News 22.10.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 22.10.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 22.10.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 22.10.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Arguably, no mode of writing has influenced the past decade of novels more than autofiction, a catchall term for books that call themselves fiction while claiming to be rooted, in some way, in their authors’ real lives. Amid this boom, critics and readers alike have shown a certain anxiety over how based in fact a novel can be—and how anyone might know, given that no autofiction writer purports to be telling the complete, unadulterated truth. Is reality identifiable on the page? Is it ferret-out-able? Is it relevant? As narratives professing to be true-ish gain in popularity, critics seem sometimes inclined to either deride their gestures at veracity or declare them all basically fake. One cynical interpretation of either impulse would be to say that, in a social-media-addled culture, everyone is comfortable assuming falsity. Another would be to see readers as a cranky panel of judges demanding sworn testimony every time they crack a book claiming to hold some similarity to the writer’s life. A more forgiving analysis, though, is that many fiction lovers remain attached to the idea of writers inventing stories, and feel anxious about reading novels full of not only emotional but literal truth. Some of us, in short, like fakeness. I know I do.

Two new novels, Joshua Ferris’s A Calling for Charlie Barnes and Claire Vaye Watkins’s I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness, react to this anxiety by flaunting both their fakeness and their debt to autofiction, if not to reality. Watkins loans her name and biography to her protagonist, though the details of their lives seem to differ. Ferris, meanwhile, names his main character after Hemingway’s Jake Barnes; the character’s father is inspired by Ferris’s own father, who died from cancer in 2014, but the connection between novel and writer can seem loose. As their naming choices indicate, the two authors approach autofiction differently: Watkins riffs lovingly on it while Ferris both mimics and critiques it. But both works suggest that, valuable though truth telling may be, invention and fakery are necessary sources of possibility and relief in relentlessly difficult moments. Reading these two books side by side shows that autofiction, as much as any other mode of writing, can be escapist.

Read the rest of this article at: Atlantic

News 22.10.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 22.10.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In some ways, accounts of “human origins” play a similar role for us today as myth did for ancient Greeks or Polynesians. This is not to cast aspersions on the scientific rigour or value of these accounts. It is simply to observe that the two fulfil somewhat similar functions. If we think on a scale of, say, the last 3m years, there actually was a time when someone, after all, did have to light a fire, cook a meal or perform a marriage ceremony for the first time. We know these things happened. Still, we really don’t know how. It is very difficult to resist the temptation to make up stories about what might have happened: stories which necessarily reflect our own fears, desires, obsessions and concerns. As a result, such distant times can become a vast canvas for the working out of our collective fantasies.

Let’s take just one example. Back in the 1980s, there was a great deal of buzz about a “mitochondrial Eve”, the putative common ancestor of our entire species. Granted, no one was claiming to have actually found the physical remains of such an ancestor, but DNA sequencing demonstrated that such an Eve must have existed, perhaps as recently as 120,000 years ago. And while no one imagined we’d ever find Eve herself, the discovery of a variety of other fossil skulls rescued from the Great Rift Valley in east Africa seemed to provide a suggestion as to what Eve might have looked like and where she might have lived. While scientists continued debating the ins and outs, popular magazines were soon carrying stories about a modern counterpart to the Garden of Eden, the original incubator of humanity, the savanna-womb that gave life to us all.

Many of us probably still have something resembling this picture of human origins in our mind. More recent research, though, has shown it couldn’t possibly be accurate. In fact, biological anthropologists and geneticists are now converging on an entirely different picture. For most of our evolutionary history, we did indeed live in Africa – but not just the eastern savannas, as previously thought. Instead, our biological ancestors were distributed everywhere from Morocco to the Cape of Good Hope. Some of those populations remained isolated from one another for tens or even hundreds of thousands of years, cut off from their nearest relatives by deserts and rainforests. Strong regional traits developed, so that early human populations appear to have been far more physically diverse than modern humans. If we could travel back in time, this remote past would probably strike us as something more akin to a world inhabited by hobbits, giants and elves than anything we have direct experience of today, or in the more recent past.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

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News 22.10.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Bob Kadlec was standing in his Washington, D.C., office holding a dry-erase marker, the words Manhattan Project scribbled across the top of a whiteboard. Kadlec, who was known on Capitol Hill as Dr. Bob, was the former Air Force doctor and intelligence officer who ran an obscure division of the nation’s health department called the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. It was the afternoon of Friday, April 10, 2020, and Kadlec was surrounded by four of his most trusted associates—and a very large stack of pizza boxes. The novel coronavirus had overwhelmed hospitals in New York City to such a degree that the dead were piling up in refrigerated trailers in the parking lots. Recognizing that the country couldn’t shut down forever, Kadlec’s crew had assembled for a brainstorming session here inside the Hubert H. Humphrey Building, a blocky, eight-story structure that houses the Department of Health and Human Services.

