Friday, January 31, 2014

Hilary Hahn: Bach's Gigue

Here is a young Hilary Hahn performing Bach's Gigue in D minor from Partita No. 2, BWV 1003, as a encore; Hilary Hahn had made her German debut, in 1995, when she was 15, with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra,  Lorin Maazel conducting, performing Ludwig van Beethoven's violin concerto.

Classical Music In America: "I'm Not Dead, Yet"

America's Musical Tastes

Classical Music has been under continued attack for hundreds of years. William Robin writes: As the musicologist and pianist Charles Rosen so eloquently put it, 'The death of classical music is perhaps its oldest continuing tradition.' ”

An article, by William Robin, in The New Yorker looks at how well classical music is faring in America; it's no secret that some would like to see its demise for reasons that fit the United States' current anti-science and anti-intellectual views.

Robin writes:
“Classical music in America is dead.” Those words rang out across the Internet last week; their source, a Slate article written by Mark Vanhoenacker, complete with a gravestone illustration and the hoary cliché of the singing fat lady. It was nothing we hadn’t read before, but the timing of the latest obituary was particularly strange. Yes, New York City Opera folded last fall. But, a week before the Slate piece appeared, the Minnesota Orchestra emerged from a fifteen-month lockout crisis, and the day after publication the New York Philharmonic and Seattle Symphony announced energetic 2014-15 seasons. So what brought on this latest spasm of morbidity? And why is the American media so fixated on the supposedly imminent demise of classical music?

As the musicologist and pianist Charles Rosen so eloquently put it, “The death of classical music is perhaps its oldest continuing tradition.” To place that tradition in context, consider the infographic below. Design credit goes to Andy Doe, a consultant in the classical recording industry and the author of the blog Proper Discord. Doe has already addressed some of the factual and conceptual errors committed by Vanhoenacker. This timeline shows just how long the “crisis” in classical music has lasted, and just how superfluous it is to declare 2014 the year the art form kicked the bucket.
There is a creepy bloodlust to the doom-mongering of classical music, as though an autopsy were being conducted on a still-breathing body. What if each commentator decided, instead, to Google “young composer” or “new chamber ensemble” and write a compelling profile of a discovery? Why not interview members of the local orchestra and find out how real people make careers in a purportedly comatose industry? Why not talk to those graying audience members—contempt toward the elderly is a common theme in death-of-classical-music articles—and find out how their history of listening has improved their lives? Statistics provide firm answers, but not necessarily to the right questions. If the stakes are as high as the life and death of an art form, why not explore the question of why it might be the case by looking at the actual, lived experiences of those involved?
Instead, classical-music concern-trolls toss poorly aimed barbs. Critics blame the business (“It’s a charity case!” “Ticket sales will never account for all of its costs!”) and the culture (“Why all the abstruse rules of conduct?” “Why can’t I wear shorts?”) without having a clear grasp on either. There seems to be a deeper savagery at work, one that maniacally insists that a functioning industry reflect on itself, as though orchestra managers and opera intendants were oblivious to their own problems. “Listen to me!” the pundit demands, shaking classical music by its shoulders. “I have the stats. You’re dead.”
What supports these jeremiads is the implicit idea that classical music is an aberration in the United States, something to be regarded with suspicion. (Vanhoenacker writes of “classical trappings … that never sit quite right in the homeland of popular culture,” as if popular culture were an exclusively American affair.) But, like plenty of other great things in the U.S., classical music has endured because it has been made American. For more than a century, agitators for Beethoven and Brahms helped secure it an increasing stake on American soil. These were educators and musicians who carried what the historian Joseph Horowitz calls “moral fire,” who genuinely believed that great music made people better. The moral angle is bust—it’s unjust and untrue to claim that classical music is inherently better than any other kind of music—but a fire still burns. Talk to anyone who performs, composes, promotes, or organizes anything in this field and the blaze is palpable. It is not a profession for the apathetic.
True enough. Classical music has long been regarded as music for the elites, but the current cohort of the wealthy high-tech billionaires are not the kind of persons who will likely appreciate classical music or any traditional music for that matter. It is true that audiences are greying, and that this musical form does not appeal to a wide cross-section of America, notably its youth. This is both unfortunate and understandable, given America's anti-elitist sentiments and its desire for things new.

And, yet, there are today so many fantastic and talented young musicians, including Evgeny Kissin, Joshua Bell, Hilary Hahn, Lang Lang and Yuja Wang—these are only some of the musicians whom I enjoy and whose performances have figured prominently in this blog. The list of talented exciting performers has never been longer, and that they have not found a greater audience is disappointing, to say the least.

More disappointing or disturbing, however, is the language of death and violence in America, and the glee associated with the demise of someone or something, notably older institutions like classical music. There is a strong tendency in America to resort to violence, and aggressive acts, even if its only in language and rhetoric, against classical music is a sure sign of a failing and corrupt empire. This is worrisome, and that classical music is under attack is not surprising. Also not surprising is the supremacy of hip hop music and its sub-genre, gangsta rap, both appealing to and reflecting the violent and violence common to American life.

Let's hope that Charles Rosen's analysis, despite the apparent odds against it, hits the right note.

Read the article at [NewYorker]

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Jewish and Chinese Calendars Have Much In Common

Measuring Time & Traditions

Ancient cultures often have much in common; there are similarities, for example, between the cultures of the Chinese and Jewish peoples in how they measure and track time, says Prof. George Jochnowitz: “The Jewish and Chinese calendars are solar-lunar. A month is a real month—the time it takes for the moon to circle the earth. A year is a real year—the time it takes for the earth to circle the sun. Since the lunar months don’t quite add up to a year, an extra month is added in leap years. In both calendars, leap years occur 7 times every 19 years.”

Today is the 28th of Shevat 5774 in the Jewish calendar; and Gui-Chou  (Ox) (12th month), 29, 4711 in the Chinese calendar.


by George Jochnowitz

The Gregorian calendar—the most commonly used calendar on earth today—is solar. It is based on the time it takes the earth to go around the sun, which is a tiny bit less than 365 ¼ days. The months are arbitrary. They are called “months” because they are a reflection of the lunar cycle—the time it takes for the moon to circle the earth.. A lunar month is 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 3 seconds long. On lunar calendars, months typically are either 29 or 30 days long.

The Islamic calendar is lunar. Since 12 lunar months don’t add up to 365 ¼ days, the Islamic months occur a bit earlier every solar year. The month of Ramadan will begin on June 29 in 2014. Since Muslims are required to fast during the day and eat only at night, the fast will be extremely long at northern latitudes. Twenty years ago, in 1994, Ramadan began on February 12. When a calendar is lunar, the holidays move around the year, and so the fast in the northern hemisphere was noticeably shorter in 1994 than it will be in 2014.

