Thursday, September 17, 2020
Nick Hanauer and David M. Rolf in Time:
Like many of the virus’s hardest hit victims, the United States went into the COVID-19 pandemic wracked by preexisting conditions. A fraying public health infrastructure, inadequate medical supplies, an employer-based health insurance system perversely unsuited to the moment—these and other afflictions are surely contributing to the death toll. But in addressing the causes and consequences of this pandemic—and its cruelly uneven impact—the elephant in the room is extreme income inequality.
How big is this elephant? A staggering $50 trillion. That is how much the upward redistribution of income has cost American workers over the past several decades.
This is not some back-of-the-napkin approximation. According to a groundbreaking new working paper by Carter C. Price and Kathryn Edwards of the RAND Corporation, had the more equitable income distributions of the three decades following World War II (1945 through 1974) merely held steady, the aggregate annual income of Americans earning below the 90th percentile would have been $2.5 trillion higher in the year 2018 alone. That is an amount equal to nearly 12 percent of GDP—enough to more than double median income—enough to pay every single working American in the bottom nine deciles an additional $1,144 a month. Every month. Every single year.
Christopher Vaughan in the Stanford Medicine News Center:
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have discovered a way to regenerate, in mice and human tissue, the cushion of cartilage found in joints.
Loss of this slippery and shock-absorbing tissue layer, called articular cartilage, is responsible for many cases of joint pain and arthritis, which afflicts more than 55 million Americans. Nearly 1 in 4 adult Americans suffer from arthritis, and far more are burdened by joint pain and inflammation generally.
The Stanford researchers figured out how to regrow articular cartilage by first causing slight injury to the joint tissue, then using chemical signals to steer the growth of skeletal stem cells as the injuries heal. The work was published Aug. 17 in the journal Nature Medicine.
“Cartilage has practically zero regenerative potential in adulthood, so once it’s injured or gone, what we can do for patients has been very limited,” said assistant professor of surgery Charles K.F. Chan, PhD. “It’s extremely gratifying to find a way to help the body regrow this important tissue.”
Ayad Akhtar and Shahzia Sikander in The Nation:
In an age of visual profusion, when the vividness and abundance of images consumed for distraction and commerce is breathtaking, it might seem naive for an artist to try to create images of incantatory, even magical power. To seek a holy relationship to the image today is often seen as foolhardy.
In the Western tradition, before the Renaissance and Reformation, images were the vehicle of presence; they could summon a saint into being. Observers stood in veneration, seeking intercession, dialogue, wisdom; an image was the basis of a relationship with an order of experience far deeper than aesthetic appreciation.
The extraordinary and unique work of Shahzia Sikander proceeds from a faith in this primal power of the image, and in the belief of an artist as a seer. It is a timeless faith, at odds with our accelerated times, which only makes Sikander’s commitment to plumbing the mysterious power of images all the more remarkable.
Lindsay Zoladz at Bookforum:
For many of the artists in this book, music and performance’s inherent haziness is able to envelop everything in an intoxicating fog, which allows artists the freedom to try on different gender identities without always revealing where, exactly, their “authentic” selves begin. (Of course, it offers similar possibilities to the complex and questioning people listening, too.) This is the “alternate ribbon of time”—a phrase Geffen borrows from the queer indie pop star Perfume Genius—that links the butch blues singer Lucille Bogan’s 1935 recording of “BD Woman’s Blues” (the initials stood for “bull dyke”) with, say, the crusading punk group Against Me!’s 2007 song “The Ocean.” Five years before the band’s front person Laura Jane Grace came out as a transgender woman, she sang in that song, “If I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman / My mother once told me she would have named me Laura.” Presuming poetic license, no one batted an eyelash. Grace “assumed everyone around her would pick up on her overt confession of dysphoria,” Geffen writes, “but couched in a song, it glanced off the world.”