At exactly 5:00 p.m., Peter Marks would be calling. A lanky man with tortoiseshell glasses, Marks was the director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, the referee who would make or break the fortunes of vaccine companies. He was nothing like your stereotypical regulator who said, No, no, no. He was more like, Maybe, huh, yes, eureka! He and Kadlec had a surprising chemistry. And Marks had relayed to Kadlec the conversations he’d been having with drugmakers, including Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, which to him seemed to have a “defeatist attitude” when it came to the Covid-19 vaccine timeline. Johnson & Johnson was talking about 2022 as a realistic target. Now the two men were setting their sights on a Manhattan Project for vaccines. Their program would be based inside the Humphrey Building, and like the original Manhattan Project, it would bring all the might of American industry and government to the table.

Marks and his team at the FDA were already thinking about how the agency should evaluate an application for an emergency-use authorization for a vaccine. The legal standard was vague. How much evidence were they going to require? Under normal circumstances, when a vaccine candidate entered human clinical trials, regulators in Marks’s office evaluated it every step of the way. But under these extraordinary circumstances, the timeline would have to change. The long-standing problem with running a trial during a viral outbreak is that the surge often wanes before enough cases of disease or death occur in the placebo group. The summer lull that some models were predicting for Covid-19 would be bad news for the large phase 3 clinical trials needed to demonstrate a vaccine’s efficacy. Results might not roll in until late fall 2020, and by then it would be too late to stop the tidal wave of deaths that would come with rising case numbers. What’s more, scaling up the manufacturing process doesn’t ordinarily start until a vaccine is approved, leading to more months of delay. What to do?

Read the rest of this article at: Esquire

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News 22.10.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

For Isheyla Elena Ariza, the body-shaming started in middle school.

At her predominantly white school in California, “I was a part of a small minority group of Latinos, and a lot of us looked different,” Ariza told Vox. “We weren’t petite, you know, didn’t have blonde, straight hair.”

Ariza was bullied again and again over her curly hair, her skin tone, and her weight. “I’d get called ‘elephant,’” she said. One year, “there was a rumor that went around that I was pregnant, but I was just chunky.”

Soon Ariza started skipping meals and taking diet pills. Sometimes she’d go days without eating. “I was so focused on how heavy I was, and I wanted to change that because I wanted to be like other girls,” she said.

Ariza is 21 now, solidly part of Generation Z, a group that’s supposedly growing up in a better environment for body image than generations past. Today’s teenagers and 20-somethings can follow influencers and writers like Gabi Gregg and Aubrey Gordon who dismantle fatphobia and show what it’s like to be confident and joyful at a variety of sizes. Popular brands like American Eagle offer sizes 24 and beyond, advertised by models and activists like Saaneah Jamison. Once a radical movement, the term “body positivity” is now mainstream, espoused by celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Jameela Jamil. With a little curation, you can fill up your Instagram feed with messages of self-love and health at every size.

But as Ariza’s experience makes abundantly clear, bullying over weight and appearance is far from a thing of the past. In some ways, it might be worse now: The sheer number of images young people have to deal with every day has multiplied a thousandfold, and those images are often manipulated with Photoshop or filters that create a homogeneous appearance that’s unattainable for many people. “They manipulate your features to become Eurocentricized,” Reanna A. Shanti Bhagwandeen, a freshman at Bates College, told Vox. “It gets rid of, I guess, me.”

Meanwhile, many young people today say the term “body positivity” has been coopted by thin, white, or light-skinned celebrities and influencers — the same people whose looks have been held up as the beauty ideal for generations. What’s more, some of those influencers celebrate features once stereotypically associated with Black women, like full lips, even as Black women themselves remain discriminated against for their appearance.

Given all this, perhaps it’s no wonder that Instagram apparently makes body image issues worse for one in three teen girls, according to Facebook’s internal research. Or that eating disorders, far from disappearing with the advent of body positivity discourse, are actually on the rise.

Read the rest of this article at: Vox

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.