The Jewish and Chinese calendars are solar-lunar. A month is a real month—the time it takes for the moon to circle the earth. A year is a real year—the time it takes for the earth to circle the sun. Since the lunar months don’t quite add up to a year, an extra month is added in leap years. In both calendars, leap years occur 7 times every 19 years.

Sometimes, a Chinese year begins on the first day of Shvat, the month before Adar, rather than the first day of Adar. That’s because Chinese and Jewish leap years don’t always coincide. Even though both calendars add a month 7 times every 19 years, the leap years don’t have to take place the same year. 7 and 19 are both prime numbers, and so the time between leap years is either two or three years.

The current Jewish year, 5774, is a leap year. There will be two months of Adar this year. Whenever there are two Adars, the Chinese year begins on the day when Adar I will begin at sundown. Adar I will begin at sundown on January 31, the day that the Chinese Year of the Horse arrives at 12:01 A.M.

Jewish and Chinese holidays often occur on the full moon. The Jewish holiday Sukkot often coincides with Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as Moon Cake day. In 2014, these two holidays will be a month apart, since both the Chinese and Jewish years are leap years, but the extra month on the Chinese calendar is added at the very end of the year, generally in late January. Sometimes the Jewish holiday of Purim coincides with Chinese Lantern Festival. Both are cheerful days occurring on a full moon. Since there are two Adars in 5774, and since Purim occurs in Adar II when that happens, they will be a month apart this year.

Hanukkah is an exception to the common occurrence of Jewish holidays at the time of the full moon. It begins on the 25th of Kislev. It too occurs at a dark time of the year and is associated with lights. Then come four days with no moon at all, followed by the first two days of the waxing moon. Hanukkah is on the darkest nights of the year (at least, in the northern hemisphere) when the days are shortest and there is either no moon or merely the last two or the first two of the lunar cycle. It is a perfect time for the Festival of Lights. Christmas occurs on the 25th, an echo of the 25th, but since the Gregorian calendar is solar and not solar-lunar, it is possible for a full moon to take place at Christmas.

A solar-lunar calendar and holidays on the full moon are two of the similarities between Chinese and Jewish traditions. There are cultural similarities as well: Jewish and Chinese children are likely to do well in school. On the other hand, there is nothing in Chinese tradition that in any way resembles Kashrut, since pork, dog meat, and donkey meat are all part of China’s culinary traditions.

George Jochnowitz was born in New York City, in 1937. He became aware of different regional pronunciations when he was six, and he could consciously switch accents as a child. He got his Ph.D. in linguistics from Columbia University and taught linguistics at the College of Staten Island, CUNY. His area of specialization was Jewish languages, in particular, Judeo-Italian dialects. As part of a faculty-exchange agreement with Hebei University in Baoding, China, he was in China during the Tiananmen Massacre. He can be reached at

Copyright ©2014. George Jochnowitz. All Rights Reserved. This article originally appeared in the algemeiner (January 28, 2014). It is republished here with the permission of the author.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Mind Of Malinowski


Bronislaw Malinowski [1884-1942]; circa 1930. Michael Young writes in his article: "What did Malinowski mean by character? In a recent letter to Elsie Masson he told her why he believed keeping a diary was so ‘absolutely indispensable’ to him. It required of him a daily inspection of his conscience and his character, the better to monitor his moods and control his moral lapses: ‘I think “character” might be defined as “persistence of the same real self in one person”,’ he wrote."
Credit: London School of Economics Library

An article, by Michael Young,  in Public Domain Review examines the works of Bronislaw Malinowski, the father of modern anthropology, and famous for his field work in the Trobriand Islands of eastern New Guinea.

Young writes:
Malinowski was one of the most colourful and charismatic social scientists of the twentieth century. A founding father of British social anthropology between the two world wars, his quasi-mythical status has fascinated his disciplinary descendants who continue to measure themselves against his achievements. Marching under a self-styled theoretical banner of Functionalism, Malinowski revolutionized fieldwork methods, cultivated an innovative style of ethnographic writing, and mounted polemical assaults on a wide array of academic disputes and public issues. By the time of his death, aged 58, in the United States in 1942 he was a controversial international celebrity, a cosmopolitan humanist who dedicated his final years to the ideological battle against Nazi totalitarianism.
It is for his corpus of ethnographic writings on the Trobriand Islanders, however, that Malinowski is revered and best remembered. Most of his books remain in print and continue to be taught, critiqued, and studied as exemplars of anthropological modernism. His best ethnographic writing is a stylistic confection of vivid description, reflexive anecdote, methodological prescription and theoretical aside. Malinowski broke with convention by abandoning the positivist pretence of aloof scientific objectivity by inserting a witnessing self into his narrative. The ‘Ethnographer’ of his books is a somewhat outlandish character (‘a Savage Pole’ in one guise) who never allows his reader to forget that not only was he present at the scene as a participant observer, but that he is also the one, in a fully contextualized first-person sense, who is doing the writing. Malinowski’s ethnographic persona – curious, patient, empathetic yet ironic – was given a tentative outing in his first ethnographic report,The Natives of Mailu (1915) and reached full maturity in Baloma (1916), a monograph-length essay on Trobriand religion. The intrusion of Malinowski’s authorial self blurred the distinction between Romantic travelogue and ethnographic monograph. In Ethnography, ‘the writer is his own chronicler,’ he reminds us, and scolds those whose works offer ‘wholesale generalizations’ without informing the reader ‘by what actual experiences the writers have reached their conclusion’.
Malinowski’s first and most celebrated Trobriand monograph, Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1922), is a richly-illustrated account of the ceremonial exchange of manufactured shell valuables through which the Trobriands are linked to other island groups of eastern New Guinea. A colourful scientific travelogue, Argonauts takes its readers on a canoe-borne voyage around the so-called Kula Ring of islands. The author’s “Introduction” (which has been dubbed the Book of Genesis of the fieldworker’s Bible) contains twenty-five of the most influential pages in the history of social anthropology.
But it is his personal diary, the private  ruminations of his mind, that seem to interest the anthropologists of today, Young, himself an anthropologist, writes:
This diary, along with several others, was discovered in his Yale University office after his death. Written in Polish, it is clear that he had not intended it for publication. Against his daughters’ wishes, however, and to the dismay of many colleagues who had heard rumours of its controversial contents, his widow published a translation under the title A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term (Routledge 1967). It would become the most infamous, most nakedly honest document in the annals of social anthropology.
Thus explains Malinowski's continuing fame and controversy; they naturally go hand in hand, especially in academia, where there will be someone who will take shots at past historical figures no longer alive to defend himself. As someone who himself has kept a diary for a number of years, I would not put too much emphasis to its contents or revelations; diaries, after all, are both honest and free ranging, airing out the mind and the heart, and contain the thoughts, sentiments and emotions of the time. These can change the next week or the next month. Such alone is sufficient reason why the authors of such thoughts would be horrified to see them published for public consumption.

