Saturday 30 November 2019

The lost and found archives

On an unremarkable street corner in East Harlem, diagonal from a big gray battleship of new housing development, sits the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, which everyone calls the Centro. This fall, I went to the Centro to meet Rojo Robles, a student in the Latin American, Iberian, and Latino cultures department at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, who had offered to show me the library where the archives are kept. We paused in a fluorescent-lit hallway to observe photos of leaders from the Puerto Rican diaspora, many of whose works are preserved at the Centro. Among them, mustache drooping over a smile, was Pedro Pietri, cofounder and poet laureate of the Nuyorican Movement in downtown Manhattan, who died in 2004—and whom Robles is studying. Together, we were visiting his collection.

These days, most people don’t remember Pietri. Not just a poet but a playwright and early performance artist, he spent the AIDS era hand-packaging his “condom poems”: bits of verse along with prophylactics in tiny manila envelopes, which he distributed during performances at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and other galleries, bars, and public spaces. Both artist and activist, he used his work to make the AIDS crisis visible while also providing protection to a community on the margins. As we reevaluate the horror and official inaction that surrounded the crisis, his actions are of particular interest. But they were ephemeral. The scraps that remain have been tucked away in the archives for decades.

Now, they are being revived. In November, Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative published text and images from the condom poems as part of a new series of chapbooks. For ten years, the poet and scholar Ammiel Alcalay and his graduate students at CUNY’s Center for the Humanities have been trawling the archives of mid-twentieth-century poets like Pietri. Each year, using a printing press in the basement of the Graduate Center, they publish a selection of the strange treasures they find. “A lot of the writers we think we know, seventy or eighty percent of their work is still in the archives,” said Alcalay, a gentle, gray-maned eccentric who uncovers letters, lectures, syllabi, translations, and other marginalia. Without the work of his team, it might all remain buried.


Alcalay envisions his project as a subversive one. As Jacques Derrida noted in his formative 1995 essay “Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression,” the keepers of an archive don’t just guard its physical security: “They have the power to interpret the archives.” Alcalay wants to undermine that power by reinterpreting the canon and the stories that surround it. Had he not uncovered Audre Lorde’s syllabi and classroom notes, we might have forgotten the astonishing fact that she taught race theory to aspiring cops at John Jay College in the seventies. And until his student Rowena Kennedy-Epstein looked, no one knew that the poet Muriel Rukeyser had kept an unpublished novel from 1937, topped with a rejection letter; today, that book is in print. There are dozens more examples.

Pietri is a case in point. Where mainstream American poetry is concerned, he is often “invisibilized,” as Robles puts it. Yet he is an important writer, one who made early entries into conceptual art as a means to advocate publicly for Nuyoricans, queer people, and downtown artists during one of the darkest and deadliest periods in New York City’s history.


“I feel like a mime,” Robles said as his white-gloved hands gingerly lifted a piece of sheet metal onto which Pietri had printed the maroon cover of a book called Invisible Poetry. I had thought we might enter a hangar-size storage area, like an FBI evidence warehouse, full of boxes to pick through. But instead we stood at a conference table piled with boxes in a cozy, carpeted room hung with art and photos of the Puerto Rican diaspora. Using an elaborate printed “finding aid,” Robles had preselected artifacts from among Pietri’s eighty-odd boxes of plays, manuscripts, flyers, paintings, photos, vinyl records, and what Robles calls “mutant gadgets,” since some of the works are uncategorizable handmade props.

Robles leafed through a manuscript called “Out of Order,” which Pietri had photocopied and distributed at readings but never published. The source for most of the condom poems, it contains thousands of short works that dissect the disordered and racially unequal New York City of the seventies and eighties. City officials had abandoned black and brown enclaves like Harlem and the Bronx, trash towered on the sidewalks, and heroin and crack ravaged whole neighborhoods. “New york new york / you are your own undertaker,” Pietri wrote. Some of these poems have been collected—City Lights Books published a selection of thirty poems in 2015, and an out-of-print 2001 Italian volume holds about 350 more—but most exist only at the Centro.

Pietri’s works are both morbid and playful. His preoccupation with the AIDS epidemic was a natural outgrowth of a poetics of grand metaphysical decline—his interest in the way we’re all dying all the time, some of us more so than others. “It’s raw,” said Robles of the collection, his dark eyes shining with contained excitement. “It’s sexual. It’s about drugs, it’s about alcohol, it’s about wayward lives, it’s about street life, it’s about difficult feelings, it’s about broken families. It’s about fun, as well.”

