Monday Poem

Darwin's Surf
…. —ode to cells

Before metaphorical allusions
we are warm and wet.
Seas surge within us.
In little cytoplasmic bays, Cell 02-border
tiny ships of golgi moor
near lysosome cays enclosed by
permeable breakwater membranes
that all rise and fall with nucleo tides
in ebbs and flows through generations
rendering noses pug or aquiline
and eyes skybright or in colors of loam;
tides that sculpt with Darwin’s surf
graceful geographies of bodies
that draw the tissue curtain
between what is and what’s not
over muscle and bone
inflaming passion, heat, desire
to close the current’s ring,
to come together again
immersed in what is warm and wet,
to touch, embrace, to recombine,
to love, to sing, to lose,
to remember to forget

Jim Culleny



Denton A. Cooley, pioneering heart surgeon, dies at 96

by Syed Tasnim Raza

Denton-cooley-2Denton Arthur Cooley, founder and president and at the time of his death president-emeritus of the Texas Heart Institute (THI), died on Friday November 18, 2016. He had celebrated his 96th birthday only three months earlier. Texas Heart Institute, founded in 1962, became a premier heart surgery center in the world, where Cooley is credited with performing 100,000 heart operations over 45 years. There were many highly skilled surgeons working at THI, who opened and closed the patients' chests and Cooley would just come in to do the main part of the operation. At his peak, he could complete 30 to 40 operations in a day!

Perhaps Cooley was the Henry Ford of heart surgery. While heart surgery was developed by many surgeons until it matured into the modern specialty as we know it in 1950's and 1960's, under the pioneering work of C. Walton Lillehei and John Kirklin both of Minnesota, it was Cooley who turned it into an assembly line operation at the Texas Heart Institute in the 1970s.

Heart surgery developed in fits and spurts, beginning with a simple suture of a stab wound of the heart by Ludwig Rehn of Frankfurt, Germany in 1896. One of the big steps, particularly in surgery for congenital heart disease, came in 1944 at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where Helen Taussig, pioneer pediatric cardiologist, proposed and Alfred Blalock, the famed chairman of surgery there, performed the first Blalock-Taussig shunt (also known as the Blue-baby operation) as treatment for cyanotic infants born with Tetralogy of Fallot, until they could grow up and a more definitive corrective operation could be performed. Denton Cooley was present for the first history-making Blue-baby operation on November 29, 1944.

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Taking Offense

by Katrin Trüstedt

IMG_5916Much has been written by now in attempt to explain the outcome of the recent US presidential election. Some recent interventions pitted the Democrats' “identity politics” against economic issues and have charged the Left with neglecting hard economic realities by focusing on supposedly marginal or imaginary problems. Such an opposition misses the point, however, that the relevant economic questions are inherently connected to problems of identity. Didier Eribon, collaborator of the late Michel Foucault (one of the presumed champions of identity politics), gives a compelling account of this connection between identity politics and economics in his 2009 book Retour à Reims. Revisiting the social and political situation of his upbringing in Reims, Eribon describes how processes of economic downgrade are intertwined with complex processes of re-identification. When he returns to the working class upbringing that he had escaped to become the Parisian gay intellectual he is now, he finds that his relatives and their peers – who had always been voting for the Communist Party and who had built their social and political identities around it – have shifted towards voting for the Front National.

The decision to vote a certain way and the entire social and political subjectivation underlying this decision cannot be traced back to a given political stance or factual economic interests, but is instead indebted to a complex dynamic of identification and demarcation. In order to explain the striking shift in the milieu of his upbringing, Eribon foregrounds not “just” the considerable economic hardship the working class has endured in France, but more importantly, the fact that this economic hardship has been ignored in the past decades by the left party under François Mitterrand (with many parallels to the Democrats in the US, the Labour Party under Tony Blair in the UK and the Social Democrats under Gerhard Schröder in Germany). The way that his relatives, like so many others, have turned away from a strong allegiance with the Left is connected to a feeling of being “hurt” in a particular way. Not only has their economic status deteriorated, but the degradation also has remained unacknowledged.

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A crack in everything

by Katalin Balog

There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
(Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”)

*This essay, on the personal in politics, is written in lieu of the final instalment of The Brain’s I, a series I have been publishing here on the subjective/objective divide in our lives and thought. The Brain’s I, Part 4, will appear here after the holidays.

