camus on algeria


“People expect too much of writers,” Albert Camus lamented in the late 1950s. At the time Camus was writing, the Algerian rebellion had grown into a full-scale guerrilla war for independence, and while his initial sympathy for the uprising led the French Right and the French Algerian settlers to denounce him as a traitor, he also came in for frequent polemical attacks from the French Left for not energetically and unequivocally supporting the insurgents. Criticism also came from the Algerian militants themselves. Frantz Fanon, the best-known Algerian writer, derided him as a “sweet sister.” Sartre, formerly his close friend, mocked Camus’s “beautiful soul.” Camus’s complaint does him credit. He agonized over his political pronouncements in a way that the more brilliant, mercurial, doctrinaire Sartre never had to. In 1957, as the war ground on and positions hardened on both sides, Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Despairing of the Algerian situation but determined to answer his critics and, with the prestige of the Nobel behind him, make one final effort for peace and reconciliation, Camus assembled a short collection of his writings about Algeria, which was published in 1958. It appears now in English for the first time, ably translated by Arthur Goldhammer.

more from George Scialabba at Bookforum here.

geologic time


Any serious conversation about the planet’s climate and our energy future must begin, paradoxically, with a backward look at geologic time. The reason for this is that the way forward is fogged by misunderstandings about the earth. Experts are little help in the constant struggle in this conversation to separate myth from reality, because they have the same difficulty, and routinely demonstrate it by talking past each other. Respected scientists warn of imminent energy shortages as geologic fuel supplies run out. Wall Street executives dismiss their predictions as myths and call for more drilling. Environmentalists describe the destruction to the earth from burning coal, oil, and natural gas. Economists ignore them and describe the danger to the earth of failing to burn coal, oil, and natural gas. Geology researchers report fresh findings about what the earth was like millions of years ago. Creationist researchers report fresh findings that the earth didn’t exist millions of years ago. The only way not to get lost in this awful swamp is to review the basics and decide for yourself what you believe and what you don’t.

more from Robert B. Laughlin at The American Scholar here.

the courage and selflessness with which Siân Busby battled cancer

Robert Peston in The Telegraph:

Siân Elizabeth Busby died on September 4 2012 after a long illness. A few days later I transcribed her handwritten manuscript for the end of A Commonplace Killing, her final novel. My motive was selfish: I wanted to keep talking to her. I still do.

Robert-peston_2550669b…For the proud spouse it matters that she finished the book after she had received her death sentence. On August 3 2012, the consultant oncologist at the Royal Marsden, Sanjay Popat, a compassionate, assiduous and expert physician whom we came to think of as a friend during the years he was in charge of Siân’s treatment, gave us the latest in a succession of scan results. Medical science could no longer help Siân, except – perhaps – to take the edge off acute and constant pain. “This is where I say goodbye,” he said. It was almost exactly five years to the day after Siân – who is probably the only person I know who never smoked a cigarette – was diagnosed with lung cancer. In the ensuing years, she never despaired or resorted to self-pity, even as the cancer spread, on a couple of occasions to the brain, later to the liver and spine. The cycle of surgery, body-racking chemicals and radiation was relentless. Life became punctuated by terrible shocks and emergencies. Yet those who met her at pretty much any point in this ordeal encountered the Siân they had always known: solicitous, supportive, witty, insightful, unselfish. Through the sheer force of her will, Siân remained poised and beautiful. She eschewed drama.

Most of our friends had no idea how ill she really was. Siân did not wish to be seen by others as someone who was suffering from a lethal cancer. She did not want to be classified as infirm and she did not need maudlin sympathy. The priority was that our boys, Max and Simon, should not be constantly bothered and worried by friends and neighbours asking for the latest prognosis on her health. Siân just got on with living. Her huge, magnificent novel, McNaughten – which for me is the last great Victorian novel, a symphony of fantastical stories, rich in disquisitions on the absurdity of life – was written when Siân’s illness had become for us just one of those things. I know this may seem odd, but these were wonderful years for Siân, Max, Simon and me. The cancer did not haunt us. If anything, it helped us to understand what matters in life: family, first and foremost; work that fulfils; friends, beauty and fun. By the time Siân was completing A Commonplace Killing, the cancer could no longer be confined to the background. It was a monster laying waste to our family.

More here.

Video reveals cancer cells’ Achilles’ heel

From Manchester:

Rituximab_cancer_cellsProfessor Daniel Davis and his team used high quality video imaging to investigate why the drug rituximab is so effective at killing cancerous B cells. It is widely used in the treatment of B cell malignancies, such as lymphoma and leukaemia – as well as in autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. Using high-powered laser-based microscopes, researchers made videos of the process by which rituximab binds to a diseased cell and then attracts white blood cells known as natural killer (NK) cells to attack. They discovered that rituximab tended to stick to one side of the cancer cell, forming a cap and drawing a number of proteins over to that side. It effectively created a front and back to the cell – with a cluster of protein molecules massed on one side. But what surprised the scientists most was how this changed the effectiveness of natural killer cells in destroying these diseased cells. When the NK cell latched onto the rituximab cap on the B cell, it had an 80% success rate at killing the cell. In contrast, when the B cell lacked this cluster of proteins on one side, it was killed only 40% of the time.

Professor Davis says: “These results were really unexpected. It was only possible for us to unravel the mystery of why this drug was so effective, through the use of video microscopy. By watching what happened within the cells we could clearly identify just why rituximab is such an effective drug – because it tended to reorganise the cancerous cell and make it especially prone to being killed.” He continues: “What our findings demonstrate is that this ability to polarise a cell by moving proteins within it should be taken into consideration when new antibodies are being tested as potential treatments for cancer cells. It appears that they can be up to twice as effective if they bind to a cell and reorganise it.”

More here.

Wednesday Poem


Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing.
I want to fill it with color and ducks,
The zoo of the new

Whose names you meditate —
April snowdrop, Indian pipe,

Stalk without wrinkle,
Pool in which images
Should be grand and classical

Not this troublous
Wringing of hands, this dark
Ceiling without a star.

by Silvia Plath,
from Collected Poems of Silvia Plath
publisher: Harper Collins

One week, no food

My wife and I did this crazy little experiment in February. The excellent new magazine Aeon has published an account I wrote of it:

ScreenHunter_175 May. 01 11.43The plan was to go a full week without eating or drinking anything except water. Lest our bodies react to this insult by trying to slow down our metabolisms, and we end up just lying around and not getting anything useful done all week, we also planned to stay energetic by engaging in vigorous physical exercise for at least a couple of hours daily during the fast. Neither one of us had ever done anything of the sort before.

Since my wife had a week’s break in February from her work as a schoolteacher, we decided to try our fast then. Our preparation was pretty minimal. I would keep a journal in which I would record my weight, blood pressure, activities and, several times a day, just note how I was feeling. We bought some emergency supplies in case one or both of us ended up feeling ill or fainting: some energy drinks, a couple of bars of Swiss milk chocolate, some fruit, and some bread and cheese, and put them in the refrigerator. My wife also told me to stop locking the bathroom door from the inside, just in case she needed to rescue me.

On our final day before beginning, we measured our weight, blood pressure, pulse rate, and waist size. My wife and I don’t normally eat breakfast (she has a cup of coffee and I drink a Coke Zero — yes, yes, I know it’s bad) but that day we had a light lunch and in the evening we had an early dinner of chicken, potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and brown rice. And some chocolate pudding. And then we stopped eating.

More here.