaneously. For Kleist, what matters is the movement of a consciousness; an idea can never be fixed, but created only by the whim, and the digressiveness, of thinking aloud.
Another, much earlier example: the mystic, who expends a human life to verify his piousness, and whose own movement entails an ongoing series of tasks, a life project, that ensures the intimacy of his relationship with God. Events, like ideas, are replayed endlessly in the soul of the believer (the soul being, for the mystic, the exemplary scene of revelation).
The subtitle of this entertaining biography describes CK Scott Moncrieff as a “Soldier, Spy and Translator”. But Jean Findlay, his great-great-niece, makes clear in Chasing Lost Time that the list of his accomplishments and activities did not end there. Scott Moncrieff was also a generous family man, a promiscuous homosexual and a converted Catholic. His colourful, 40-year life somehow seems to embody almost every literary cliché of his time, from poet of the trenches to jazz age expat. And yet his name never appeared on the front cover of any of the 20-odd books he published.
Born in 1889, Scott Moncrieff took part in the first world war and, like many sensitive young officers of his generation, he wrote poetry; unlike Siegfried Sassoon (whom he disliked) or Wilfred Owen (with whom he was in love), however, Scott Moncrieff’s poems were not bleak portrayals of futility and horror but rather jaunty little rhymes. In “Billeted” (published in 1917), for example, he wrote:
Mustn’t think we don’t mind when a chap gets laid out,They’ve taken the best of us, never a doubt;But with life pretty busy, and death rather nearWe’ve no time for regret any more than for fear . . .
Ice. You remember ice. The stuff that forestalled so many polar explorers back before global warming and dreams of beachfront homes along the shores of Baffin Bay. But, as Hampton Sides reminds us in this first-rate polar history and adventure narrative, the notion of mildish weather in the Arctic did not begin with climate change. Just 150 years ago many believed that the Gulf Stream and its counterpart in the Pacific, the Kuroshio, reached all the way to the North Pole. Once a ship broke through a rim of ice circling the top of the globe, the thinking went, it would encounter an open polar sea and easy sailing to the pole.
Following the failed tries in the mid-19th century to discover a Northwest Passage and make progress north between Canada and Greenland, many experts, including August Petermann — the eminent German geographer known as the Sage of Gotha and, as Sides writes, “probably the world’s most vocal and indefatigable advocate of the Open Polar Sea theory” — argued for an attack on the pole from the other side of North America through the Bering Strait.
Peter Reuell in the Harvard Gazette:
Film editors play a critical role by helping shape raw footage into a narrative. Part of the challenge is that their work can have a profound impact on the finished product — with just a few cuts in the wrong places, comedy can become tragedy, or vice versa.
A similar process, “alternative splicing,” is at work inside the bodies of billions of creatures — including humans. Just as a film editor can change the story with a few cuts, alternative splicing allows cells to stitch genetic information into different formations, enabling a single gene to produce up to thousands of different proteins.
Harvard scientists say they’ve now been able to observe that process within the nervous system of a living creature.
Using genetic tools to implant genes that produce fluorescent proteins in the DNA of transparent C. elegans worms, John Calarco, a Bauer Fellow at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Center for Systems Biology, and postdoctoral researcher Adam Norris were able to gather hard evidence that the alternative splicing process frequently works differently in different types of neurons.The study was described in a recent paper in Molecular Cell.
“Splicing is an essential process in gene regulation that happens in most eukaryotic cells, all the time,” Calarco said. “It’s a fundamental part of how eukaryotic genes produce proteins, but when it goes wrong, it can lead to any number of diseases, including in the nervous system.”
On the surface, Calarco said, the splicing process is relatively simple.
More here. [Thanks to Sughra Raza.]
Kong Tsung-gan in Hong Wrong:
In any freedom struggle, much of the struggle is between not only the oppressed and their oppressor but between the oppressed themselves, some of whom side with the oppressor, and within each of the oppressed, who in struggling against their oppressor also struggle against the voices within themselves that tell them to unconditionally obey authority or that there must be something wrong with them if they have such a grievance against ‘the way things are’, or that even if there is something wrong, it is utterly futile to fight it. The fault lines are many. Such is the case in the Hong Kong freedom struggle. This is the result of Hong Kong’s history as a colony and an immigrant society.