UnionSquareCaptionNewI am so glad this mess was not Leonard Cohen’s last impression of the planet. But the rest of us are left to grapple with the same thing that occupied much of his work: how to affirm living in a broken world. The world was not quite whole on November 7th but we could still pretend, could still hope; November 8th has made it official. A giant crack has appeared – though not at all the one we have expected, and the country and the world has jumped with two feet into the abyss.

It is impossible to write or think anything about the causes of Trump’s victory and the nature of his support that is not hopelessly one-sided and has “particular point of view” written all over it. Right now, what we see divides us. But beyond all the sound and fury, the one inescapable fact is that the election is the expression of the will and soul of a significant portion of America. No amount of rational analysis or soul searching can blunt the message this sends. It hurts.

I. Rebellion

Early in the day of the election I thought of the pain and confusion Trump supporters would feel upon his loss. I could anticipate their reaction because I knew I would feel the same if my candidate lost. I was nervous and a bit uncertain but still expected Hillary to win. Later, when anticipation turned into dread, disbelief, and a growing sense of defeat, I did not think of the joy of the victors with sympathy. A chasm has opened; they were now the enemy. I was consumed now with a flood of sadness, fear and anger and revulsion I could not imagine just hours before. I was gripped by the same emotions many of Trump supporters, apparently, have felt for years, maybe decades… Was this the bitter medicine we needed to wake up? Was it poetic justice for festering inequality as some on the left suggest? Should we simply tone down the blame, and outrage, recognizing in our newly kindled primal hostility the mirror of the negative emotions we condemn in our adversary, as Martha Nussbaum suggests? There is something to all of this. But it’s all so much more complicated.

There is no sugarcoating this. This is not an ordinary disappointment about the wrong policy, the wrong candidate, things not going my way. It cannot be overcome by more tolerance and commitment to social justice. Whatever the motives and struggles of many of Trump’s voters, his election is an epic cultural, moral and intellectual collapse on the collective level. Crudeness, racism and ignorance has won.

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Poetry in Translation

A Dewdrop and The Stars

after Iqbal

“Tell a story,”
said the stars to the dewdrop,
“of a garden far from the heavens,
a vanished world
to which the moon sings of love.”

”O stars,” said the dewdrop,
“not a garden but a world of sighs:
the breeze visits only to return
and the rose, the garden’s flourish,
blooms merely to wither,

bears the pain, can’t pluck pearls
even from its own hem, is silent
as the nightingale wails:
the humming bird is imprisoned:
it’s an outrage!

The eye of the ailing iris is forever moist.
The box tree, free only in name,
is scorched by the heat of its own bawl.
Stars are sparks of man’s burning.
The moon naively believes revolving

cures her scarred heart;
the garden is air
a sad image on the horizon’s canvas.
I am the sky’s teardrop
secret of the sea is within me.”

by Rafiq Kathwari, @brownpundit,

At the Crossroads

by Carol A. Westbrook

Fig. 1 Rikoski cross copyJurgis Daugvilla (1923-2008) was an artist, and a master carver of wood sculptures in the tradition of Lithuanian folk artists. He was a neighbor, and a friend of my husband, Rick, a third-generation Lithuanian. “Richard,” he would say, “Your house is at the crossroads of our town. You should have a Kryžius in your yard.”

“Kryžius” (pronounced “kree'-jus) means “cross,” and refers to the tall, totem-pole-like wooden carvings which appear as roadside shrines throughout Lithuania. The tradition goes back to pagan times, when they were used to mark sites of cult offerings, especially at crossroads and burial grounds. The monuments featured folk carvings, with peaked roofs for protection from the elements. When Christianity arrived at the end of the 14th century, the pagan monuments were topped with crosses, allowing for their preservation by converting them into emblems of faith. Every region in Lithuanian had its particular cross-making traditions, incorporating folk symbols,
pagan cults, geometrical shapes and religious icons.They were found throughout the countryside, but especially at crossroads and cemeteries, continuing in the pagan tradition.

