Friday, July 17, 2015
Janelle Ross in the Washington Post:
He's spoken off the cuff about race relations on a widely circulated podcast (even using the n-word) and then eloquently followed that with what can only be described as a sermon on race relations in America before breaking into song. He's challenged America to go deeper in its support of equality than retiring symbols of slavery (such as the Confederate flag) and impolitic words (such as the n-word).
While eulogizing a slain minister and state lawmaker allegedly killed by a white supremacist in Charleston, S.C., he outlined a whole raft of ways in which discrimination remains and inequality continues to grow. And now, in the span of two weeks, he has announced two major reform packages — housing last week and criminal justice on Tuesday — that could, if ultimately implemented, be of particular benefit to people of color in the United States.
Here's the thing: This Obama might look or sound "brand new" to some Americans. He might even sound a little something like the black president some white Americans across the political spectrum feared (or hoped for). But to people who watch the White House closely, this is the President Obama who has been developing for some time.
Sophia Chen at Wired:
Physicists at the Large Hadron Collider have been smashing protons together, on and off, since 2009. On Tuesday they announced that they’d encountered a new particle as a result of all those subatomic crack-ups called the pentaquark—and it could help explain what holds together other subatomic particles like protons and neutrons.
Close followers of the saga responded to the news like hungry Star Wars fans to a new trailer, immediately formulating potential plotlines for the particle. Within 30 hours of the announcement, physicists began to submittheir theories about the pentaquark to the online, pre-peer review science article repository arXiv. But assembling those papers is hard—and these scientists didn’t come up with their new theories overnight. How did they get it done so fast? As is wont to happen with any big reveal, somebody in the research team leaked the inside scoop.
“Despite everyone’s good intentions, rumors do spread,” says Guy Wilkinson, the spokesperson for the LHCb (that stands for Large Hadron Collider Beauty experiment), the research team that found the particle in several years worth of data. The leak isn’t surprising, considering the team consists of over 1,100 members from 16 different countries.
So why does the pentaquark have so many fans? After all, its origin story isn’t fresh: Physicists predicted the particle existed over 30 years ago, after they first put forth the theory that protons, neutrons, and other so-called hadrons were made of even smaller particles called quarks.
Bejamin Wallace-Wells in New York Magazine:
The first time Coates met the president, at an off-the-record White House conversation with liberal opinion writers in 2013, he left disappointed in himself. “Everyone was too deferential, and I was too deferential, too,” he said. The second time, a few months later, he was determined to do better. Coates had been reading Baldwin’s 1963 book,The Fire Next Time, and as he left his home in Harlem for the train station, his wife, Kenyatta Matthews, said to him, “What would Baldwin do?” On the train to D.C., Coates thought about the off-the-record 1963 meeting that Baldwin had brokered between Robert Kennedy and leading black activists, at which Kennedy felt the full force of black anger. (“They seemed possessed,” Kennedy would later say.) Coates arrived at the White House late and, because he had not prepared for rain, wet. He was not wearing a suit but a blazer and jeans. The president was going around the room answering questions on a wide range of topics, handling each expertly, in Coates’s view.
“And the race aspect is not gone from this,” Coates said. “To see a black dude in a room of the smartest white people and just be the smartest dude in the room — it just puts into context all the stuff about ‘Let me see his grades.’ ”
Occupying Coates’s mind were the racial dimensions of universal health care. It had become apparent, as reporters dug through Census data, that as Republican governors opted out of the federal government’s expansion of Medicaid, blacks and Hispanics would be disproportionately left out because of where they lived.
Thursday, July 16, 2015
Harrison Fluss in Jacobin:
Hegel once told his friend Immanuel Niethammer that to be a philosopher was to be an “expositus,” an exposed person. Once the French Revolution rediscovered that Nous, reason, governs the world, Hegel, the philosopher of reason, would inevitably find himself — whether he liked it or not as a Prussian state philosophy professor — allied to those progressive and potentially rebellious forces. The philosophy of absolute reason thus had real political consequences.
