Writing and Whistle-Blowing | Morgan Meis

The point of Orwell’s elephant story is not that he should or shouldn’t have killed the elephant. Maybe killing the elephant was necessary. But whatever the legal or moral arguments, killing the elephant was, for Orwell, a horrible act committed for selfish reasons. That part of the story cannot, and should not, be removed. In writing the essay, Orwell restored the messy truth. Orwell killed an animal even though he didn’t want to and even though doing so caused him much pain. Orwell killed the animal because of his own pride, and stubbornness, and fear.

Like Orwell’s writing, Snowden’s whistle-blowing restores the ugliness. By giving us this information, Snowden is showing us the true face of our pride, and stubbornness, and fear. In wanting to make America invulnerable to attack, we’ve created an almost all-powerful surveillance state that watches us from the shadows day and night. Perhaps this is necessary. Perhaps it will make for a safer and better world in the long run. But as Orwell would say, it is important not to be deceived as to its true nature.

via The Smart Set: Writing and Whistle-Blowing

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Play-deprivation experiment | Aeon

In school, and in other settings where adults are in charge, they make decisions for children and solve children’s problems. In play, children make their own decisions and solve their own problems. In adult-directed settings, children are weak and vulnerable. In play, they are strong and powerful. The play world is the child’s practice world for being an adult. We think of play as childish, but to the child, play is the experience of being like an adult: being self-controlled and responsible. To the degree that we take away play, we deprive children of the ability to practise adulthood, and we create people who will go through life with a sense of dependence and victimisation, a sense that there is some authority out there who is supposed to tell them what to do and solve their problems.

via Children are suffering a severe deficit of play

“You have to live on the border and be audacious” | Pope Francis

Pope Francis, it seems, truly is a quiet revolutionary. He was remarkably open and plainspoken in a long interview published last week in Jesuit journals around the world. Although I’m at best an equivocal deist and more often an agnostic, much of what he said moved me, sometimes deeply. Imagine then his impact on believers.

Father Spadaro, who conducted the interview, started by asking the Pope: “What does the church need most at this historic moment?”

I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.

He has no patience for, or interest in, a church that looms over people, superior, distant, all knowing. Continue reading

‘Lawrence in Arabia’ | Bookforum review

And then there was the incomprehensible folly: the spy rings and small-bore deceits and devious egos of the many individuals who would, in the end, have some hand in seizing the lands of the Middle East and creating a catastrophic reordering of the world. It’s the latter theater of intrigue that Anderson has chosen to chronicle in entertaining detail.

The pleasure and heartache of books like Anderson’s are in the connections we can make between the past and the present—especially when they concern the Middle East. We all know that the Western powers made (and continue to make) the same mistakes over and over in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but a skilled and perceptive writer like Anderson . . . . can provoke a kind of intellectual astonishment, a feeling of revelation.

Scott Anderson’s “Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East” is by all accounts an extraordinary achievement. Carefully researched, centred around a vibrant cast of characters, all woven together in a beautifully written tale about a period whose consequences are far from played out.

The review seems an appropriate hors d’oeuvre.

via The Conquering Hero – bookforum.com / current issue.

Will they . . . won’t they

Britain, for now at least, has broken free of the compulsion to “do something” about Syria.[1] Not so the US, where matters still hang very much in the balance.

Quite why Obama and co seem hellbent on risking so much based on so little remains a mystery. Is he so in thrall to the responsibility to protect crowd? Or maybe he really does think his credibility (and, perhaps, America’s) is on the line. Who knows? In any case, the hard sell is on, with back-to-back media appearances and much emotional arm-twisting.

Amidst all this confected drama, there’s an almost complete silence surrounding the question of whether the Syrian regime was responsible for the attacks. Its guilt is generally assumed; what’s at issue is how best to punish them.

Which is odd, considering cui bono is not a difficult question to answer: Continue reading

Gut bacteria and obesity | Nature

The team took gut bacteria from four sets of human twins in which one of each pair was lean and one was obese, and introduced the microbes into mice bred to be germ-free. Mice given bacteria from a lean twin stayed slim, whereas those given bacteria from an obese twin quickly gained weight, even though all the mice ate about the same amount of food.

The team wondered whether the gut microbiota of either group of mice would be influenced by mice with one type living in close quarters with animals harbouring the other type.

So the scientists took mice with the ‘lean’ microbiota and placed them in a cage Continue reading

‘The mind . . . in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven’

Remarkable article about how our social experience and the way we come to frame our lives influences gene-expression.

I would’ve bet my eyeteeth that we’d get a lot of noisy results that are inconsistent from one realm to another. And at the level of individual genes that’s kind of true—there is some noise there.” But the kinds of genes that get dialed up or down in response to social experience, he said, and the gene networks and gene-expression cascades that they set off, “are surprisingly consistent—from monkeys to people, from five-year-old kids to adults, from Vancouver teenagers to 60-year-olds living in Chicago.”

The principal pathway through which this works appears to be the immune system.

Normally, a healthy immune system works by deploying what amounts to a leashed attack dog. It detects a pathogen, then sends inflammatory and other responses to destroy the invader while also activating an anti-inflammatory response—the leash—to keep the inflammation in check. The lonely Chicagoans’ immune systems, however, suggested an attack dog off leash—even though they weren’t sick. Some 78 genes that normally work together to drive inflammation were busier than usual, as if these healthy people were fighting infection. Meanwhile, 131 genes that usually cooperate to control inflammation were underactive. Continue reading