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News 21.09.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 21.09.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 21.09.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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No one did more to make movies the art of youth than Jean-Luc Godard, who was born in 1930, in Paris, and died on Tuesday, at his home in Rolle, Switzerland, by assisted suicide. Godard’s films of the nineteen-sixties, starting with his first feature, “Breathless,” inspired young people to make movies in the same spirit in which others started a band. His works—political thrillers, musical comedies, romantic melodramas, science fiction, often more than one per year—moved at the speed of his thought, transformed familiar genres into intimate confessions, and made film form into a wild laboratory of aesthetic delight and sensory provocation. He put his own intellectual world into his movies with a collage-like profusion of quotes and allusions, and cast the people in his life as actors, as stars, or as icons. Working fast, he alluded to current events while they were still current. But it wasn’t just the news that made his films feel like the embodiment of their times—it was Godard’s insolence, his defiance, his derisive humor, his sense of freedom. More than any other filmmaker, he made viewers feel as if anything were possible in movies, and he made it their own urgent mission to find out for themselves. Where Hollywood seemed like a distant, cosseted, and disreputable dream, he made the firsthand cinema—the personal and independent film—an urgent and accessible ideal.

Godard was also one of the crucial media artists of the sixties, who, no less than the Beatles or Andy Warhol, recognized the echo effects of celebrity and art, and united them in his cinematically and socially transformative activities. (He confessed to likening his own artistic and personal career arc to Bob Dylan’s.) Yet, like many artistic heroes of the sixties, Godard found that his public image and his private life, his fame and his ambitions, came into conflict. He took drastic measures to escape from his legend while pursuing and advancing his art in ways that baffled many of his devotees and those in the press who awaited nothing more than his comeback—especially to those styles and methods that had made him famous. In the late sixties, he withdrew from the movie business under the influence of leftist political ideology and activism. In the seventies, he left Paris for Grenoble and then moved to the small Swiss town of Rolle. When he returned to the industry, he did so by way of exploring his personal life and the history of cinema together, through an ever-more-audacious deployment and reconception of new technologies. What he retained to the very end of his career (his final feature, “The Image Book,” was released in 2018) was his sense of youth and his love of adventure. In his old age, he remained more playful, more provocative, and simply more youthful in spirit than younger filmmakers.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 21.09.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 21.09.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

On September 12, 2015, Tom Mustill and a friend were on a guided kayak tour in Monterey Bay, off the coast of California. There was so much food in the rich waters of the bay that whales were engaged in an unprecedented feeding frenzy. As kayaks and boats shared the water with the whales, a humpback breached and came down on the two friends. They survived, but the episode sent Mustill—a biologist by training—on a journey: what if we could communicate with whales and other animals? The following excerpt is from Mustill’s first book, How to Speak Whale: A Voyage into the Future of Animal Communication.

Brains are complex and delicate organs—and whale brains especially so. Few whales are in good condition when they beach. Fewer still are reached in time to extract the brain before it decomposes. It’s the first organ to go because the sensitive tissues are pressure-cooked deep inside the dying animal’s skull by body heat the whale cannot release. And rare are the people with the skills to extract and preserve them. Cetaceans were long thought to have simple, undeveloped brains, because whenever scientists would get inside a dead dolphin’s head, it had often already turned to sloppy mush. A good-quality whale brain is gold dust.

To obtain a whale brain for examination, the stars have to align: the whale must be freshly dead, and a good anatomist must cut its head off and refrigerate it quickly. Given that most whales are bigger than most industrial freezers, which aren’t easy to drive to the sea and pop a whale head into, this doesn’t happen often. I had long given up hope of ever seeing such a thing. But in 2018, my friend Joy Reidenberg at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, called me to say she had two on the way. She had been given the chance to dissect a stillborn baby sperm whale, as well as the head of a young minke whale—which is a kind of baleen whale, like a thinner, smaller humpback.

Both had been recovered some time before, and stored deep in the Smithsonian Institution’s freezers. A refrigerated truck was to drive them the few hundred kilometers to New York, where Reidenberg and her neuroanatomist colleague, Patrick Hof, would be waiting at their lab in Manhattan. And if I wanted, I could come and peer into a cetacean mind.

