The Flying Train (1902)

From the Youtube Channel of MoMA:

“The Flying Train” depicts a ride on a suspended railway in Germany in 1902. The footage is almost as impressive as the feat of engineering it captures. For many years our curators believed our Mutoscope rolls were slightly shrunken 70mm film, but they were actually shot on Biograph’s proprietary 68mm stock. Formats like Biograph’s 68mm and Fox’s 70mm Grandeur are of particular interest to researchers visiting the Film Study Center because the large image area affords stunning visual clarity and quality, especially compared to the more standard 35mm or 16mm stocks.

Friday Poem


And the fence needs
built, and I
of course, say yes to
the secret language of
wire, of keep out,
of property, and respect
the landowner
, then the land,
so I drive the backhoe;
the hydraulic breath, spiderlike,
blows smoke through
the brush, and 
a bird is hit 
by the blade I push.
A bird, the bird,
an eagle, young, ugly, 
bald but truly
defeathered and bleeding
and peep peep peep,
the unnerving blood. 
It squawks in my hand,
and I remember the words,
A fossil we can leave,
but something of life lived 
before, bury and destroy.
left smashed stones, 
sharpened, and clay, hardened, 
in my wake, and again,
a symbol in my hand,
and I thought to free it to 
life unknown and wolves,
Think. It’s easier with chew. 
But it’s gone,
and I looked up
to the hills, feeling watched,
a spine of rock, fishlike
sent as punishment from
God, or a god, another, 
so I grabbed and twisted the feathered neck, 
then buried the eagle 
beneath a Copenhagen headstone,
a signpost of a secret language 
that I’d try to speak
to others at home 
around my five-hundred dollar table,
cast-off wood, covered in tobacco tin lids,
a hundred at five dollars, each,
and epoxy, a joke
of excess.

by Tyler Julian
from Echotheo Review

Exquisite Scandal: Disgrace comes in various forms

Nancy Lemann in Lapham’s Quaterly:

When I first moved to Washington, I attended a party at Blair House, which stands across Lafayette Square from the White House. Visiting dignitaries are often put up there. A tour was led by the chief of protocol, a fragile southerner obsessed with discretion who kept vowing never to write a book about the scandals he had seen, which he kept referring to in a veiled way. The history of the house was poignant. There was the room where Robert E. Lee was offered by Lincoln the command of the Union army, and where he refused it. There was the room where the chandelier almost fell on the king of Morocco right after he got out of bed. The decor was pretty much that of an old genteel country club that has seen better days. The chief of protocol kept picking up vases and saying, “This is from the Ming dynasty, but feel free to hold it”—and practically throwing it at you. The atmosphere was curiously unpretentious.

I imagined this must be a vestige of the original character and ideals of the capital. For example, one endearing thing about the father of our country was his propensity for self-effacement. Every time they drew him to a post, he would agonize and ultimately accept but essentially stand up and say, “I just want it on the record that I do not consider myself equal to this task.”

That was his basic position on everything. Showing that even the great have self-doubt. Maybe only the great. His professions of unworthiness continued to the end. In his farewell address to the nation after serving two terms as president he said he hoped that his many forms of incompetence would be consigned to oblivion. It sometimes seems a cliché to commend George Washington, but “intellectual humility” is associated with the capacity to maintain convictions, according to a recent scientific study, and I think it is one quality that must characterize an incorruptible man. If only because such a man is capable of admitting his mistakes. He knows he is fallible, and his self-doubt expands the potential of his mind, allowing him to understand that there are better ways than his, and that they can and must be searched for.

More here.

A tailor-made molecule that ties nerve connections

From Phys.Org:

The human brain’s neuronal network undergoes lifelong changes in order to be able to assimilate information and store it in a suitable manner. This applies in particular to the generation and recall of memories. So-called synapses play a central role in the brain’s ability to adapt. They are junctions through which nerve signals are passed from one cell to the next. A number of specific molecules known as synaptic organizing proteins ensure that synapses are formed and reconfigured whenever necessary.

An artificial protein

An international team of researchers has now combined structural elements of such naturally occurring molecules into an artificial protein called CPTX and tested its effect in disease models. To this end, the compound was administered to mice with neurological deficits analogous to human afflictions. Specifically, the tests focused on Alzheimer’s disease, spinal cord injury and cerebellar ataxia—a disease that is characterized primarily by a failure of muscle coordination. All these conditions are associated with damage to the synapses or their loss. The study was a  by experts from several , including the DZNE’s Magdeburg site, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in UK, Keio University School of Medicine in Tokyo, and, also in Japan, Aichi Medical University.