The French Revolution decisively shaped Hegel’s life and thought. One of the first anecdotes we have from Hegel’s student days at the Tubingen seminary is how he and his student-friends, Holderlin and Schelling, planted a “Liberty Tree” together on July 14, 1793, when the Jacobin terror was at its peak. They danced and sang revolutionary songs around it, anticipating that the new revolutionary dawn would soon come to Germany.
Even more than planting a revolutionary maypole, Hegel was a member of the Jacobin Club in Tubingen. That experience inspired him to write subversive passages in his “Historical Fragments” collected by Karl Rosenkranz from Hegel’s Bern Period (1793–1797). Here are some excerpts:
How dangerous the disproportionate wealth of certain citizens is to even the freest form of constitution and how it is capable of destroying liberty itself is shown by history in the example of Pericles of Athens; of the patricians in Rome, the downfall of whom the menacing influence of the Gracchi and others in vain sought to retard through proposals of agrarian laws…
It would be an important topic of investigation to see how much of the strict right of property would have to be sacrificed for the sake of a durable form of republic. We have perhaps not done justice to the system of sansculottism in France in seeking the source of its demand for greater equality of property solely in rapacity.
Peter Gratton on Maurizio Lazzarato's Governing by Debt and Wendy Brown's Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution, in The LA Review of Books:
Brown’s Undoing the Demos and Maurizio Lazzarato’s Governing by Debt (first published in Italian in 2013) aim both to diagnose the contemporary neoliberal condition and to demonstrate the tragedy of its growing ubiquity. Brown’s is a markedly nostalgic work, at least rhetorically, since it hearkens to the imperiled values of a previous era of political liberalism before the current reign of homo oeconomicus (economic man) (her past writings are best known for demonstrating the failures of liberalism to confront the problems of patriarchy and economic inequality). Where Brown sees the promise in rejuvenating a political thought that replaces rampant economism, Lazzarato argues all forms of politics act as apparatuses for the capture of wealth by a given elite. For this reason he calls for strikes against the contemporary system, and the wholesale destruction of any economic structures that support it. This, too, is strikingly nostalgic — large-scale workers’ actions of the kind Lazzarato prescribes are modeled on an era more and more outmoded as neoliberalism spreads.
The background for these books is the vast economic upheavals of the past 30 years, during which “neoliberalism” has been anything but “stealth,” as the overstated subtitle of Brown’s book suggests.
The neoliberal pathology has been the same in both European and American countries: governments cannibalize their political spaces, advance privatized markets in all aspects of society (see the Affordable Care Act), and export their manufacturing base to the developing world. The consumer is not, as in a previous era of liberalism, a purported equal trader on a market — leaving aside the problematic basis for thinking this ever came about — but a “capital” among others, an entrepreneur most often providing free labor that creates value for others. If the laborer in the factory was the paradigm of alienation in a previous era, today in the West s/he is the freelancer: signing up for one project at a time, often free of charge in order to gain experience or “clips” and without the social safety net of a pension or guaranteed healthcare coverage. We are each a company of one, committed to doing what used to take whole enterprises: we provide our own customer service, do our own investments and taxes, act as our own travel agencies, and, for those lucky enough to have 401(k)s and healthcare, pick and choose among competing options that we once left to the experts. “There’s an app for that!” also means “you’re on your own.”
Chris Arnade in The Atlantic:
In 2008, when the U.S. housing market collapsed, the European banks lost big. They mostly absorbed those losses and focused their attention on Europe, where they kept lending to governments—meaning buying those countries’ debt—even though that was looking like an increasingly foolish thing to do: Many of the southern countries were starting to show worrying signs.
By 2010 one of those countries—Greece—could no longer pay its bills. Over the prior decade Greece had built up massive debt, a result of too many people buying too many things, too few Greeks paying too few taxes, and too many promises made by too many corrupt politicians, all wrapped in questionable accounting. Yet despite clear problems, bankers had been eagerly lending to Greece all along.