In the entirety of its modern history, from the start of British colonial rule in 1842 up to today (when Hong Kong is essentially under a new colonial rule of the Chinese Communist Party), Hong Kong has always been a colony and never been a democracy. Like the rest of China, it has no democratic tradition. Much of the current freedom struggle involves building the democratic culture Hong Kong has never had from the ground up. Creating culture, changing culture is by no means an overnight process. It takes time. The question is, Does Hong Kong have the time it takes? (More about that question in a moment.)
The process of democratic cultural change involves people transforming themselves from subjects ruled by others—which Hong Kong people have always been—to citizens who rule themselves. This means changing the way we see ourselves. It does not mean, in the first instance, the subjects ask the ruler for citizenship rights, for the ruler will not freely grant them. It means the subjects refuse to any longer act as subjects and instead act as citizens, demanding their full rights as citizens, demanding ownership of the society that is rightfully ours, taking our fate into our own hands.
Scott Jacobsen in In-Sight:
First part of a two-part comprehensive interview with Emeritus Professor of Political Studies and Psychology at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand on the main subjects of his research: intelligence and subsequent controversies; graduate students continuing the debate; Eysenck and Richard Lynn; incoming work for the year; environmental influence on intelligence; considerations on climate change; moral imperatives outsides of survival for solving climate change; family background and influence on development; influence of Catholicism; duties and responsibilities of being Emeritus Professor of Political Studies and Psychology at University of Otago, New Zealand; differences between intelligence and IQ; definitions of intelligence and IQ; the late Dr. Arthur Jensen and the 1969 journal article entitled How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?; Dr. Charles Murray and The Bell Curve.
1. Your most famous research area is intelligence. Of those studying intelligence, you are among those on the top of the list. Many researchers worked in this area and caused many, many controversies, but more importantly sparked debate.
Of the old timers, I guess there’s just Richard Lynn and me around. I mean among those people who really duelled over race and IQ.
Jensen died of a very bad case of Parkinson’s or something like that. Very sad really, I wrote an obituary for him that was published in Intelligence. Rushton died of something different, I’m not sure what his complaint was. Eysenck is dead.
2. You must have some ex-graduate students around that continue the debate.
Yes, there are people who will, though remember, it is a very politically sensitive topic. Jensen’s fingers were burned, though he always showed great courage. Rushton, I think, sort of enjoyed controversy, so I do not know how much his fingers were burned over the outrage his views caused. Eysenck was such a great man and had so many interests, that the race issue was not really too much associated with him. Richard Lynn, though he has made his views on race known, has been more interested in global matters.
What The Old Woman Said
I will tell you this. There was a garden by the pump. Fallow land given me.
My father built flowerbeds. Offshoots of paths. Geometric patterns.
Cuttings. Bulbs from my mother. The texture of earth.
Stone. The smell of water. I could grow anything.
I will tell you this. There was a pond. Wrinkles of mud. Pups that were drowned there.
Dragged to the bank. Sacksful slit open. Way beyond saving.
Names that I gave them. Returned to the water. Each small splash.
Spirals expanding. My own face rippling.
I will tell you this. There was a heron. Constant. Returning.
Stilt-leg. Growing above water. Curtain of willows.
Everything still. A crowning of feathers.
Inflections of music. Nothing was moving.
I will tell you this. There were meadows. Light. Nectar from clover.
More flowers than I could name. Armfuls I carried.
Stems that I split. Smelling of summer.
Chains on my neck. Ankles. The bones of my wrists. Knowing nothing.
I will tell you this. There was a boy. Eyes like the sky.
Eyes like my father's. Children imagined. Rooms that were borrowed.
Rooms that were painted. Stories invented.
Histories. Futures. We knew everything.
I will tell you this. There was a man. Veins under skin.
Bones. Barely there. His stuttered breathing.
Green light on a screen. Intermittent beeping.
False light. False music. Someone was dying.
I will tell you this. I had seen his face on the shroud.
Running and bleeding. Wounds on his hands.
Pictures on glass. Coloured and leaded.
Faces on statues. A cross through his heart. Light always fading.
I will tell you this. There was a room. White. A white plate on the table.
A man at the table. Notes in his voice. A tune that I knew.
Beauty in the movements of his face. His arms. Frisson of wings.
Touch. Touch me. But he already had. I had forgotten everything.
I will tell you this. Some days are unbearable. Horizontal planes.
Moment to moment. Each long tick. I have been lonely.
Last night. A dream of a heron. The span of his wings.
Sounding through air. Listen. Listen. I am disappearing.
by Eileen Sheehan
from Song of the Midnight Fox
Doghouse Books, Tralee, 2004,