In Reidenberg’s and Hof’s domain, rooms for human dissection and the teaching of anatomy do double duty for dolphins, and in the depths of the hospital, powerful machines for investigating human brains are used for exploring cetacean anatomy, too. With Reidenberg’s help, Hof has built up one of the world’s most extensive marine mammal brain collections, with about 700 specimens of 60 kinds of whales and dolphins. Out the window, the orange light of the morning reflected off the high-rises around us, and joggers chugged through Central Park beneath. The smell from the cadavers was sweet and almost pleasant, until you remembered what it was.

Reidenberg and Hof use the hospital’s advanced scanning machines—MRI and CT scanners—to take 3D pictures inside the heads of dead whales without having to cut them open and risk ruining the brains. Some scientists have even managed to scan the brains of living dolphins, showing them “lighting up” as their brains worked (likely wondering what the hell was going on).

Read the rest of this article at: Hakai

Salman Rushdie can be forgiven if, in recent years, he’s tried to put behind him the fatwa issued in 1989 by Iranian cleric Ruhollah Khomeini that called for the author’s death after the publication of The Satanic Verses, Rushdie’s allegedly blasphemous novel. In the immediate aftermath of the fatwa, Rushdie lived under the heavy security usually reserved for Mafia informants in a witness protection program. His fear was real and justified. In late 1989, Mustafa Mahmoud Mazeh blew himself up in London making a bomb whose intended victim was Rushdie. Multiple attacks on translators and publishers followed, including the killing of Rushdie’s Japanese translator Hitoshi Igarashi, the shooting of a Norwegian publisher William Nygaard, and the near-death of a Turkish translator, Aziz Nesin, who escaped a mob attack that led to 37 people being killed in Silvas, Turkey.

Despite the violence, Rushdie gradually returned to public life, working on the theory that living as if he were in jail would grant his tormentors a victory. In 2017, the HBO show Curb Your Enthusiasm devoted an entire season to a story line about Larry David, the hapless hero of the show, coming under a fatwa after trying to a musical about The Satanic Verses controversy. Rushdie himself showed up in a cameo on the series, offering David advice on how to get “fatwa sex” (which was supposedly a much more intense than normal fornication).

With that season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, it truly felt that Rushdie had the last laugh on his would-be killers. But the fatwa had never been rescinded. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, successor to Khomeini, in fact has made clear that “the decision made about Salman Rushdie is still valid. As I have already said, this is a bullet for which there is a target. It has been shot. It will one day sooner or later hit the target.”

Read the rest of this article at: The Nation

News 21.09.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 21.09.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The ads on the Telegram messaging service’s White Shark Channel this summer had the matter-of-fact tone and clipped phrasing you might find on a Craigslist posting. But this Chinese-language forum, which had some 5,700 users, wasn’t selling used Pelotons or cleaning services. It was selling human beings — in particular, human beings in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, and other cities in southeast Asia.

“Selling a Chinese man in Sihanoukville just smuggled from China. 22 years old with ID card, typing very slow,” one ad read, listing $10,000 as the price. Another began: “Cambodia, Sihanoukville, six Bangladeshis, can type and speak English.” Like handbills in the days of American slavery, the channel also included offers of bounties for people who had run away. (After an inquiry from ProPublica, Telegram closed the White Shark Channel for “distributing the private information of individuals without consent.” But similar forums still operate freely.)

Fan, a 22-year-old from China who was taken captive in 2021, was sold twice within the past year, he said. He doesn’t know if he was listed on Telegram. All he knows is that each time he was sold, his new captors raised the amount he’d have to pay to buy his freedom. In that way, his debt more than doubled from $7,000 to $15,500 in a country where the annual per capita income is about $1,600.

Fan’s descent into forced labor began, as human trafficking often does, with what seemed like a bona fide opportunity. He had been a prep cook at his sister’s restaurant in China’s Fujian province until it closed, then he delivered meals for an app-based service. In March 2021, Fan was offered a marketing position with what purported to be a well-known food delivery company in Cambodia. The proposed salary, $1,000 a month, was enticing by local standards, and the company offered to fly him in. Fan was so excited that he told his older brother, who already worked in Cambodia, about the opportunity. Fan’s brother quit his job and joined him. By the time they realized the offer was a sham, it was too late. Their new bosses wouldn’t let them leave the compound where they had been put to work.

Unlike the countless people trafficked before them who were forced to perform sex work or labor for commercial shrimping operations, the two brothers ended up in a new occupation for trafficking victims: playing roles in financial scams that have swindled people across the globe, including in the United States.