That 2010 Greek crisis was temporarily muzzled by an international bailout, which imposed on Greece severe spending constraints. This bailout gave Greece no debt relief, instead lending them more money to help pay off their old loans, allowing the banks to walk away with few losses. It was a bailout of the banks in everything but name.
Greece has struggled immensely since then, with an economic collapse of historic proportion, the human costs of which can only be roughly understood. Greece needed another bailout in 2012, and yet again this week.
While the Greeks have suffered, the northern banks have yet to account financially, legally, or ethically, for their reckless decisions. Further, by bailing out the banks in 2010, rather than Greece, the politicians transferred any future losses from Greece to the European public. It was a bait-and-switch rife with a nationalist sentiment that has corrupted the dialogue since: Don’t look at our reckless banks; look at their reckless borrowing.
David Biello in Scientific American:
The nuclear problem with Iran started 70 years ago in the desert of New Mexico. July 16, 1945, was a day with two dawns: the latter powered by hydrogen atoms fusing at a comfortable remove of 150 million kilometers. The earlier one entailed a blinding flash of white light fading away as the Trinity test of an atomic bomb exploded at 5:29 A.M. local time—“Up n' atom,” as the slogan for kids went from a little later in the new Atomic Age.
One dawn means a sky smeared with pink clouds drifting in a baby blue sky, accompanied by a chorus of birds singing in a wide flat valley carved by the Rio Grande and its tributaries. The other means a deafening roar that follows in the wake of a blinding flash and the world's first nuclear mushroom cloud.
The Trinity site within the White Sands Missile Range looks the same today as it does in color footage posted by the U.S. Department of Energy of preparations for the first plutonium bomb test. Tumbleweeds skip and hop across this dry and dusty land, theRussian imports piling up against barbed wire fences. A black-and-white film records the Trinity test, the explosion of a little gray sphere covered in wires, bolts and plugs atop a giant erector set reminiscent of an oil derrick. Scrawny geeks in white T-shirts with pencils behind their ears work in the innards of the Trinity bomb before it is raised carefully, ever so gingerly into position and left overnight.
Like the sacred site of some kind of new religion, the secretive missile range opens up to show Trinity twice a year, on a Saturday in spring and fall. So on another beautiful day in the high desert, I joined a procession of cars heading out into the scrubland and queuing up in a line that stretches for kilometers to pass through the Stallion Gate at the north end of the range that stretches for some 160 kilometers to the south through the region known as Jornada del Muerte, or Route of the Dead, a name given long before the nuclear test or the establishment of the missile range. Cattle graze placidly near the road while minivans wait at the turnoff, hawking "trinitite"—the new, greenish, flecked mineral produced by sand and dirt melted by the Trinity blast—for just $20 a pebble. Protesters hold up signs like "Speaking up for those silenced by the bombs" and "We are the Trinity downwinders."
The opening sentence of Langdon Hammer’s fine,wholly definitive biography of the writer James Merrill, quotes his riposte to the complaint of a professor friend who reminded him, “Some of us have to work for a living.” Merrill’s comeback was simple and conclusive: “I live to work.” Since his death in 1995, that work has been amply displayed in three large volumes of poems, a volume of collected prose, and a volume of novels and plays. By far the most important of these are the poems, all nine hundred pages of them, edited by his close friends and fellow writers, J. D. McClatchy and Stephen Yenser. As these volumes appeared, Hammer was at work for at least fifteen years in putting together an exhaustive account, alive on every page, of the life and work of his subject. The account succeeds in giving devoted, intelligent attention to Merrill’s writings—mainly his poems—as it does to the life that went into this work. Hammer’s nine-hundred-plus-page book is a load, hard to hold on one’s lap, but it is executed with such loving, assiduous care that one can’t imagine it ever needing to be done again,
Hammer met Merrill when, as a professor at Yale, Hammer was invited to drive the poet from his house in Stonington, Connecticut, to a memorial reading for Wallace Stevens at the University of Connecticut. On the road he found Merrill’s voice compelling, “suave, modulated, surprisingly low and deep, vaguely Southern or ‘mid-Atlantic’ like a movie actor’s from the 1940s.” In its gravity and modulation, Hammer’s own voice on the page is ideal to convey the “shrewd, ironic wit” he finds everywhere in Merrill’s work.