For more, see [PublicDomainReview].

Monday, January 27, 2014

Understanding The Genetics Of Soft-Tissue Cancer In Children; Two Genotypes Identified

Pediatric Cancers
Bar scan readout showing genomic sequencing of major subtypes of pediatric rhabdomyosarcoma.  Red, green and black vertical bars across the x axis indicate various mutations in about 20 genes which are displayed on the y axis.

Pediatric Cancer: Genomic sequencing reveals alterations that comprise major subtypes of pediatric rhabdomyosarcoma.
Credit & Source: NIH

An article in the National Institutes of Health website says that researchers are getting a better understanding of the genetic changes that lead to rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), the most common pediatric soft-tissue cancer.

The article says:
Scientists have mapped the genetic changes that drive tumors in rhabdomyosarcoma, a pediatric soft-tissue cancer, and found that the disease is characterized by two distinct genotypes. The genetic alterations identified in this malignancy could be useful in developing targeted diagnostic tools and treatments for children with the disease. The study, by researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, and their colleagues, appeared in the Jan. 23, 2014, issue of the journal Cancer Discovery.
Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common soft-tissue sarcoma in children and affects muscles in any part of the body. Among patients diagnosed with non-metastasized disease, about 80 percent survive at least five years, although they may experience substantial treatment-related toxic effects. However, for those with metastatic disease, the five-year survival rate is about 30 percent even with aggressive treatment.

NCI’s effort to characterize the genetic events that contribute to rhabdomyosarcoma was led by Javed Khan, M.D., head of the Oncogenomics Section, Pediatric Oncology Branch, Center for Cancer Research, and Jack Shern, M.D., a clinical fellow.
“These studies are very difficult to do because tissue acquisition and validation is so complex,” said Khan. “It must be noted therefore that this work would not have been possible without our brave pediatric patients and their families. In the face of their life-threatening disease, they offered their tumors for study knowing that they would not personally benefit from this work but in the hope that investigators might learn lessons that would help children diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in the future.”

Khan’s team used a number of advanced sequencing techniques to investigate the genetic changes in a total of 147 rhabdomyosarcoma tumors which were paired with normal tissue samples. These sequencing tools allowed them to unravel the complex molecular events that occur in tumor cells, compare normal DNA with tumor DNA, identify mutations in genes, and determine exactly which genes are turned on (activated) or turned off (deactivated), leading to progression of this cancer.
Children can develop RMS at any age, as is common with many cancers; yet, it commonly affects those between 2 and 6 years old and those between 15 and 19 years old. Boys have higher odds than girls of being diagnosed with this soft-tissue carcinoma. There are two types of tumors that kids can develop: embryonal RMS and alveolar RMS.

The NIH site adds: "Childhood rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft tissue malignant tumor of mesenchymal origin, accounts for approximately 3.5% of the cases of cancer among children aged 0 to 14 years and 2% of the cases among adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 19 years [3,4], The incidence is 4.5 per 1 million children and 50% of cases are seen in the first decade of life."

As is still the case for most cancers, whether adult or child, treatment consists of  the traditional triad of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. One would hope that children, at least, would be spared the terrors of cancer and the side-effects of treatment.

You can read more at [NIH]

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Crying Souls

Poetry of the Mind

Every so often, I plan to post some poetry I wrote; as is often the case, it is a work in progress and thus is never right, never complete, never finished.

Crying Souls
Crying souls stripped of sex
laid upon a white
linen cloth
boasting no more
against the branches

Nature calls her own

Evening melody plays
amidst white lights
from antiquity
bathing the blackened birches
in a funeral march

Another day begins
in Elysium

Perry J. Greenbaum; June 17, 1995

The Elusive Snow Leopard Caught On Camera

Wonderful Photos

A Solitary Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia):  "There are an estimated 4,000 to 6,500
snow leopards in the wild, and the species is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.That's why big cat conservationists are studying the leopards in an effort
to learn more about them and keep them from going extinct."
Photo Credit: Richard Bischof; Norwegian University of Life Sciences/
Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan
Source: NatGeo

A pictorial essay, by Angie McPherson, in National Geographic says that researchers, working in northern Pakistan, have taken some photos of the elusive snow leopard (Panthera uncia):
Notoriously elusive snow leopards have been caught by a camera trap in northern Pakistan as part of a three-year study by scientists with the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. The main collaborator in the study is the Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan.
With only half a year left to complete their study, the scientists published a report on their use of camera traps in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution. Snow leopards (Panthera uncia), which live in the snow-capped mountains of Central Asia, are known as "gray ghosts" or "ghost cats" because they frequently hide from people and other animals.
But researcher Richard Bischof is hoping to shed more light on the shy beast by leading a non-invasive study of snow leopards using scat analysis and photography. (See snow leopard pictures in National Geographic magazine.) "You can garner lots of information from these images, including insights into distribution and behavior, etc.," Bischof said.
Unique coat patterns of the spotted cats also allows the identification of individuals and aid estimation of population size. There are an estimated 4,000 to 6,500 snow leopards in the wild, and the species is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
That's why big cat conservationists are studying the leopards in an effort to learn more about them and keep them from going extinct. (Read about National Geographic's Big Cats Initiative.)
There are not many snow leopards left in the world; thus, no one can or should argue about this excellent initiative.

You can read more and see more photos at [NatGeo].

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Beatles: Free As A Bird (1995)

The Beatles sing "Free as A Bird," 25 years after the break-up of the British band, and fifteen years after the death of John Lennon, chiefly a result of technological innovation and the goodwill of the remaining band members and Yoko Ono.

 Details of the production of this beautiful song can be found on Wikipedia:
"Free as a Bird" is a song originally composed and recorded in 1977 as a home demo by John Lennon. In 1995 a studio version of the recording, incorporating contributions from Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, was released as a single by the Beatles, 25 years after their break-up and 15 years after the death of Lennon.
The single was released as part of the promotion for The Beatles Anthology video documentary and the band's Anthology 1 compilation album. For theAnthology project, McCartney asked Lennon's widow Yoko Ono for unreleased material by Lennon to which the three remaining ex-Beatles could contribute. "Free as a Bird" was one of two such songs (along with "Real Love") for which McCartney, Harrison, and Starr contributed additional instrumentation, vocals, and arrangements. Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra, who had worked with Harrison on Harrison's album Cloud Nine and as part of the Traveling Wilburys, was asked to co-produce the record.
The music video for "Free as a Bird" was produced by Vincent Joliet and directed by Joe Pytka; from the point of view of a bird in flight, it depicts many references to Beatles songs, such as "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Penny Lane", "Paperback Writer", "A Day in the Life", "Eleanor Rigby" and "Helter Skelter". "Free as a Bird" won the 1997 Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and was The Beatles' 34th Top 10 single in the United States. The song secured the group at least one Top 40 hit in four different decades (1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s). There is a span of 25 years between the Beatles' break-up and the song's charting.