Lorna Scott Fox at The Baffler:
THE GREATEST AND MOST UNDEFINABLE of Brazilian writers was born in poverty in 1839, the son of domestic workers tied to an estate. He barely attended school, suffered from epilepsy and poor eyesight all his life, and was visibly a mulatto in a stratified, racially paranoid society which would only abolish slavery in 1888. Yet Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis confounded every law of determinism to acquire staggering erudition, several foreign languages, and an entrée to Brazil’s white elite. In a career spanning almost fifty years—he is said to have published his first sonnet at the age of fifteen—he produced a vast trove of novels, stories, chronicles, essays, and poetry.
Such is the originality of his mature work, however, that full appreciation by critics and readers was slow in coming, at home and abroad. His contemporaries, then heatedly debating the criteria for a national literature, felt he was lacking in local color or brasilidade; despite the panegyrics of latter-day tastemakers like Harold Bloom and Susan Sontag, and—lest these names suggest otherwise—the entertaining readability of his work, he is even today not a household name.
Rafia Zakaria in The Baffler:
The thought of white men imagining all of brown women’s sexuality being available to them for purchase came to me following more recent historic revelations. On September 3, the New York Times published an article detailing President Richard Nixon’s racist comments regarding Indian women. “Undoubtedly the most unattractive women in the world are the Indian women,” he said at one point. Later he remarked, “They turn me off. They are repulsive and it’s just easy to be tough with them.” Notably, the latter came during tense discussions between Nixon and the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on the topic of avoiding war with Pakistan.
Indira Gandhi was not trying to seduce Nixon, but such perhaps is the enduring state of the white male imagination, that all Indian women are prostitutes who must show up twice a month for genital exams or face fines and prison sentences. Nixon certainly couldn’t tolerate the idea he would have to negotiate as an equal with India’s female prime minister. All his notions about white superiority, however deeply embedded, came to the fore. If he wasn’t “saving” a brown woman and she didn’t guarantee her subordination to him, he found her “repulsive.”
In fact, both Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, held deeply prejudicial attitudes toward the people of India and Pakistan, as White House tapes of their closed-door sessions would document. There is a straight line between the dehumanization we see in the British colonial history and that of Nixon and Kissinger—and the results in 1971 should not be forgotten. After Bengali nationalists in East Pakistan won a democratic election, the Pakistani regime engaged in a brutal crackdown. As author Gary Bass described it in the Times, “Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger staunchly supported the military regime in Pakistan as it killed hundreds of thousands of Bengalis, with 10 million refugees fleeing into neighboring India.” Just as British and American colonialists were unable to accord women their full humanity, they proved capable of the next step too: shrugging off genocide when it seemed “necessary” for their geopolitical strategies.
Kate Yandell in The Scientist:
In 2013, two independent teams of scientists, one in Maryland and one in France, made a surprising observation: both germ-free mice and mice treated with a heavy dose of antibiotics responded poorly to a variety of cancer therapies typically effective in rodents. The Maryland team, led by Romina Goldszmid and Giorgio Trinchieri of the National Cancer Institute, showed that both an investigational immunotherapy and an approved platinum chemotherapy shrank a variety of implanted tumor types and improved survival to a far greater extent in mice with intact microbiomes.1 The French group, led by INSERM’s Laurence Zitvogel, got similar results when testing the long-standing chemotherapeutic agent cyclophosphamide in cancer-implanted mice, as well as in mice genetically engineered to develop tumors of the lung.2
…In the late 1970s, pathologist J. Robin Warren of Royal Perth Hospital in Western Australia began to notice that curved bacteria often appeared in stomach tissue biopsies taken from patients with chronic gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach lining that often precedes the development of stomach cancer. He and Barry J. Marshall, a trainee in internal medicine at the hospital, speculated that the bacterium, now called Helicobacter pylori, was somehow causing the gastritis.3 So committed was Marshall to demonstrating the microbe’s causal relationship to the inflammatory condition that he had his own stomach biopsied to show that it contained no H. pylori, then infected himself with the bacterium and documented his subsequent experience of gastritis.4 Scientists now accept that H. pylori, a common gut microbe that is present in about 50 percent of the world’s population, is responsible for many cases of gastritis and most stomach ulcers, and is a strong risk factor for stomach cancer.5 Marshall and Warren earned the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work.