When I first encountered My Inventions it was as a free Internet download, an implausible work titled The Strange Life of Nikola Tesla. I dismissed the text as an invention itself, concocted by a flamboyantly imaginative fan of Tesla’s—a fairly common species. Sentences like, “When I drop little squares of paper in a dish filled with liquid, I always sense a peculiar and awful taste in my mouth,” convinced me that The Strange Life of Nikola Tesla was some sort of Internet hoax. The story it told was too weird to be his. An engineering genius would never draft such an unscientific text; one that reads as if it has been written by a carnival barker. “And now I will tell of one of my feats with this antique implement of war which will strain to the utmost the credulity of the reader.” Indeed.
But The Strange Life of Nikola Tesla is not a fabrication. Though that title was added after his death, the text is in fact Tesla’s work, first published serially in 1919 in the Electrical Experimenter magazine. These essays tell the story of Tesla’s early life, the rotary magnetic field, the Tesla coil and transformer. Each installment is a wondrous hybrid: part autobiography, part science, part ars poetica filled with earnest confessions and self-examinations frank as a child’s. Stories of his boyhood cunning in catching rats, dueling with cornstalks or attempting to fly off a barn roof mingle with sentences like, “It is a resonant transformer with a secondary in which the parts, charged to a high potential, are of considerable area and arranged in space along ideal enveloping surfaces of very large radii of curvature, and at proper distances from one another thereby insuring a small electric surface density everywhere so that no leak can occur even if the conductor is bare.”
Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker:
Though the new book is, to be blunt, a string of clichés, some of them are clichés only because, in the half century since Lee’s generation introduced them, they’ve become clichés; taken on their own terms, they remain quite touching and beautiful. The evocation of Maycomb, with which the new book begins, and which recurs throughout its pages, is often magically alive. There is a little set piece about the arrival of a train at a flag stop that makes one feel nostalgic for one’s Southern childhood even if one never had a Southern childhood:
The countryside and the train had subsided to a gentle roll, and she could see nothing but pastureland and black cows from window to horizon. She wondered why she had never thought her country beautiful. . . . The train clacketed through pine forests and honked derisively at a gaily-painted bell funneled museum piece sidetracked in a clearing. It bore the sign of a lumber concern, and the Crescent Limited could have swallowed it whole with room to spare. Greenville, Evergreen, Maycomb Junction.
She had told the conductor not to forget to let her off, and because the conductor was an elderly man, she anticipated his joke. . . . Trains changed; conductors never did. Being funny at flag stops with young ladies was a mark of the profession, and Atticus, who could predict the actions of every conductor from New Orleans to Cincinnati, would be awaiting accordingly not six steps away from her point of debarkation.
The tone is right and lovely, and is just as right and lovely in other pastoral pieces, in the later pages (though almost exclusively flashbacks), about games played with the heroine’s brother, Jem, and the Truman Capote character, Dill. The other, less potent clichés are either the stage-dramatic clichés of the fifties—the kind of dramaturgy you find in an Elia Kazan movie, with neat “reveals” and passionate scenes in which people driven to a climax of anger suddenly tell one another long-buried secrets—or, more drearily, the clichéd rationales that liberal Southerners used for years to justify a social order that they knew to be unjust.
The chromosomes in every single cell are made up of DNA and shaped like strands, with a kind of protective cap at the end of each strand of DNA. Without this end protective cap, the DNA strands would chemically bond to other strands, i.e. the chromosomes would merge and that would be lethal for the cell. The structures that prevent this catastrophe are the telomeres. They were discovered in the 1930s but decades elapsed before someone decided to study them in any depth and since the late 1990s they have always been on the cutting edge of biology research. Biologists are often surprised by their amazing and unexpected complexity, and their health-related significance.
