Monday, January 29, 2018

This Movie Could Make You Weep

Ben Rhodes, Samantha Powers, John Kerry, and Barak Obama

The Final Year delivers an overview of the final year of Obama's second term, and how he and his team carried on foreign policy. As well as Obama himself, the story focuses on three people nearest the President: the passionate, idealistic, committed Samantha Power, Ambassador to the United Nations, the experienced and dedicated John Kerry, Secretary of State, and blunt-spoken behind-the-scenes Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications.

The segments cover activities in Syria, Laos, Viet Nam, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Cuba and the UN, dramatizing the scope of US concerns around the world. We see Kerry's dogged persistence in seeking a deal in Iran. We see Obama interacting with young people wherever he goes. We see Power barely holding back the tears when meeting mother of the  girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.  We see Rhodes mind-morphing with Obama to craft drafts of his speeches.

It's heart-wrenching to compare the high ideals and global empathy of this cast of characters with the venality and self-interest of the current US president. Power's women's party to celebrate Clinton's expected victory deflates like a sad balloon. Rhodes, the wordsmith, cannot find words to express his desolation on the night Trump is elected.

The movie ends with the ultimate irony:  The Times They Are a Changin', once a chant of hope and progress, is a dirge for the death of principled US diplomacy. Or if you feel hopeful, it's just a blip in human progress.

I highly recommend* this movie, but take a tissue. It'll make you cry.

* The movie gets a low rating on rottentomatoes. I can only believe the ratings were stacked by Trump supporters. It's a great movie.


Saturday, January 13, 2018

Making Pencils


Manufacturing pencils must be a dying industry.

New York Times memorializes it with a  beautiful photo essay of the processes involved. It's worth a look.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Vietnam War


If you have a chance to watch Ken Burns' and Lynn Novick's 17 1/2 hour documentary about the folly of the Vietnam War, take it. I never thought I would watch that much footage about Vietnam, but my husband and I were riveted as we binge-watched the entire series. It was incredible to see the hubris, the ineptitude, the political self-interest and sheer lunacy of the war unfold in one vast sweep. We were educated, horrified and moved.

Ten years in the making, boiled down from interviews with hundreds of people - both Americans and Vietnamese - 24,000 photos, and 1500 videos. Through a feat of phenomenal editing, the series flowed smoothly, weaving together political machinations in Washington, battle scenes,  deftly chosen music from the era, and interviews with combatants, advisors, diplomats, protestors,  journalists and family from all four factions (Americans, South Vietnamese, Viet Cong, and North Vietnamese.  Sometimes documentaries can be too clinical, and you don't even glimpse the human side. Others swamp you with mawkish individual stories without giving a sense of the big picture. This film was perfectly balanced between the two approaches, and they all blended harmoniously. It was a tour de force.

Vietnam was an ignominious war from the beginning, and this was highlighted in the ignoble flights of helicopters rescuing marines from the roof of the US embassy in Saigon. The end would not have been so shabby if it weren't for the obduracy of the ambassador who refused to accept the inevitable fall of Saigon and prepare for it. And so the end came as the war had begun and proceeded.

I thought the film would end with the pathos of the Vietnam memorial with the strains of Bridge over Troubled Water playing in the background. But it went on to show American vets reconciling with Vietnam vets back in Vietnam, this time with Let It Be as background. It's hard to hold on to that feeling of hope, as we watch the American political scene. Did you know that Nixon influenced the 1968 election by doing a back-room deal to get the Vietnamese to refuse to attend the Paris peace talks until after the election, promising they'd do better with Nixon as president? Plus ├ža change. . .

Thursday, November 9, 2017

What's in a Word? Crapsule

CRAPSULE

It's possible that the microbiome, that collection of bacteria that live in our bodies (mostly the gut), may have as much influence on our health as our genetic makeup. After all, there are more than 150 times as many genes in those organisms as there are in our own genome. An imbalance in the microbiome, known as disbiosis, has been linked to many conditions, ranging from inflammatory bowel disease to autism, to patients' responses to certain cancer treatments. 

The first successful treatment relating to the microbiome was the use of faecal microbial transplants to treat C. difficile (brought on by overuse of antibiotics). FMT, as it is known, is exactly what it sounds like. And when you encapsulate those FMTs, they're called crapsules. And there's your word of the day. Read The Economist for more information.

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