Bent to the Earth
They had hit Ruben
with the high beams, had blinded
him so that the van
he was driving, full of Mexicans
going to pick tomatoes,
would have to stop. Ruben spun
the van into an irrigation ditch,
spun the five-year-old me awake
to immigration officers,
their batons already out,
already looking for the soft spots on the body,
to my mother being handcuffed
and dragged to a van, to my father
trying to show them our green cards.
They let us go. But Alvaro
was going back.
So was his brother Fernando.
So was their sister Sonia. Their mother
did not escape,
and so was going back. Their father
was somewhere in the field,
and was free. There were no great truths
revealed to me then. No wisdom
given to me by anyone. I was a child
who had seen what a piece of polished wood
could do to a face, who had seen his father
about to lose the one he loved, who had lost
some friends who would never return,
who, later that morning, bent
to the earth and went to work.
by Blas Manuel De Luna.
from Bent to the Earth
Carnegie Mellon University Press
Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Bill Gates in his own blog:
Dad wrote me a letter on my 50th birthday. It is one of my most prized possessions. In it, he encouraged me to stay curious. He said some very touching things about how much he loved being a father to my sisters and me. “Over time,” he wrote, “I have cautioned you and others about the overuse of the adjective ‘incredible’ to apply to facts that were short of meeting its high standard. This is a word with huge meaning to be used only in extraordinary settings. What I want to say, here, is simply that the experience of being your father has been… incredible.”
I know he would not want me to overuse the word, but there is no danger of doing that now. The experience of being the son of Bill Gates was incredible. People used to ask my dad if he was the real Bill Gates. The truth is, he was everything I try to be. I will miss him every day.
Sean Carroll in Preposterous Universe:
Sexuality is, and always has been, a topic that is endlessly fascinating but also contentious. You might think that asexuality would be more straightforward, but you’d be wrong. Asexual people, or “aces,” haven’t been front and center in the public discussion of gender and sexuality, and as a result there is confusion about such basic issues as what “asexuality” even means. Angela Chen is a science journalist and an ace herself, and she’s written a new book about asexuality and how it fits into the wider discussion of sex and gender. Precisely because sexuality is so taken for granted by many people, thinking about asexuality not only helps us understand the issues confronting aces, but the meaning of sexuality more broadly.
Researchers have shown how industries could work together to recycle cigarette butts into bricks, in a step-by-step implementation plan for saving energy and solving a global littering problem. Over 6 trillion cigarettes are produced each year globally, resulting in 1.2 million tons of toxic waste dumped into the environment. RMIT University researchers have previously shown fired-clay bricks with 1% recycled cigarette butt content are as strong as normal bricks and use less energy to produce. Their analysis showed if just 2.5% of global annual brick production incorporated 1% cigarette butts, this would offset total cigarette production each year. The research team has now developed a detailed plan for bringing the brickmaking and waste management industries together, to implement cigarette butt recycling into bricks at mass scale. Lead researcher Associate Professor Abbas Mohajerani said cigarette butts were saturated with toxic chemicals, including over 60 known to cause cancer.
“Firing butts into bricks is a reliable and practical way to deal with this terrible environmental problem, while at the same time cutting brickmaking production costs,” Mohajerani said. “We need to do far more to stop cigarette butts from polluting our streets, rivers and oceans, and prevent them leaching harmful toxins into our environment. “Our ultimate goal is a world free of cigarette butt pollution: our industry implementation plan outlines the practical steps needed to bring this vision to reality.” The plan, published in a special issue of the journal Materials, shows how cigarette butts can be collected and recycled on an industrial scale.
The editors of Scientific American:
Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in its 175-year history. This year we are compelled to do so. We do not do this lightly.