"The biology of telomeres is extremely complex and the more we discover the more we realise what remains to be discovered," says Paula Martínez from CNIO's Telomere and Telomerase Group. "What surprises me most is the high number of factors we are finding that are essential to the preservation of telomeres and, above all, the precise coordination that is required between them all." The fact that telomeres have been tightly preserved throughout the evolutionary tree -- in most eukaryotes: vertebrates, plants and even unicellular organisms such as yeast -- indicates their importance. In addition to preventing the merger of chromosomes, telomeres are needed to prevent the loss of genetic information each time a cell divides.
Just across the border from north Texas,
my car broke, the land’s heat
the defunct road I’d rolled it onto
with the clump of empty, yellowish buildings
at the dead end,
the exit on the interstate being
there I guess
really only for the road that actually
in the opposite direction,
its border as deserted as my part
until the eye caught
dust-colored cardboard-box-like houses
lining the red hill’s foot
far south across
the roar of highway.
The car was dead, useless
—no way away
from this place so I sat in the heat
with the windows up
for as long as I could stand it—and my
dog—waiting for the tow truck,
then rolled them down
a little, just a crack because I
feared some slasher-movie kind of incident,
cruelty that seemed
the sun being cruel
and the sharp sand grains—then
more, rolled the window
farther down, then all the way but even that
wasn’t enough, so I
opened the door
as if it had been years that I’d been
broke a seal, as if it had been
some sort of mason probably,
with the hope and fear of anarchic times
had sealed me in
—what for what?
—as if a living thing could leave its tomb.
I ended up on the car hood
where these birds I didn’t recognize
fed on locusts
it looked like. There was the
click of exoskeletons, a
remarkable display of leaping
—by the birds!
(it wasn’t flying)—
as they went by turns into the cloud, came out
invariably with a bug in the beak,
then went back in,
my dog tugging on the leash
but we were
free, me barely catching breath
at another kind of what.
by Elizabeth Arnold
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Amartya Sen in the NY Review of Books:
Classes began in early September last year at a small new international university, called Nalanda, in Bihar in northeast India—one of the most backward parts of the country. Only two faculties—history, and environment and ecology—were holding classes for fewer than twenty students. And yet the opening of Nalanda was the subject of headlines in all the major newspapers in India and received attention across the world. “Ritorno a Nalanda” was the headline in Corriere della Sera.
The new venture is meant to be a revival of Nalanda Mahavihara, the oldest university in the world, which began in the early fifth century. By the time the first European university was established in Bologna in 1088, Nalanda had been providing higher education to thousands of students from Asian countries for more than six hundred years.
The original university at Nalanda was run by a Buddhist foundation in what was then the prosperous region of Bihar—the original center of Buddhist religion, culture, and enlightenment. Its capital was Pataliputra (now called Patna), which also served, beginning in the third century BC, as the capital of the early all-India empires for more than a thousand years. Nalanda drew students not only from all over India, but also from China, Japan, Korea, Sumatra, and other Asian lands with Buddhist connections, and a few from elsewhere, including Turkey. It was the only institution of higher learning outside China to which any Chinese in the ancient world ever went for education.
By the seventh century Nalanda had ten thousand students, receiving instruction not only in Buddhist philosophy and religious practice, but also in a variety of secular subjects, including languages and literatures, astronomy and other sciences, architecture and sculpture, as well as medicine and public health.
Gary Gutting interviews Daniel Hausman in the NYT's The Stone (image Robert Streiffer):
Daniel Hausman: Speaking of predictive power can be misleading. Scientists (and I include economists) are not fortunetellers. Their theories only allow them to predict what will happen if initial conditions are satisfied. Elementary physics enables us to predict how long it will take an object to fall to the ground, provided that gravity is the only force acting on the object. Predicting how long it will take a leaf falling from a tree to reach the ground or where it will land is a much harder problem.