Easing symptoms of disease

“In our lab we studied the effect of CPTX on mice that exhibited certain symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Prof. Alexander Dityatev, a senior researcher at the DZNE, who has been investigating synaptic proteins for many years. “We found that application of CPTX improved the mice’s memory performance.” The researchers also observed normalization of several important neuronal parameters that are compromised in Alzheimer’s disease, as well as in the studied animal model. Namely, CPTX increased the ability of synapses to change, which is considered as a cellular process associated with memory formation. Furthermore, CPTX was shown to elevate what is called “excitatory transmission.” This is to say that the protein acted specifically on synapses that promoted activity of the contacted cell. And finally, CPTX increased the density of so-called dendritic spines. These are tiny bulges in the cell’s membrane that are essential for establishing excitatory synaptic connections.

More here.

Long-Haulers Are Redefining COVID-19

Ed Yong in The Atlantic:

Lauren Nichols has been sick with COVID-19 since March 10, shortly before Tom Hanks announced his diagnosis and the NBA temporarily canceled its season. She has lived through one month of hand tremors, three of fever, and four of night sweats. When we spoke on day 150, she was on her fifth month of gastrointestinal problems and severe morning nausea. She still has extreme fatigue, bulging veins, excessive bruising, an erratic heartbeat, short-term memory loss, gynecological problems, sensitivity to light and sounds, and brain fog. Even writing an email can be hard, she told me, “because the words I think I’m writing are not the words coming out.” She wakes up gasping for air twice a month. It still hurts to inhale.

Tens of thousands of people, collectively known as “long-haulers,” have similar stories. I first wrote about them in early June. Since then, I’ve received hundreds of messages from people who have been suffering for months—alone, unheard, and pummeled by unrelenting and unpredictable symptoms. “It’s like every day, you reach your hand into a bucket of symptoms, throw some on the table, and say, ‘This is you for today,’” says David Putrino, a neuroscientist and a rehabilitation specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital who has cared for many long-haulers.

More here.

Blockchain, the amazing solution for almost nothing

Jesse Frederik in The Correspondent:

I’ve been hearing a lot about blockchain in the last few years. I mean, who hasn’t? It’s everywhere.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought: but what is it then, for God’s sake, this whole blockchain thing? And what’s so terribly revolutionary about it? What problem does it solve?

That’s why I wrote this article. I can tell you upfront, it’s a bizarre journey to nowhere. I’ve never seen so much incomprehensible jargon to describe so little. I’ve never seen so much bloated bombast fall so flat on closer inspection. And I’ve never seen so many people searching so hard for a problem to go with their solution.

More here.

Jacques Rivette on Out 1 and Céline and Julie Go Boating

Carlos Clarens and Edgardo Cozarinsky interview Jazques Rivette at Sight and Sound:

JACQUES RIVETTE: When I began making films my point of view was that of a cinephile, so my ideas about what I wanted to do were abstract. Then, after the experience of my first two films, I realised I had taken the wrong direction as regards methods of shooting. The cinema of mise en scène, where everything is carefully preplanned and where you try to ensure that what is seen on the screen corresponds as closely as possible to your original plan, was not a method in which I felt at ease or worked well. What bothered me from the outset, after I had finally managed to finish Paris Nous Appartient with all its tribulations, was what the characters said, the words they used. I had written the dialogue beforehand with my co-writer Jean Gruault (though I was 90 per cent responsible) and then it was reworked and pruned during shooting, as the film otherwise would have run four-and-a-half hours. The actors sometimes changed a word here and there, as always happens in films, but basically the dialogue was what I had written – and I found it a source of intense embarrassment. So much so that when I began work on La Religieuse, which was a project that took quite a while to get off the ground, I determined this time to use what was basically a pre-existing text.

more here.

The dizzying ‘Celine and Julie Go Boating’

Philippa Snow at The New Statesman:

“[Jacques Rivette’s] whole movie, like a dream, is set between quotation marks,” Gilbert Adair suggested in Film Comment in 1974. “Like a dream, it is an anagram of reality.” The simplest way to explain the film – if there is a simple way to explain it – is that at some point Celine enters a ­remote mansion on the outskirts of the city, loses track of time, and ends up thrown back into daylight after an unspecified number of hours. She is dazed, and has no memory of what occurred inside the house, but feels compelled to keep returning.