Free as a Bird

Free as a bird
It's the next best thing to be
Free as a bird

Home, home and dry
Like a homing bird I'll fly
As a bird on wings

Whatever happened to
The life that we once knew?
Can we really live without each other?

Where did we lose the touch
That seemed to mean so much?
It always made me feel so...

Free as a bird
Like the next best thing to be
Free as a bird

Home, home and dry
Like a homing bird I'll fly
As a bird on wings

Whatever happened to
The life that we once knew?
Always made me feel so free


Free as a bird
It's the next best thing to be
Free as a bird
Free as a bird
Free as a bird


Whatever happened to/The life that we once knew?/Always made me feel so free

More at

Friday, January 24, 2014

Anti-Social Corporations & The Governments That Enable Them; Assemble at World Economic Forum

State of Business

Corporation: a large business or organization that under the law has the rights 
and duties of an individual and follows a specific purpose
Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Antisocial personality disorder is a type of chronic mental condition in which a person's ways of thinking, perceiving situations and relating to others are dysfunctional — and destructive. People with antisocial personality disorder typically have no regard for right and wrong and often disregard the rights, wishes and feelings of others.

Those with antisocial personality disorder tend to antagonize, manipulate or treat others either harshly or with callous indifference. They may often violate the law, landing in frequent trouble, yet they show no guilt or remorse. They may lie, behave violently or impulsively, and have problems with drug and alcohol use. These characteristics typically make people with antisocial personality disorder unable to fulfill responsibilities related to family, work or school.
Mayo Clinic Staff

If corporations are people, as they claim to be, then it is clear by the clinical definition above that large multinational and transnational organizations, as well as Wall Street firms, display remarkable signs of anti-social behaviour, most notably, “to antagonize, manipulate or treat others either harshly or with callous indifference. They may often violate the law, landing in frequent trouble, yet they show no guilt or remorse.”

When I was young and starting out in the world of work, my manager taught me that the purpose of business is to serve the customer or client; that was 30 years ago, and how things have changed. There is no better example of how corporations, with the aid of governments, have changed than the example of the World Economic Forum (22–25 January 2014), in Davos, Switzerland, the yearly event of the wealthy, powerful and influential to meet and discuss how they’re doing.

David Cay Johnston writes (“Inequality may spark unrest, Davos elites worry”; January 22, 2013), in AlJazeera America:
The four-day Davos conference, which begins today, will draw six dozen or so billionaires this year as well as several hundred other people rich enough to have their own jets. Davos will also draw a far larger crowd of government officials, vendors of financial services and journalists.
In this year's event, the overarching theme is “Improving the state of the world,” another of those meaningless feel-good slogans thought of by high-priced PR agencies; the obvious question is for whom. The answer becomes clear enough. Against the backdrop of this conference is Oxfam’s annual report,  which states what many of us have known for years: the rich are getting richer, and the poor remain so.

Graeme Wearden writes (“Oxfam: 85 richest people as wealthy as poorest half of the world”: January 20, 2014), in The Guardian:
The world's wealthiest people aren't known for travelling by bus, but if they fancied a change of scene then the richest 85 people on the globe – who between them control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population put together – could squeeze onto a single double-decker.
The extent to which so much global wealth has become corralled by a virtual handful of the so-called 'global elite' is exposed in a new report from Oxfam on Monday. It warned that those richest 85 people across the globe share a combined wealth of £1tn, as much as the poorest 3.5 billion of the world's population.
Source: F. Alvaredo, A. B. Atkinson, T. Piketty and E. Saez, (2013) ‘The World Top Incomes Database’, Only includes countries with data in 1980 and later than 2008.Photograph: Oxfam

The wealth of the 1% richest people in the world amounts to $110tn (£60.88tn), or 65 times as much as the poorest half of the world, added the development charity, which fears this concentration of economic resources is threatening political stability and driving up social tensions.
It's a chilling reminder of the depths of wealth inequality as political leaders and top business people head to the snowy peaks of Davos for this week's World Economic Forum. Few, if any, will be arriving on anything as common as a bus, with private jets and helicopters pressed into service as many of the world's most powerful people convene to discuss the state of the global economy over four hectic days of meetings, seminars and parties in the exclusive ski resort.
No doubt, some of those in attendance expressed alarm that the masses are restless, what with high youth unemployment, staggering poverty and huge inequalities, are these cruel arrogant ones surprised.I doubt if any is genuine concern for the average Jill or Joe, but a nervousness about how their rapacious and insatiable appetites for money and profit has killed the golden goose of market capitalism.

Johnson further writes in the same article:
The forum’s 14th annual assessment of risks, issued just ahead of the Davos gathering, makes clear that social instability, whether measured in mere riots or in bloody revolutions, is the likely outcome of increasing inequality.
The report speaks of a lost generation of young people worldwide who are finishing school only to find a paucity of jobs, which in turn creates pressure to lower wages.
“Widening gaps between the richest and poorest citizens threaten social and political stability as well as economic development,” the report said.

Three of the report sponsors are specialists in pricing risk, the American insurance broker and risk advisory firm Marsh & McLennan and the European insurers Swiss Re and Zurich Insurance Group.
Of course, nothing will come of this report; it will be filed away as with many other similar findings that view things as dire; it will be business as usual for the most part, with only lip service paid to how the economic system has failed the majority of the world’s citizens.

That the social contract has been ripped up is considered a good thing; that workers are paid low wages is considered a good thing; that people can be used, as needed, and tossed away like yesterday’s trash is a good thing. Today, such pathological anti-social behaviour on the part of corporations and its managers has become normalized, considered necessary to improve the state of things, and strongly enabled, in the language of human psychology, by the very governments that are supposed to prevent such behavious; it’s a classic co-dependent relationship, a form of serious mental illness. Such are our economic and political leaders.