In John Stuart Mill’s view, which I believe is basically correct, economics is a separate and inexact science. It is separate from the other social sciences, because it focuses on only a small number of the causal factors that influence social phenomena. It is inexact because the phenomena with which it deals are influenced by many other causes than the few it focuses on.
Over at the Rationally Speaking podcast an interview with Stanford historian Prof. Ian Morris:
Ian MorrisFor several centuries, historians have tried to answer the question: "Why is Western Europe (and later, North America) the dominant world power?" Past explanations cited culture, or "great men" who influenced the course of history. Stanford historianProf. Ian Morris casts doubt on those explanations, instead taking a data-driven approach to the question that attempts to measure "social development" over history and find explanations for it. In this episode of Rationally Speaking, Julia delves into Morris' method and conclusions, and asks: can we make causal inferences about history?
Ian Morris is Willard Professor of Classics and Fellow of the Archaeology Center, Stanford University. He is a historian and archaeologist. He has excavated in Britain, Greece, and Italy, most recently as director of Stanford's dig at Monte Polizzo, a native Sicilian site from the age of Greek colonization. He is also the author of a number of books, among them: "Why the West Rules--for Now". "War! What Is It Good For?", and "Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels."
Holly A Case in East-Central Europe Past and Present:
Seventy years after the guns fell silent, India's part in the Second World War is finally receiving the attention it deserves. The two million Indian combatants (according to Raghu Karnad) - or the two and a half million (according to Yasmin Khan) - comprised the largest volunteer army in the world. They pushed the Italians from the rocky heights of Eritrea, trudged back and forth through the minefields of North Africa, quelled an insurgency in Iraq, and in the 'Forgotten War' for Burma suffered heavier casualties than all the other Allies combined. Nor were civilians spared. Cities such as Calcutta and Vishakhapatnam were bombed, ships were sunk and dockyards were shelled. In 1942 some 80,000 Indians perished in the chaotic exodus from Burma and in 1943 several millions starved to death in the war-induced famine in Bengal. Acts of bravery were applauded, medals were won and loved ones were lost. There is much to record. But if the wartime sacrifice has seldom been recognised, it is because so many Indians were ambivalent about the cause they were serving. After all, it was not their war: they hadn't been consulted about it and they objected to dying for an empire they were trying to get shot of.
As Karnad puts it, Nehru, like most of his colleagues in the mainstream Congress party, 'could not accept that Indian soldiers would die for the freedom of a nation which denied that very freedom to India'. Congress's heroes were not the two million 'mercenaries' of Britain's Indian army but the 43,000 patriotic men and women of the Japanese-sponsored Indian National Army, led by the strutting Subhas Chandra Bose.
The sale in March of Paul Gauguin’s “When Will You Marry?” (1892) to an anonymous buyer for $300 million—the highest price ever paid for a work of art, according to The Economist (April 4, 2015)—brings to mind two of Gauguin’s remarks, both relevant to any discussion of so-called protest art. Gauguin was a protest artist: his “ancient Eve,” as he called his Maori female, was a sort of protest against “the Eve of your civilized conception,” as he wrote in a letter to August Strindberg. She made “misogynists of you and almost all of us”; the ancient Eve, who inhabited a “paradise,” brought a “smile” to a man’s face. Gauguin’s primitivism, as it has come to be called, more pointedly what he called “the barbarism which is for me a rejuvenation,” was a radical protest against, not to say a total rejection of, the “civilization from which you [Strindberg] suffer.”
Ever since so-called “advanced” art—Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism, Abstract Art—has been a species of protest against supposedly retardataire civilized art. It is a clash of opposites, indeed, a fight to the death: Gauguin preferred beauty that “results from instinct” (e.g., Breton’s “convulsive beauty”) to beauty that “come[s] from study” of tradition (e.g., Renaissance beauty, grounded in the study of classical art). Thus Gauguin’s preference for “the wooden hobby-horse of his infancy” to “the horses of the Parthenon” was in effect a nihilistic protest and revolt against the classical tradition—and with it against the ruling powers and establishment ideologies it served and celebrated.