Julie, keen to solve the puzzle, does the same. After each visit, they emerge with a mysterious piece of candy in their mouths; eventually, it becomes clear that the key to remembering what has transpired is ­consuming this strange sweet, allowing them to experience a shared hallucination that takes on the shape of a Victorian  murder mystery.

more here.

Lynching and Liberalism

Paul Berman in Tablet:

The larger question lurking behind the debate over “cancel culture” is the one about liberalism—to wit, what is liberalism, anyway? And why should we care about it? I signed the Harper’s “Letter on Justice and Open Debate” last month because it beams a clarifying spotlight on the cancel phenomenon, and on its progressive or left-wing version, in particular: “an intolerance of opposing views, a vogue for public shaming and ostracism, and the tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.” But I signed also because, in the course of making its point, the Harper’s letter scatters a few additional illuminations on the larger background question, as well. It is a nuanced letter. Its tone seems to me agreeably old school, recognizable from liberal debates and manifestos of long ago—which, to be sure, the letter’s detractors may regard as one more reason for dismissing the debate and the document and the signatories and their worries. But sometimes it is good to be reminded of times gone by.

Cancel culture is a new name, but the ideological coercions of an overheated left are not, after all, a new problem. They have a history, and, by my reckoning, they even have an origin, which goes back to the 1920s.

More here.

What Near-Death Experiences Reveal about the Brain

Christof Koch in Scientific American:

A young Ernest Hemingway, badly injured by an exploding shell on a World War I battlefield, wrote in a letter home that “dying is a very simple thing. I’ve looked at death, and really I know. If I should have died it would have been very easy for me. Quite the easiest thing I ever did.” Years later Hemingway adapted his own experience—that of the soul leaving the body, taking flight and then returning—for his famous short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” about an African safari gone disastrously wrong. The protagonist, stricken by gangrene, knows he is dying. Suddenly, his pain vanishes, and Compie, a bush pilot, arrives to rescue him. The two take off and fly together through a storm with rain so thick “it seemed like flying through a waterfall” until the plane emerges into the light: before them, “unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that there was where he was going.” The description embraces elements of a classic near-death experience: the darkness, the cessation of pain, the emerging into the light and then a feeling of peacefulness.

Near-death experiences, or NDEs, are triggered during singular life-threatening episodes when the body is injured by blunt trauma, a heart attack, asphyxia, shock, and so on. About one in 10 patients with cardiac arrest in a hospital setting undergoes such an episode. Thousands of survivors of these harrowing touch-and-go situations tell of leaving their damaged bodies behind and encountering a realm beyond everyday existence, unconstrained by the usual boundaries of space and time. These powerful, mystical experiences can lead to permanent transformation of their lives.

…Why the mind should experience the struggle to sustain its operations in the face of loss of blood flow and oxygen as positive and blissful rather than as panic-inducing remains mysterious. It is intriguing, though, that the outer limit of the spectrum of human experience encompasses other occasions in which reduced oxygen causes pleasurable feelings of jauntiness, light-headedness and heightened arousal—deepwater diving, high-altitude climbing, flying, the choking or fainting game, and sexual asphyxiation. Perhaps such ecstatic experiences are common to many forms of death as long as the mind remains lucid and is not dulled by opiates or other drugs given to alleviate pain. The mind, chained to a dying body, visits its own private version of heaven or hell before entering Hamlet’s “undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.”

More here.

The bold plan that could save South Africa’s leopards

Heather Richardson in BBC:

A grimace revealing powerful yellow incisors clearly indicated we were too close. As our game drive vehicle gently reversed, the female leopard, Thandi, relaxed and settled back in the thicket with her seven-month-old cub, panting as she digested her latest kill. An impala carcass hung limply in the branches nearby. Leopards are famously elusive – but here in the private Sabi Sands Game Reserve, on the edge of Kruger National Park in South Africa, these cats are so habituated to human presence, they’re commonly seen strolling nonchalantly past vehicles of tourists, unconcerned by the frantic clicking of cameras. Though their presence in the Sabi Sands might suggest otherwise, South Africa’s leopard population faces an uncertain future. In a country where reserves and national parks are surrounded by farms, roads and developments, leopards have been forced into ever smaller areas. In some populations, as one recent paper shows, this has led to inbreeding – something that can have long-lasting, catastrophic effects, impacting the cats’ resistance to illnesses and climate events like droughts, and even resulting in local extinction.