Christianity did not halt this tradition, but politics did. Because of their significance as a national and religious symbol, many of these crosses were destroyed during the Soviet occupation, 1944-1990. The famous “Hill of Crosses” in northern Lithuania became a symbol of peaceful resistance, as crosses were added while the Soviets attempted to remove them, bulldozing the site at least three times. In 1990 there were 55,000 crosses on the hill, and today there are over 100,000. The Kryžius remains an important symbol of Lithuanian nationalism, and new ones have begun to re-appear across the landscape.

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What To Do With Our Expectations

by Max Sirak

IMG_0599We live in an uncertain world. We hate to admit it, but it's true. So true, in fact, physicist Max Born wrote, as quoted by Leonard Mlodinow, “Chance is a more fundamental conception than causality.” (The Drunkard's Walk) This idea probably sits poorly with most of us, quantum physicists aside, for two reasons.

The first is because causality, on a local level, the me-and-you level, is something easy to observe. I can take a full glass of water, knock it over, and cause it to spill. You can go turn on the stove, touch it, and cause your hand to burn. These and thousands of other experiences like them prove our agency in the world.

The second is because it's scary. It's a big, indifferent world out there. It sits in a bigger and more indifferent solar system, which in turn rests in an even bigger and more indifferent galaxy, which itself is part of a bigger and more indifferent universe, one of many in the grandest and most indifferent structure of all, the multiverse.

And, because of the salience of our experiences and the immensity of our universal setting, we don't feel great about uncertainty. Instead of making friends with this fundamental truth and learning the best ways to work with it, we actively strive to do everything in our power to rail against it.

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November 2016

by Maniza Naqvi

USShared a wooden bench at Union Station. Sat side by side. I hunched. Waiting for Red Caps to come get us. Take us to our tracks. To our trains. Mama GiGi and I. Police in black riot gear with dogs, eyed us, loitering nearby. And around us, more of us. With strollers, carry-ons and backpacks, attached. Thanksgiving travelers. People moving like lines of refugees stumbling along, on and on.

Her train departing at 3.30 to Norfolk, Virginia beach. Mine before hers to NYC. She turned to me and talked and talked. And I with my eyes on this and that watched a clock and listened and listened keeping a look out for a Red Cap. She: All my love. All honey. Mama GiGi.

Long hair flowing flaming volcanic lava red, under a floppy red suede hat. A silver cross hung at her chest. Pale white wrists, red scabs. Pant suit. Fire engine red. Also. Crimson nail polish. To match. Bare feet in sandals. A scarf of old glory draped around her neck. Rhinestone encrusted sunglasses. By her side a tote bag full of pill bottles in Ziploc bags.

Mama GiGi talked and talked. Each sentence preceded by the words, my love. I listened on. And on. Mama GiGi, a pastor of her own church: Treasures of the Heart. She gave me her card. Her daddy was mafia. Her mother a drunk. And. So. She'd been dropped. She said. She'd been a lap dancer, a crackhead, a Heroin addict. She'd aborted two babies at age 15. Born Catholic. She'd left all that. To be born again. An addict again. For Jesus.

She'd found Jesus. Hymns in her, abounded. Jesus had saved her. Founded, the lost. The dropped. Picked her up. Lifted up an addict and a whore. You're looking at a miracle, she said. I said, that's way too easy. I'm looking at America.

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Tough Tenor: Chekov’s First Act

by Christopher Bacas

ImageA friend asked what he'd been up to. Mike cleared his throat.

“Snortin' coke, fuckin' whores and goin' to the track.”

Duke Ellington said 'Jack Daniels' was Paul Gonsalves' punch line. The former might have been Mike's. He knew Beethoven symphonies and Coltrane solos, Victorian poets and Tupac lyrics. While welding bolts into steel beams, interval sets danced in his head.

He bought a gorgeous Silver Selmer Mark VI tenor with money from selling his mother's house. Soon, it was in pawn. When a saxophone-playing buddy found out, he paid the ticket and took the Selmer home. He lent Mike a student-model horn and showed up to the gig to deliver it, staying to listen and babysit the cheaper ax. The usurious loan on the Selmer; twenty-odd bucks a week. As long as Mike stayed current with his friend, he could look forward to playing the beauty in a few months. Despite union wages and assorted disability scams, Mike failed to make timely payments. His pal reluctantly kept the Selmer and let Mike have the student horn.