Azar Nafisi in Salon:
It all began one Friday morning, a weekend in Iran, over breakfast. My father had promised me the night before that he would tell me a new story instead of taking me to the movies, which was our usual weekend treat. That was when he first introduced me to Alice. I think he made a fair amount of it up as he went along, as I never found many of his Alice stories when I was old enough to read the books myself. But I can still remember his describing how Alice, having taken a big gulp of a special potion, began to grow smaller and smaller. “And then,” he said, “she discovered a hooka smoking caterpillar.” Now I was quite familiar with caterpillars — in those days we could buy them in cocoons from street vendors with a handful of leaves and watch them turn into butterflies — and everyone had a cousin or uncle who was overfond of a hooka. But Alice, who had never seen a hooka-smoking caterpillar, quite naturally asked him, “Who are you?” And the caterpillar threw the question right back at her, saying: “Who, Who Who are Youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu?” “Tow Tow Tow, Key Haaaastiiiiiiiiiiii?” my father would say, mimicking the caterpillar in Persian. He repeated this several times and each time I laughed louder, with tears streaming down my face as my mother, glancing at me reproachfully, urged me to refrain from spitting out my bread. But my father was in a playful mood, and he paid no attention to my mother’s protestations as he tickled me and said it again.
Later on I would sit my gentle and compliant 2-year-old brother against the wall of our room and say, “Tow Tow Tow Key Haaastiiiii?” tickling him around the navel. He smiled at me in amazement in what may have been the only time I had the privilege of actually amazing him. Since then I have read “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” many times in many different places, carrying her with me on a journey that has had its share of unexpected encounters defying all logic and explanation. “Who are you?” Isn’t this what every book asks of us as we chase its characters, trying to find out what they are reluctant to reveal? Is it not also the one essential thing we ask ourselves as human beings, as we struggle to make the choices that will define us? I can describe myself as a mother, a wife, a friend, a teacher, a sister, a writer, a reader …. So it goes. Yet none of these simple labels provides a satisfactory response. We are how we live, constantly in a state of flux. But it is essential to ask and be asked that question, one which I believe is at the heart both of the act of writing and of reading.
Over the years I have often thought of Alice as my ideal reader, the one I aspire to be.
Sara Reardon in Nature:
Researchers who are developing miniature models of human organs on plastic chips have touted the nascent technology as a way to replace animal models. Although that goal is still far off, it is starting to come into focus as large pharmaceutical companies begin using these in vitro systems in drug development. “We are pretty excited about the interest we get from pharma,” says Paul Vulto, co-founder of the biotechnology company Mimetas in Leiden, the Netherlands. “It’s much quicker than I’d expected.” His company is currently working with a consortium of three large pharmaceutical companies that are testing drugs on Mimetas’s kidney-on-a-chip. At the Organ-on-a-Chip World Congress in Boston, Massachusetts, last week, Mimetas was one among many drug and biotechnology firms and academic researchers showing off the latest advances in miniature model organs that respond to drugs and diseases in the same way that human organs such as heart and liver do.
“We’re surprised at how rapidly the technology has come along,” says Dashyant Dhanak, global head of discovery sciences at Johnson & Johnson in New Jersey, which announced last month that it would use a thrombosis-on-chip model from Massachusetts biotechnology firm Emulate to test whether experimental and already-approved drugs could cause blood clots. Proponents of organs-on-chips say that they are more realistic models of the human body than are flat layers of cells grown in Petri dishes, and could also be more useful than animal models for drug discovery and testing. A lung-on-a-chip, for instance, might consist of a layer of cells exposed to a blood-like medium on one side and air on the other, hooked up to a machine that stretches and compresses the tissue to mimic breathing.
God or No God
Deer not clacking through snow crust
after apples, crows thankfully asleep,
coyotes whispering to young
not yet ready to test their pipes—
midnight is broken by my sump-pump
disgorging the day’s melt-seep. Yes.
What can I do without?
The first time I rode the ambulance
there was a hole in someone’s head.