 In the future, when historians look at what caused the collapse of capitalism, only then will the report and similar ones get the recognition it deserves. By then, of course, it will be too late; the goose is long dead.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Producing Tastier Fruits & Vegetables

Modern Tastes

Healthy Fruits & Veggies: The article notes: “People have been changing plants to suit their purposes for at least 9,000 years. Just about every fruit and vegetable we eat is a domesticated species that we have transformed through generations of artificial selection and breeding: saving seeds only from plants with the most desirable characteristics and deliberately mating one plant with another to create new combinations of traits. In this way our ancestors turned a scrawny grass named teosinte into tall plump-eared corn and molded a single species of wild cabbage into broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kale.”
Credit: Scientific American

An article, by Ferris Jabr, in Scientific American says that researchers are making tastier and healthier fruits and vegetables without using genetic engineering; the article says these are a modern alternative to GMOs, the controversial method of producing produce by manipulating its genes. Michael Mazourek, a graduate student at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, is helping to make better produce for humanity.

Jabr writes:
Mazourek belongs to a new generation of plant breeders who combine traditional farming with rapid genetic analysis to create more flavorful, colorful, shapely and nutritious fruits and vegetables. These modern plant breeders are not genetic engineers; in most cases they do not directly manipulate plant DNA in the lab. Rather, they sequence the genomes of many different kinds of plants to build databases that link various versions of genes—known as alleles—to distinct traits. Then, they peek inside juvenile plants to examine the alleles that are already there before choosing which ones to grow in the field and how best to mate one plant with another. In some cases breeders can even analyze the genetic profiles of individual seeds and subsequently select which to sow and which to disregard, saving them a great deal of time and labor.

Plant breeders have, of course, always used the best tools available to them. But in the last 10 years or so they have been able to approach their work in completely new ways in part because genetic sequencing technology is becoming so fast and cheap. “There’s been a radical change in the tools we use,” says Jim Myers of Oregon State University, who has been a plant breeder for more than 20 years and recently created an eggplant-purple tomato. “What is most exciting to me, and what I never thought I would be doing, is going in and looking at candidate genes for traits. As the price of sequencing continues to drop, it will become more and more routine to do sequences for every individual population of plants you’re working with.”

In particular, these tools are helping breeders pivot their attention toward qualities of food that are important to consumers, instead of fixating solely on the needs of growers. Aided by genomics and related molecular tests, breeders have managed to create a cornucopia of new foods that are already available at some grocery stores and farmer’s markets, including cantaloupe that’s firm and ripe in the winter, snack-size bell peppers, broccoli that brims with even more nutrients than usual, onions that do not offend the eye and tomatoes that do not disappoint the tongue.
I look forward to tasting and eating such fruits and vegetables; I have found that many fruits that I loved as a child now lack taste. This shows that science can often take the interest of the consumer to heart.

You can read the rest of the article at [SciAmer]

David Bowie: Ziggy Stardust

David Bowie and band perform “Ziggy Stardust” in Paris, France, in 2002. You can compare this version to that of a younger Bowie, by 30 years, in this 1973 rendition here. The song, written by Bowie in 1972, is on the album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars; Rolling Stone ranked the song no. 277 on its 2004 list of  “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”

Like “Major Tom” the character of “Ziggy Stardust” is fictional and somewhat based on Vince Taylor, a popular English singer of the 1960s; he is also a composite formed from many real-life rockers, including Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Marc Bolan, Gene Vincent and Jimi Hendrix. The chief point is the rock star’s ascendancy to fame and fortune, and how an arrogant belief in his talents overtakes him.

Bowie himself plays the part of this figure and of the glamorous life of the rock star and how it can consume the individual, particularly when ego becomes dominant. It also leads to changes from the way things were planned, notably when one rises above the band-mates. Instead of a victorious messianic figure, he becomes a “leper messiah,“ unwanted and unloved. But, man, how he can play guitar, the thing that made him famous in the first place.

Making love with his ego Ziggy sucked up into his mind/Like a leper messiah/When the kids had killed the man/I had to break up the band

Ziggy Stardust
by David Bowie

Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Wierd and Gilly,
And The Spiders from Mars.
He played it left hand, but made it too far,
Became the special man,
Then we were Ziggy's Band.

Ziggy really sang, screwed up eyes and screwed down hairdo
Like some cat from Japan, he could lick 'em by smiling
He could leave 'em to hang
Here came on so loaded man, well hung and snow white tan.

So where were the spiders while the fly tried to break our balls?
Just the beer light to guide us.
So we bitched about his fans and should we crush his sweet hands?

Ziggy played for time, jiving us that we were Voodoo
The kids was just crass,
He was the naz
With God given ass
He took it all too far
But boy could he play guitar.

Making love with his ego Ziggy sucked up into his mind
Like a leper messiah
When the kids had killed the man
I had to break up the band

Ziggy played guitar

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Roger Miller: King of the Road

Roger Miller performs his classic hit, “King of the Road,” at the ninth annual Texaco Country Showdown National Final in 1990. This 1964 song is about a certain kind of freedom, and as Wikipedia puts it:  
The lyrics tell of the day-to-day life of a vagabond hobo who despite being poor (a “man of means by no means”) revels in his freedom, describing himself humorously as the “king of the road”. It was Miller’s fifth single for Smash Records.
This song was popular among my engineering student buddies at McGill University back in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

King of the Road
by Roger Miller

Trailers for sale or rent
Rooms to let...fifty cents.
No phone, no pool, no pets
I ain't got no cigarettes
Ah, but..two hours of pushin' broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I'm a man of means by no means
King of the road.

Third boxcar, midnight train
Destination...Bangor, Maine.
Old worn out suits and shoes,
I don't pay no union dues,
I smoke old stogies I have found
Short, but not too big around
I'm a man of means by no means
King of the road.

I know every engineer on every train
All of their children, and all of their names
And every handout in every town
And every lock that ain't locked
When no one's around.

I sing,
Trailers for sale or rent
Rooms to let, fifty cents
No phone, no pool, no pets
I ain't got no cigarettes
Ah, but, two hours of pushin' broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I'm a man of means by no means
King of the road.

A Tale Of Two Peoples

Modern Life

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859), opening para

A Tale of Two Cities: Front cover of Serial Vol. V, 1859; the 45-chapter novel was published in 31 weekly installments— from 30 April 1859 to 26 November 1859—in Dickens‘s new literary periodical titled All the Year Round.
Credit: Chapman & Hall; 1859
Source: Wikipedia

The two cities are London and Paris, the novel set before and during the French Revolution. This was written more than 150 years ago by a British writer with a keen sense of what forces were shaping humanity; here we are today, in 2014, and it sounds as if it could have been written to describe any western democratic nation or region.