Tens of thousands of people from China, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and elsewhere in the region have been similarly tricked. Phony job ads lure them into working in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, where Chinese criminal syndicates have set up cyberfraud operations, according to interviews with human rights advocates, law enforcement personnel, rescuers and a dozen victims of this new form of human trafficking. The victims are then coerced into defrauding people all around the world. If they resist, they face beatings, food deprivation or electric shocks. Some jump from balconies to escape. Others accept their lot and become paid participants in cybercrime.

Fan and his brother eventually ended up in Sihanoukville in a compound surrounded by a barbed wire fence. They were made to lure people in Germany into depositing funds with a phony online brokerage controlled by their operation, which also targeted English speakers in Australia and elsewhere.

“This idea of combining two crimes, scamming and human trafficking, is a very new phenomenon,” said Matt Friedman, chief executive of the Mekong Club, a Hong Kong-based nonprofit that combats what it calls modern slavery. Calling it a “double hurt,” Friedman said it’s unlike anything he’s ever seen in his 35-year career. The phenomenon has only just begun to come to light in the U.S., including in a Vice article published in July.

Read the rest of this article at: Propublica

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News 21.09.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

As of June 2022, ACT-A delivered just over 140 million tests. WHO representatives said they could not accurately calculate how many treatments ACT-A has helped deliver, but the spokesperson for the initiative said that the consortium spent a total of $9.9 million to get the drugs to low-and middle-income countries across the globe. It also delivered $260 million worth of oxygen supplies.

Now, health advocates fear the mission to prepare the world for the next pandemic is already repeating the mistakes that were made during the current crisis, including the failure to invest in public-health resources to administer doses.

“I think ACT-A was created — COVAX was created — with, I think, very good intentions. I worry that we will not take the time … to actually do the reflection of what worked and what didn’t and why,” said Smith, of the Biden administration.

In explaining why COVAX has struggled to meet some of its vaccine goals, Berkley said there was only so much it could do without stronger health systems in place on the ground to absorb the doses and get them out to the people.

“There is a reason why coverage for vaccines in general in the developing world is lower than it is in the West,” Berkley said. “What’s very different in this circumstance is the health systems that we were using were already stretched to provide your basic services. They weren’t set up to do the billions and billions of doses, adult vaccinations, elderly vaccinations that were necessary for this pandemic. That’s a fundamental truth. And anybody who sits there and says, ‘the numbers weren’t the same’ is not being realistic about what is physically possible.”

Leaders of ACT-A recognized the problem too late, critics say. Agencies participating in the consortium tried to increase their efforts to strengthen health systems in low-income countries during the pandemic — to build up their public-health sectors in ways that would allow them to more easily secure and distribute tests, vaccine doses and drugs. But funding for the initiative came late, according to two individuals who worked with the consortium on the issue. The health-systems pillar received just 7 percent of the consortium’s overall donations, according to ACT-A’s own data.

“This is always a problem with pandemic preparedness — if you actually want to build resilience in global health, you actually just build effective health systems, and basic public health care,” Harman, the professor of international politics at Queen Mary University of London, said. “As soon as you go to the bells and whistles of vaccines, and all these kinds of innovative technologies — that’s really important, and really exciting. But it misses some of the fundamental points that you need to respond to anything and that is a good [public] health system.”

The lack of focus on traditional health system strengthening has been a longstanding criticism of the Gates Foundation’s work. The foundation “invests in silos or shiny things like polio eradication, they don’t invest in building hospitals, building primary care, laboratories, surveillance capacities, all of the things that are the important foundations for pandemic preparedness,” said Gostin, the Georgetown University professor who specializes in public health law.

The Gates Foundation maintains that its employees work closely with local public health leaders and that its representatives advocated for greater investment in health system strengthening during Covid. The spokesperson for the foundation said that it helps fund programs to strengthen health systems through Gavi and the Global Fund.

“No question that not everybody agrees with how we or anybody approached the pandemic. About including low-income country voices and engaging with them from the beginning: That’s [at] the core of what we do,” said Scott Dowell, deputy director for surveillance and epidemiology at the foundation. “And I think it would be a misunderstanding of the way the foundation works if people came away thinking that we didn’t do that.”

Read the rest of this article at: Politico

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