The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people—because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges. That is why we urge you to vote for Joe Biden, who is offering fact-based plans to protect our health, our economy and the environment. These and other proposals he has put forth can set the country back on course for a safer, more prosperous and more equitable future.
The pandemic would strain any nation and system, but Trump’s rejection of evidence and public health measures have been catastrophic in the U.S.
David Helvarg in National Geographic:
It was a comfortable looking home in a high-risk location, on Stringtown Road in the wooded hills south of Lake Oroville—a brown wood house with a stone chimney and big picture windows facing the forest. The pleasantly cluttered garden had tomato plants, a glass flamingo, and an abalone shell. It was here that a CAL FIRE task force, including a couple of engines and a dozen firefighters, decided to take a stand. They’d been pushed around by the Bear Fire for 24 hours. They would try to save at least one house.
Before passing through a police roadblock to meet the firefighters, I’d been to the rapidly growing CAL FIRE base camp at the fairgrounds in Chico. Like all CAL FIRE camps, it now requires passing through a “Mass Fever Screening” tent for COVID-19. Wearing a mask in California today, during a pandemic and a record-shattering fire season, serves a dual purpose. For days parts of this state have been competing with smoke-choked places in Oregon and Washington for the worst air quality in the world.
When I reached Oroville on September 9, the Bear Fire, the deadliest so far in 2020, had exploded in the hills north of the lake. Part of the North Complex fire, it had grown to 1,000 acres in its first half hour and advanced 30 miles in 18 hours. A wall of flame had destroyed the town of Berry Creek, including its fire station and fire truck—a grim reminder of the catastrophe that struck Paradise, California, just 14 miles to the northwest, in 2018.
Michael Armitage with Toby Kamps at The Brooklyn Rail:
Rail: Were you always a figurative painter?
Armitage: I certainly was when I started, seeing as I was six. Throughout art school, throughout my BA foundation course, I was basically making figurative paintings. Then I got to a point at the beginning of my postgraduate where I was questioning the use of the figure in painting. I was questioning all of the elements that make up a painting, down to image, support, color, material, ideas. At that point, I took the figure out of my paintings, and I began making abstract compositions that sometimes related to figures but were much more loose explorations of ideas. Ideas that I’m still thinking about and working on today.
But then, after working mainly as an abstract painter for the best part of three years, I began thinking about the relevance of art in Kenya and in East Africa. One of the things that was clear to me was that there isn’t a huge audience there, certainly not a kind of gallery-going audience. So if I wanted to make my paintings have a kind of immediacy and relevance to someone there that walked in off the street, one way of doing that would be to have a reflection of the people that I was interested in talking to. So that made me consider putting the figure back into my work.
Malcolm Gaskill at the LRB:
Widening opportunity in education is the noblest of social and political projects. But the cost is now clear. In the ‘bad old days’ students were, as they are today, taught with commitment and passion, but sometimes eccentricity added a spark. Provided he – and it was usually a he – turned up fully dressed and sober and didn’t lay hands on anyone, the crazy lecturer could be an inspiration. Expectations were less explicit, the rhetoric and metrics of achievement were absent, which made everyone feel freer. Even applying to a university seemed less pressured, because it was so unclear what it would be like when you got there. You absorbed teachers’ anecdotal experiences and sent off for prospectuses, including the student-produced ‘alternative’ versions mentioning safe sex and cheap beer. Even after matriculation I had only a vague sense of the structure of my course. The lecture list was to be found in an austere periodical of record available in newsagents. Mysteries that today would be cleared up with two clicks on a smartphone had to be resolved by listening to rumours. This news blackout has been replaced by abundant online information, the publication of lucid curricular pathways, the friendly outreach of student services and the micromanagement of an undergraduate’s development. Leaps of progress all, if it weren’t for the suspicion that students might develop better if they had to find out more things for themselves. We learned to be self-reliant and so were better prepared for an indifferent world; we didn’t for a moment see the university as acting in loco parentis. Excessive care for students is as reassuring as a comfort blanket and can be just as infantilising.