“You’re looking at anything between 70 to 100 years to recover any kind of diversity,” says the paper’s lead author, Vincent Naude, a PhD candidate at the University of Cape Town. In the face of global development, how can conservationists protect species like leopards that require room to roam, but are increasingly meeting barriers, from busy roads to conflicts with farmers?

More here.

A Review of “Pricks in the Tapestry” by Jameson Fitzpatrick

Daniel Felsenthal in The Believer:

HIV infects the body through a protein on the surface of white blood cells. A tiny percentage of people have no functional receptors for this protein, meaning they can have sex with whomever they want and never risk contracting the virus. Other people, like the poet Jameson Fitzpatrick’s uncle, have fewer working receptors, so HIV is harder for them to contract, develops more slowly, and leads to less abundant viral loads. “Roughly,” about his uncle, is the longest poem in Fitzpatrick’s new collection Pricks in the Tapestry, a book that often views queer cultural inheritance in the 21st century from the vantage of past generations.

In “Roughly,” Fitzpatrick, who was born in 1990, stares across the Millenial-Boomer divide with bifocals on. A speaker modeled on the poet tells the narrative of his late uncle’s life, while another speaker based on Fitzpatrick’s mother offers her own account in the form of footnotes. Spanning nearly twenty pages of mostly unbroken lines, the poem asks the reader which voice has better access to the reality of a man who was born in 1955, ran away as a teenager, likely worked as a rent boy, turned a chaotic youth into a stable adulthood, and ultimately died of AIDS.

More here.

COVID-19 Is Transmitted Through Aerosols: We Have Enough Evidence, Now It Is Time to Act

Jose-Luis Jimenez in Time:

Many months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the coronavirus is still spreading uncontrolled through the U.S. Public health authorities including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) tell us to remain six feet apart, wash our hands, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and wear masks. But compliance with these measures—especially masks—is mixed, and daily we hear of cases where people do not know how they were infected. We hear about superspreading events, where one person infects many, happening in crowded bars and family gatherings, but not at outdoor demonstrations. Beaches in cities like Chicago are closed, but gyms and indoor dining at restaurants have reopened. It is no wonder the public is confused.

It is critical to have a clear physical description of the ways in which COVID-19 is transmitted, so that individuals and institutions are able to visualize it and will understand how to protect themselves. Contrary to public health messaging, I, together with many other scientists, believe that a substantial share of COVID-19 cases are the result of transmission through aerosols. The evidence in favor of aerosols is stronger than that for any other pathway, and officials need to be more aggressive in expressing this reality if we want to get the pandemic under control.

More here.

If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich? Turns out it’s just chance

From a couple of years ago in MIT Technology Review:

The distribution of wealth follows a well-known pattern sometimes called an 80:20 rule: 80 percent of the wealth is owned by 20 percent of the people. Indeed, a report last year concluded that just eight men had a total wealth equivalent to that of the world’s poorest 3.8 billion people.

This seems to occur in all societies at all scales. It is a well-studied pattern called a power law that crops up in a wide range of social phenomena. But the distribution of wealth is among the most controversial because of the issues it raises about fairness and merit. Why should so few people have so much wealth?

The conventional answer is that we live in a meritocracy in which people are rewarded for their talent, intelligence, effort, and so on. Over time, many people think, this translates into the wealth distribution that we observe, although a healthy dose of luck can play a role.

But there is a problem with this idea: while wealth distribution follows a power law, the distribution of human skills generally follows a normal distribution that is symmetric about an average value. For example, intelligence, as measured by IQ tests, follows this pattern. Average IQ is 100, but nobody has an IQ of 1,000 or 10,000.

More here.

Stop Defending The Humanities!

Simon During at Public Books:

The key consequence of seeing the humanities as a world alongside other broadly similar worlds is that the limits of their defensibility becomes apparent, and sermonizing over them becomes harder. If people stopped watching and playing sports, how much would it matter? The question is unanswerable since we can’t imagine a society continuous with ours but lacking sports, even though one such is, I suppose, possible. We do not have the means to adjudicate between that imaginary sportless society and our own actual sports-obsessed society. The same is true for the humanities. If the humanities were to disappear, new social and cultural configurations would then exist. Would this be a loss or gain? There is no way of telling, partly because we can’t picture what a society and culture that follow from ours but lack the humanities would be like at the requisite level of detail, and partly because, even if we could imagine such a society, our judgment between a society with the humanities and one without them couldn’t appeal to the standards like ours that are embedded in the humanities themselves. The humanities would be gone: that’s it.

more here.