But today it is not about two cities but about two peoples, not in the ethnic or national sense, but in the economic sense: the haves and the have-nots. True, we are witnessing great advances in science, technology and medicine that generally benefit us all and betters the world for its human inhabitants. But this is offset by the consequences of the many inequalities that beset us.

If Dickens were alive today he would capitalize on this idea and write about it. The statistics are sobering and, by now, so well-known and so well-reported, that we all know that a small sliver of the world controls the majority of the world's wealth and its natural resources. [see here; here; here; and here for only a few examples.]

Whether you are talking about the one percent, the 0.1 percent, the 0.01 percent or the 0.001 percent, the implications are clear: at most a few thousand people hold the majority of the world’s wealth, and hence, have unfair influence on the world’s political, economic and social decision-making apparatuses. Too much power in too few hands. Their are serious social and economic inequalities operating in the world today; and it is greater than it has ever been. Or at least this is the perception; and in the world of today perception wins the battle.

Let’s get personal. Toronto, the city in which I and my family currently reside,  is one of the most-expensive cities for food and shelter in Canada, and speaking from personal experience, the cost of living here is about 40 per cent more than in Montreal, my native city and a more livable place in so many ways. The poverty line (or, as the federal government prefers to call it, the low-income cut-off) for a family of four is about $43,000 in Toronto [StatsCan; 2011]. Two minimum-wage earners working full time do not reach the poverty line.

Our family barely makes enough to get by, but we consider ourselves fortunate that we have sufficient food and a decent apartment, with the knowledge that many don't. Even so, we also have the knowledge that we are living in poverty, when taken into consideration federal and provincial guidelines; is this shameful? Not on our part, but I also see no shame on the part of various levels of government. As many of you know already I am currently not working and my wife is a full-time student trying to increase her knowledge (of nursing) and better her chances at future employment.

I am not hopeful that our fortunes will change in the short-term, neither for us nor for the world's vast majority of persons and families who are suffering under the relentless weight of poverty. In the minds of the wealthy and many others, if you are poor, you don't exist. So it seems from this end. Letter-writing campaigns will have minimal effect, as will local street protests of a few days’ duration; it will take something that will cause the people who hold the reins of power, and those who hold great influence (i.e., financial), to quake in their boots: a sustained boycott on all unnecessary consumer products. Or to put it another way, a consumer revolt of world proportions; this is the language of business.

This is unlikely to ever happen, but I can still dream and hope.                                                                                                              

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Valentina Lisitsa: Chopin's 'Heroic' Polonaise

Valentina Lisitsa performs Frédéric Chopin’s Heroic Polonaise in A-flat major, opus 53; Lisitsa, who was born and trained in Ukraine, launched her career through the use of social media. Since 1991, she has resided with her husband in the U.S., in North Carolina.

The Polish-born Chopin [1810-1849] composed this well-known and oft-performed piece in 1842 when he was 32. Chopin’s music epitomizes the Romantic style.

Frédéric Chopin [1810-1849]: At age 25. This is an 1835 watercolor portrait of Polish composer Frederic Chopin, painted by then-16-year-old Maria Wodzinska (1819-96). The artist and her sitter became engaged the following year but never married each other. The portrait is described in Tad Szulc’s book Chopin in Paris (p. 137) as “one of the best portraits of Chopin extant—after that by Delacroix—with the composer looking relaxed, pensive, and at peace.”
Credit: pl:Maria Wodzińska, copied by Nihil novi: 2010 June 24
Source: Wikipedia

Wellcome Library of London Releases 100,000 Images To Public

Historical Images

Predictions for 1832Astronomy: various apocalyptic scenes, including war, and shipwreck. 
Coloured lithograph, [c.1832?]. 
Source & Credit; Wellcome Library, London

An article in the Public Domain Review says that the Wellcome Library has released 100,000 images to the public; they can be freely used as long as credit is given to Wellcome London:

The article says:
This morning the Wellcome Library announced its release of 100,000 of its historical images under an open license (CC-BY–meaning they are free for any re-use provided that the Wellcome Library is credited). The range and quality of the images released is phenomenal. The collection covers more than a thousand years of imagery relating to the history of medicine, including manuscripts, paintings, etchings, early photography and advertisements – from medieval Persian anatomy to the satirical prints of Rowlandson and Gillray.

This move by the Wellcome is yet another recent example of a hugely respected institution releasing digitisations of its public domain content under an open license – with the last 6 months seeing The Getty and The British Library making similar moves. It’s a really promising sign of a more general shift toward opening up public domain content that we’ve seen taking place in the cultural sector over the last couple of years. Wonderful stuff!

This selection from Wellcome’s release that we’ve chosen below is from just the first 1% of the 100,000 images made available. Remember, all are published under an CC-BY license so, if re-using, you must credit the “Wellcome Library, London”. 
This is a wonderful initiative on the part of the library; let's hope that other libraries and public institutions follow this sterling example to help make the Internet, our society and the sharing of information more open, as its original intent was. To see a selection of these wonderful images of the past, you can go directly to [PublicDomainReview].

Monday, January 20, 2014

Avoiding Sadness The Canadian Way: Take A Pill

Pill Pushers

An article, by Sharon Kirkey, in the National Post says that Canadians are among the world's greatest users of antidepressants in the world, a trend that is both worrisome and costly, since such pharmacological substances do not have much effect for mild-to-moderate depression. In many cases, medical doctors are prescribing antidepressants for sadness.

Kirkey writes:
Canadians now rank among the highest users of antidepressants in the world: in 2011, the last year for which comparative figures are available, Canada reported the third highest level of consumption of antidepressants among 23 member nations surveyed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The OECD figures, contained in its recently released “Health at a Glance” report, shows Canadians consumed 86 daily doses of antidepressants for every 1,000 people per day in 2011, more than the United Kingdom (71 doses per day), Spain (64) and Norway (58). Canada was behind only Iceland (106 doses per 1,000 people per day) and Australia (89 doses) among the countries surveyed. (The data are expressed as “defined daily doses,” which means the average daily maintenance dose for the condition for which the drug was prescribed.)
In Canada 42.6 million prescriptions for antidepressants were filled by retail drugstores in 2012, up from 32.2 million in 2008, according to figures provided to Postmedia News by prescription-drug tracking firm IMS Brogan. Citalopram (sold under the brand name Celexa), venlafaxine, (Effexor) and the generic drug, trazodone, make up the three top-selling antidepressants in Canada.Paris and others stress that antidepressants are essential in cases of severe, debilitating and life-threatening depression.
But the pills, including Prozac and its cousins that were held out to be miraculous when they hit the market in the late 1980s, are being swallowed by millions of Canadians every day, even while studies suggest that, in cases of mild depression, where “you’re still working, you’re still functioning,” Paris says, the drugs often don’t work, or they produce a temporary placebo effect, which doesn’t last.
“And then you get onto this thing, where you try another one, and you try a third one, and then you add some other type of drug entirely,” Paris says. “It’s a whole treadmill of pharmacology people get caught up in,” he said. Once people start taking the drugs, they’re often terrified to stop. “The fear of relapse has driven doctors to keep people on them for years,” Paris says.
There is a difference between sadness and depression. The former is often a transient human emotion that is based on a situation; the latter far more severe that affects the ability to function effectively in society. There are criteria set out in clinician handbooks, which rate the depression as mild, moderate or severe; the most noted handbook is the DSM-V.