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A Fantastic Optical Illusion: Just Another Brick in the Wall?


Phil Plait in Slate:

I love optical illusions, especially ones that really twist your brain around. I saw one recently that really had me going for a minute. And it’s not so much the illusion itself that really gets me, but my own brain’s reaction to it.

The photo is above. I saw it on a Facebook post from this week, though it’s been around since at least 2014.* It shows a brick wall, seen at a shallow angle, with somewhat large gaps between the bricks. The bricks are red, and it appears that there’s a small gray rock stuck in between them just above center.

So what’s the illusion? I couldn’t see it at all, even after a good 30 seconds of staring at it. I was starting to suspect there was no illusion, and it’s a gag to fool people, when I read the comments and realized what I was missing.

If you still haven’t seen it, then what follows below will spoil it for you. If you don’t want to know then don’t read any further until you’ve figured out the illusion!

OK, fairly warned be thee says I.

More here.

Ten questions about anthropology, feminism, Middle East politics, and publics: Interview with Lila Abu-Lughod

Sindre Bangstad in American Ethnologist:

ScreenHunter_2403 Nov. 27 21.52On the occasion of the publication of Columbia University anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod’s article, “The Cross-Publics of Ethnography: The Case of “the Muslim woman,’” in the November 2016 issue of the journal, we have invited Norwegian anthropologist Sindre Bangstad to interview Abu-Lughod on fundamental issues underlying her work as a feminist anthropologist, a public intellectual, and an ethnographer of the Middle East and Islamophobia. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of Abu-Lughod’s landmark ethnography Veiled Sentiments, which has inspired an entire generation of scholars and students to rethink their understanding of gender, power, and poetics. I thank Lila and Sindre for sharing their conversation with the readership of the journal. —Niko Besnier, editor

Sindre Bangstad (SB): You and I met in 2014 because we had both turned, as anthropologists, to address a disturbing public issue: Islamophobia. This opened us up to forms of hostility that our earlier ethnographic work in Muslim communities, yours in Egypt and mine in South Africa, had not. In your article in the November issue of AE, “The Cross-Publics of Public Ethnography,” you consider what anthropologists can bring to contentious public debates. You confess that your most recent book, Do Muslim Women Need Saving? took you out of the comfort zone of our discipline. I’d like to talk with you about the meaning of this transition to what I’ve explored as public anthropology in a series of interviews in my forthcoming Anthropology of Our Times: An Edited Anthology in Public Anthropology. You prefer to call it public ethnography, following Didier Fassin. I’d like to talk about your early work first.

More here. [Thanks to Nadia Guessous.]

The Genetics of Success

Chhay Lin Lim in Notes on Liberty:

ScreenHunter_2401 Nov. 27 21.45We are living in extremely interesting times. We may have reached a tipping point in genomic research. It seems that we can now weakly predict life outcomes based on genetic tests. Daniel Belsky from Duke University and his team of researchers have recently released a paper asserting that genetic tests can predict adult life outcomes. The magnitude of correlation between genomic tests and adult life outcomes is still very modest, but I believe that the predictions will grow more accurate once we gain more knowledge about the genetic makeup of ‘success’. I believe that this is big news, since this is the first well-developed psychometric/genetic research I have read so far that asserts that life success is to some extent related to our genetic makeup.

When Belsky et al looked at the genetic profiles and the people they studied, they found that people with higher polygenic scores did not only have greater educational attainments, but also had more prestigious occupations, higher incomes, more assets, greater upward social mobility, and were more likable and friendly.

More here.

Darcy James Argue’s Terrific Thrill: A staggeringly ambitious album explores the themes of cultural paranoia and false truth

David Hajdu in The Nation:

ScreenHunter_2399 Nov. 27 21.41I cannot imagine a work in any art form that could evoke the particular madness of our time with more potency than Real Enemies, the album of jazz-orchestra music released this fall by the Brooklyn-based, Canadian-born composer Darcy James Argue. Conceived more than a year before this November’s presidential election, it was not intended as a statement on Trumpism explicitly. Rather, it was designed to explore the broader themes of cultural paranoia and false truth, which infuse the current climate and have laced through the history of American politics. Real Enemies is sweeping and meticulous, as serious as music can be, and, at the same time, a terrific thrill to experience.