Because all matter crumbles, because
chunk and mouth, bone of skull,
because this guy knew where to point.
That my hands did all the right things;
that he died as he meant to; that he made me
wildly alive—all true.
Ten years on, cumin seeds scorching in the pan
are my children, my slipknot, my go-to.
Because I believe myself fragrant
I am spitting me back out.
I renounce dog-eared and dog tired and even
dogged—no, dogged is good.
Because God or no god are both monstrous.
Because wrists don’t age. Because kisses
or memories of kisses. Because
hull and grave equally ravish.
The first time I gave myself an eyelash of a chance
to change, it will be tomorrow, and luckily
I’m watching. Because let the tenses be scrambled.
The world happens momentarily.
by Ellen Doré Watson
from Dogged Hearts
Tuesday, July 14, 2015
Alex Mayyasi in Brooklyn Quarterly (Abounaddara logo; Credit: Abounaddara):
When Syrians took to the streets to denounce the rule of President Bashar al Assad in 2011, protesters in the revolutionary city of Homs summarized their goals in a chant: “It’s a Syrian, Syrian Revolution! For freedom and dignity!”
The inability of Syrians to achieve their demands has been well documented. Despite the unifying rhetoric, conflict has divided Syria and fostered sectarianism. Assad remains in power, and the rebels holding Syrian territory include illiberal groups like the Islamic State.
The anonymous film collective Abounaddara fights for another unachieved goal: Syrians’ dignity. The collective’s name means “the man with glasses,” a reference to documentary cinema, which it uses to “defend Syrians’ right to an image that is dignified and independent of political and media agendas.” The collective works to provide an alternative image of Syrian society, different from the prevailing narrative found in government propaganda and mainstream media. Since 2011, the anonymous filmmakers have released a short — 1- to 12-minute — film every week.
The collective has described its work as “bullet films” and its members as “snipers” who sabotage Bashar al Assad’s propaganda through seemingly innocuous films. Many feature regular Syrians telling a story. In Confessions of a Woman—Part Two, a woman describes how the conflict has increased her awareness of sectarianism. Other films such as Who is the Military Fighting? use more artistry, showing a toy soldier crawling through peaceful urban streets...
1. When did the first members of Abounadarra found the collective? Was its founding spurred by a specific event?
It was out of desperation that we launched our collective in 2010. For years each of us had been making films of our own without ever getting any interest from producers or distributors. We absolutely had to change the way our society was represented — a representation monopolized by a tyrannical government and a blind culture industry. And we wanted to believe it was still possible to do that.
Judith Levine in Boston Review:
The plaintiffs who moved the Supreme Court to grant homosexuals “equal dignity” in marriage under the U.S. Constitution were the bereaved widower of a man who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease, an Army lifer and his male partner, and a couple of lesbians so devoted to children that they adopted three with severe disabilities.
Like the nine African Americans whose murder in Charleston has persuaded white America finally to consider doing something about racism—“good people, decent people, God-fearing people,” President Barack Obama called the church members—they were as innocent as victims could be.
And like the families of the slain, the gay and lesbian petitioners forgive the people and institutions that have hurt them. Indeed, they “respect [marriage] so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves,” writes Justice Anthony Kennedy for the majority. All they want is “not to be condemned to live in loneliness”—apparently the fate of unmarried people. Yet because of “their immutable nature,” they have no option but same-sex matrimony.
In other words, these people did not choose their plight; they do not deserve their punishment. Unlike, say, the hundreds of African American bad guys killed by police every year—the guilty victims.
The morning the Court’s ruling came down, I was sitting in a frigidly air-conditioned room in a Dallas church, listening to a preacher give a motivational speech to a roomful of guilty victims. It was the annual convention of Reform Sex Offender Laws, or RSOL, a national coalition of registered sex offenders (RSOs), men currently incarcerated on sex offense convictions, and their loved ones fighting to end the U.S.’s war on sex.
Texas was a logical place to hold the gathering: the state’s sex offender registry lists 86,000 people—about 10 percent of the nation’s total.