Many of the antidepressants are subscribed by family doctors, but in most cases the physicians lack the training, the experience and the time to make a valid medical assessment. Part of the problem is that physicians want to help their patients feel better, which raises the issue of patient expectations today. Are we as humans expecting too much from the pharmaceutical industry in helping us cope with life? Is sadness not part of the human condition, and our attempts to eliminate or control sadness is taking us in the wrong direction, toward the elimination of uncomfortable emotions?

You can read the rest of the article at [NatPost].

Predicting Volcanic Eruptions

Scientific Prognostications

Icelandic Shift: The ground near the Grímsvötn volcano in Iceland shifted half a metre just
before a major eruption in 2011.
Source: Nature News
An article, by Alexandra Witze, in Nature News says scientists say they have found a physical indication—shifting ground—of an imminent volcanic eruptions, thus improving forecasting.

Witze writes:
An Icelandic volcano that spurted out a 20-kilometre-high ash plume in May 2011 has given researchers another possible tool for forecasting future eruptions.
An hour before the Grímsvötn volcano erupted, a Global Positioning System (GPS) instrument perched on its flanks showed the ground shifting noticeably. Those data, streamed in real time back to volcanologists, revealed not only that the eruption was imminent, but also its likely size.
“A GPS site can tell you not only that there’s unrest at a volcano, but that it’s about to erupt and then how high its plume will be,” says Sigrún Hreinsdóttir, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik. She and her colleagues report the discovery today in Nature Geoscience1.
Knowing that an eruption is about to occur helps emergency officials to prepare for a disaster by closing roads or evacuating nearby residents. And knowing how high a volcano’s ash plume may reach helps airlines to plan for whether they need to re-route flights, or even close airports. The 2011 Grímsvötn event, the largest volcanic eruption in Iceland in nearly a century, temporarily grounded flights in parts of the United Kingdom — a small reminder of the multimillion-euro losses that were incurred as a result of planes being grounded a year before that, when the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted.
This is good news; and as the article points out, early warnings help prevent loss of human and animal lives by putting emergency-action plans into place. But this means that nations that have active volcanoes need to install special monitoring equipment. "But the biggest challenge may be monitoring more volcanoes in real time, says Paul Segall, a geophysicist at Stanford University in California. Many volcano observatories, including that in Alaska, have lost funding in recent years."

You can read the rest of the article at [Nature]

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Charlie Chaplin: Easy Street (1917)


Charlie Chaplin in Easy Street, a 1917 film in which he co-wrote and directed. As Wikipedia notes, "it is about how in a slum called "Easy Street", the police are failing to maintain law and order and so the Little Tramp character (Chaplin), steps forward (rather reluctantly) to rid the street of bullies, help the poor, save women from madmen."

Chaplin was familiar with this life, having himself grown up in the slums of South London, on East Street in Walworth (born April 16, 1889); it was a hardscrabble existence; and, yet, it did not give Chaplin undue hardship while growing up, since this is all he knew: Chaplin recounted years later: "I was hardly aware of a crisis because we lived in a continual crisis; and, being a boy, I dismissed our troubles with gracious forgetfulness."

Wikipedia writes:
Chaplin's childhood was fraught with poverty and hardship, making his eventual trajectory "the most dramatic of all the rags to riches stories ever told" according to his authorised biographer David Robinson.[13] Chaplin's early years were spent with his mother and brother Sydney in the London district of Kennington; Hannah had no means of income, other than occasional nursing and dressmaking, and Chaplin Sr. provided no support for his sons.[14] As the situation deteriorated, Chaplin was sent to a workhouse when he was seven years old.[note 3] The council housed him at the Central London District School for paupers, which Chaplin remembered as "a forlorn existence".[16] He was briefly reunited with his mother 18 months later, before Hannah was forced to readmit her family to the workhouse in July 1898. The boys were promptly sent to Norwood Schools, another institution for destitute children.[17]
In September 1898, Chaplin's mother was committed to Cane Hill mental asylum – she had developed a psychosisseemingly brought on by an infection of syphilis and malnutrition.[19] For the two months she was there, Chaplin and his brother Sydney were sent to live with their father, whom the young boys scarcely knew.[20] Charles Sr. was by then a severe alcoholic, and life there was bad enough to provoke a visit from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.[21] Chaplin's father died two years later, at 38 years old, from cirrhosis of the liver.[22]
Hannah entered a period of remission,[21] but in May 1903 became ill again. Chaplin, then 14, had the task of taking his mother to the infirmary, from where she was sent back to Cane Hill.[23] He lived alone for several days, searching for food and occasionally sleeping rough, until Sydney – who had enrolled in the Navy two years earlier – returned.[24] Hannah was released from the asylum eight months later,[25] but in March 1905 her illness returned, this time permanently. "There was nothing we could do but accept poor mother's fate," Chaplin later wrote, and she remained in care until her death in 1928.[26]
His earlier years no doubt coloured his views forever on social justice and served as an enduring influence on his films, where Chaplin used comedy in its highest and greatest forms as commentary; this we can say with a high degree of certainty.

Progressing Beyond Economic Growth

National Well-Being

Human Progress: The old GDP model of comparing a nation's well-being, by only measuring its economic output, is no longer reliable.
Source: Nature

For seven decades, one single metric has been used to measure a nation's well-being, economic growth or GDP; now, we are ready to move beyond a nation's growth domestic product and its variants to measure how well nation's and, most important, its people are faring.