Argue efficiently established his reputation as a major musical voice with his two previous albums, Infernal Machines (2009) and Brooklyn Babylon (2013), both of which were composed for and recorded by Argue’s ongoing ensemble, the 18-piece band called Secret Society. The group, by nature of its instrumentation, qualifies as a jazz big band, though the music is not big-band jazz by a definition Count Basie or Buddy Rich would have used. The Secret Society rarely swings in the traditional way, though it can cook up a sly, churning funk groove when Argue wants it to. If Argue’s society of 21st-century virtuosos has a secret, it’s the fact that it could be a ballroom band with all the pizzazz of, say, Wynton Marsalis’s Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, if it had a leader less creative and forward-thinking than Darcy James Argue.

More here.

How neoliberal doctrine undermined the Obama administration and ushered in the age of Trump

John Weeks in Open Democracy:

Obama_0The iconic slogan “Yes, we can!” inspired the wave of enthusiasm that swept up millions of Americans during the presidential election of 2008 and carried Barack Obama to the White House. If that slogan epitomized the beginning of the Obama presidency, he had an equally iconic ending: the first African-American president shaking hands with the first president-elect in at least 100 years endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan.

In November 2008 Barack Obama won the presidency with almost 53% on a voter turnout of 58%. The winning percentage was the highest since 1988 and the turnout the largest for 50 years. The first non-white president took office on a surge of enthusiasm exceeding any since Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 (by comparison John Kennedy went to the presidency with less than half of total votes and a winning margin of 0.2 percentage points).

The enthusiasm for Obama arose from fervent hope for specific changes: 1) a universal, affordable health system; 2) the end of two disastrous wars (Afghanistan and Iraq); 3) economic recovery from the worst collapse in 80 years; and 4) action against banks and bankers to prevent a recurrence of the collapse.

To fulfil these hopes, Obama had majorities in both houses of Congress, 58 of 100 Senators (largest majority of any party in 30 years) and 257 seats in the House (most since 1992). By any measure the new president enjoyed an overwhelming majority. Under some circumstances the Republican minority in the Senate could prevent voting, but a determined and bold president could force votes within the arcane Senate rules.

More here.

How Your Brain Decides Without You

Tom Vanderbilt in Nautilus:

RabbitPrinceton’s Palmer Field, 1951. An autumn classic matching the unbeaten Tigers, with star tailback Dick Kazmaier—a gifted passer, runner, and punter who would capture a record number of votes to win the Heisman Trophy—against rival Dartmouth. Princeton prevailed over Big Green in the penalty-plagued game, but not without cost: Nearly a dozen players were injured, and Kazmaier himself sustained a broken nose and a concussion (yet still played a “token part”). It was a “rough game,” The New York Times described, somewhat mildly, “that led to some recrimination from both camps.” Each said the other played dirty. The game not only made the sports pages, it made the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. Shortly after the game, the psychologists Albert Hastorf and Hadley Cantril interviewed students and showed them film of the game. They wanted to know things like: “Which team do you feel started the rough play?” Responses were so biased in favor of each team that the researchers came to a rather startling conclusion: “The data here indicate there is no such ‘thing’ as a ‘game’ existing ‘out there’ in its own right which people merely ‘observe.’ ” Everyone was seeing the game they wanted to see. But how were they doing this? They were, perhaps, an example of what Leon Festinger, the father of “cognitive dissonance,” meant when he observed “that people cognize and interpret information to fit what they already believe.”

In watching and interpreting the game footage, the students were behaving similarly to children shown the famous duck-rabbit illusion, pictured above. When shown the illusion on Easter Sunday, more children see the rabbit, where on other Sundays they are more likely to see the duck.1 The image itself allows both interpretations, and switching from seeing one to the other takes some effort. When I showed duck-rabbit to my 5-year-old daughter, and asked her what she saw, she replied: “A duck.” When I asked her if she saw “anything else,” she edged closer, forehead wrinkled. “Maybe there’s another animal there?” I proffered, trying not to sound as if magnet school admission was on the line. Suddenly, a shimmer of awareness, and a smile. “A rabbit!”

More here.