So argues an article in Nature News by lead author Robert Constanza, which says:
Soaring economic activity has depleted natural resources. Much of the generated wealth has been unequally distributed, leading to a host of social problems5. The philosopher John Stuart Mill noted more than 200 years ago that, once decent living standards were assured, human efforts should be directed to the pursuit of social and moral progress and the increase of leisure, not the competitive struggle for material wealth. Or as the economist John Kenneth Galbraith once observed: “To furnish a barren room is one thing. To continue to crowd in furniture until the foundation buckles is quite another.”
The limits of GDP are now clear. Increased crime rates do not raise living standards, but they can lift GDP by raising expenditures on security systems. Despite the destruction wrought by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, both events boosted US GDP because they stimulated rebuilding.
Alternative measures of progress can be divided into three broad groups (see Supplementary Information). Those in the first group adjust economic measures to reflect social and environmental factors. The second group consists of subjective measures of well-being drawn from surveys. The third group relies on weighted composite indicators of well-being including housing, life expectancy, leisure time and democratic engagement.
Adjusted economic measures. These are expressed in monetary units, making them more readily comparable to GDP. Such indices consider annual income, net savings and wealth. Environmental costs and benefits (such as destroying wetlands or replenishing water resources) can also be factored in. One example is the genuine progress indicator (GPI). This metric is calculated by starting with personal consumption expenditures, a measure of all spending by individuals and a major component of GDP, and making more than 20 additions and subtractions to account for factors such as the value of volunteer work and the costs of divorce, crime and pollution6.
Subjective measures of well-being. The most comprehensive of these is the World Values Survey (WVS), which covers about 70 countries and includes questions about how satisfied people are with their lives. Starting in 1981, the WVS is conducted in 'waves', the sixth of which is currently in progress. Another example is the gross national happiness index used in Bhutan. This measure uses elaborate surveys that ask how content people feel in nine domains: psychological well-being, standard of living, governance, health, education, community vitality, cultural diversity, time use and ecological diversity.
GDP, which became the de-facto measurement of national well-being at the American-led Bretton Woods conference in New Hampshire in 1944, only measures market transactions; it does not measure social and environmental factors that we now know are as important as monetary transactions. Things like sustainability, efficiency and the psychology of human well-being ought to now be factored into a national figure. We now have the science and have developed reliable models to measure such areas of human activity.

Since such metrics ultimately influence government policy, the sooner we adopt a more progressive standard of measurement the greater the chance of effecting policy changes that benefit us all. Both the GPI and the WVS are a step in the right direction.

You can read the rest of the article at [Nature].

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Insecure State

Lessons From Kafka

An article, by Reiner Stach, in The New Statesman compares and contrasts our current surveillance state and the persecution and prosecution of K depicted in Franz Kafa's Trial, a novel that resonates with many of us today.

Stach writes:
Kafka was not a prophet. He did not foresee the systematic persecution and annihilation of the Jews to which his three sisters fell victim. As a teenager, he experienced pogrom-like conditions in Prague; his family had to barricade itself in the apartment for days on end and his German-Jewish high school was vandalised. But these persecutions had yet to turn murderous. The state-sponsored killing of Jews, which was occurring in Russia on a regular basis, was considered unthinkable in the multinational Austria-Hungary and the “highly civilised” German empire.

It is easy to see how The Trial resonates with those living under a dictatorship. However, even the most cursory look at the novel reveals that Kafka was not depicting the sufferings of innocent victims. The protagonist, Josef K, is not especially likeable; he does not have any relationships with others and he is clearly tormented by some hidden guilt of which the court incessantly reminds him. The execution at the end takes place with K’s assent and as such is a suicide. Kafka went to great pains at this juncture to show that the court is merely reacting. Nothing occurs in this novel against the unequivocal will of the accused man.
Kafka did not merely portray how people become victims; he also showed the extent to which power relies on the complicity of its victims. This phenomenon goes beyond the political and touches on the insights of psychoanalysis. If a son continues to obey his father long after the latter’s death, it means that he has taken into his own hand the whip that once held him down. Freud explained how this could be possible with the existence of the superego, a psychological entity that represents the father and renders him immortal, ensuring that his repressive values system is passed on to the following generations.
Kafka was deeply sceptical of the therapeutic promises of psychoanalysis but he was captivated by the way it described the propagation of power, which chimed with his own experiences. Someone who keeps getting told that he is incapable, inferior or guilt-ridden will have to expend a good deal of energy to resist such a self-image and not make himself guilty in his own eyes. He has to struggle not because the forces of power have violated or diminished him but rather because he has been infiltrated by those forces. The poison lodges in his own body.
Yes, this is true, and instead of a single individual K, it is today whole classes of individuals who are "put on trial," so to speak for not achieving the American mythos of success. This type of despair is something that Kafka not only lived with, but also had an intimate knowledge of—he feeling the stinging rebuke of not meeting both familial and societal expectations. Kafka might not have been prescient about the creeping totalitarianism in his time and in ours, but he was keenly aware of the diminishment of individuality and humanity.

You can read the rest of the article at [New Statesman].

Friday, January 17, 2014

How Breast Cancer Cells Cause Brain Tumors

Women & Cancer

An article, by Nicole White, in ScienceDaily explains how breast cancer cells disguise themselves as neurons to cause brain tumors. This is a finding from the latest study at City of Hope, a major cancer-research centre in California.

White writes:
Breast cancer cells masquerade as neurons, allowing them to hide from the immune system, cross the blood-brain barrier and begin to form ultimately-deadly brain tumors, the researchers found. "The most dreaded location for cancer to spread is the brain," said Rahul Jandial, a City of Hope neurosurgeon who led the study, available online and slated for print publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in February. "As we have become better at keeping cancer at bay with drugs such as Herceptin, women are fortunately living longer. In this hard-fought life extension, brain metastastes are being unmasked as the next battleground for extending the lives of women with breast cancer."
Jandial and other City of Hope scientists wanted to explore how breast cancer cells cross the blood-brain barrier -- a separation of the blood circulating in the body from fluid in the brain -- without being destroyed by the immune system. "If, by chance, a malignant breast cancer cell swimming in the bloodstream crossed into the brain, how would it survive in a completely new, foreign habitat?"Jandial said. Jandial and his team's hypothesis: Given that the brain is rich in many brain-specific types of chemicals and proteins, perhaps breast cancer cells exploit these resources by assuming similar properties. These cancer cells could potentially deceive the immune system by blending in with the neurons, neurotransmitters, other types of proteins, cells and chemicals.
Taking samples from brain tumors resulting from breast cancer, Jandial and his team found that the breast cancer cells were using the brain's most abundant chemical as a fuel source. This chemical, GABA, is a neurotransmitter used for communication between neurons. When compared to cells from non-metastatic breast cancer, the metastasized cells expressed a receptor for GABA, as well as for a protein that draws the transmitter into cells. This allowed the cancer cells to essentially masquerade as neurons.
Knowing how cancer cells operate, especially in how they disguise themselves can lead to innovative and effective ways to stop them dead in their nefarious schemes. Cancer is still a deadly disease, and in many ways it's both a war and a race against time.

You can read the rest of the article at [ScienceDaily].