The manila packets of Pietri’s condom poems were smaller, and more pleasingly assembled, than I had imagined from a description alone. Some Pietri had hand-painted black with tiny gold insignia. Typewritten onto the back of each packet is a short poem in Spanish, English, or Italian, with warnings like “socializing can be fatal” and “Is no longer safe / to screw Every place,” and encouragements to “Masturbate slowly” instead. Though I looked through dozens, Robles told me there were likely thousands in the world.

Contained within these kinetic poems is Pietri’s attempt to protect his community, which was uniquely vulnerable to AIDS infection. As we spoke, Robles unfurled a banner, with ransom-note letters reading “CONDOMS & POEMS 4-SALE,” that Pietri displayed during readings. It was tattered and coffee-stained in places, and taped to it were handwritten notebook pages. Often, Pietri would improvise performances as the Reverend Pedro, his barefoot-prophet persona, tossing condoms from hand-painted suitcases that bore slogans like “UNDERTAKER POET.” When Robles carefully removed these suitcases from their Bubble Wrap chrysalides, they still smelled sharp, like paint and musty leather.

“The dynamic was always to emphasize the importance of safe sex,” said Robles. “For him, it wasn’t about moralizing. It was about protecting yourself from AIDS and other STDs.” In Robles’s introduction to the Lost & Found volume, he shares a story from Nuyorican poet María Teresa “Mariposa” Fernández, who recounts that she was a twenty-year-old freshman at New York University when she first saw Pietri perform. “He threw condoms at us, something our school administrators should have been doing,” she said. “I thought it was genius.” Filed carefully away in the archives, these artifacts are a monument to creative community action at a time when authorities stood mute in the face of suffering and death. “It’s documentation of a period of Nuyorican history that is, for the most part, erased,” said Robles.


The Lost & Found chapbook, Condom Poems 4 Sale One Size Fits All, contains a tight selection of thirty poems—enough to open a window into that little-known moment in history. In a special envelope, Alcalay’s team has reproduced personal photos and hand-painted performance flyers from the archive, including one of the Reverend Pedro laughing, standing barefoot before a “condom cross.”

The Pietri volume is part of the eighth series Lost & Found has published. Other new materials include notes from Diane di Prima’s lectures on Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound as a “magical working”; Muriel Rukeyser’s full translation of Arthur Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell, completed in the early thirties while she was a student and involved in the Scottsboro trial; and the former Dominican nun Mary Norbert Körte’s 1967 response to Ghost Tantras, by Michael McClure.

Much of Alcalay’s output is as niche as this. For years, his academic community saw him as a “wacky poet” tinkering in the recesses of the Graduate Center, he told me. You can see why. His office is cluttered with books and posters and bags of papers; one pities his future executor. “I’m a lunatic,” he told me from behind a sagging pair of tortoiseshell eyeglasses. “I keep everything.”

More recently, though, the project has found a measure of legitimacy. It’s quietly influencing the field and finding its way into classrooms, books, and dissertations. In 2017, the Before Columbus Foundation presented Alcalay its American Book Award. Lost & Found also appears as an example in Jean-Christophe Cloutier’s new book Shadow Archives, which argues for the importance of archival research in historicizing African-American literature. And not long ago, another powerful endorsement reached Alcalay’s ears: shortly before Toni Morrison died, a mutual friend told him that the writer was an admirer of the project’s Toni Cade Bambara volume, “Realizing the Dream of a Black University,” & Other Writings.

Alcalay is fond of saying that Lost & Found is about relationships. By this, he means the unexpected ones among poets that his students uncover. The most obvious examples are in the surprising creative correspondences they publish, like that between Amiri Baraka and Edward Dorn, or the odes, like Kathy Acker’s to Leroi Jones. “To me, it’s like fine weaving,” said Alcalay, of revealing these connections. “It’s like weaving this very complex pattern.” Doing so binds familiar figures together within an expanding creative fabric, pleasantly exposing the notion of the great solitary artist as a myth.


Pietri, too, was bound to better-known contemporaries, kindred downtown spirits like Baraka, Ishmael Reed, June Jordan, and Ntozake Shange. But the strongest connections that emerge from his archives are those he forged with his public. During his life, he nurtured the language and longings of a fiercely dedicated subculture. His poems abound with street talk, slang, informal conjugations. “That was the aesthetic proposal,” Robles told me. “He was validating Spanglish, he was validating the English that Puerto Ricans were speaking, he was validating Black English.” It was not for the academy, said Robles, it was for the people. It may be part of why he’s often ghettoized as a Latin American poet and overlooked in the canon. But it’s also why he served so aptly as a community advocate and provocateur.

A thrilling part of the new Lost & Found volume is that it extends Pietri’s public provocation. Its afterword, written by Cristina Pérez Díaz, the student who began the Pietri project before Robles took it over, is preserved in untranslated Spanish, like many of Pietri’s archived poems. “If you can’t read it, tough luck,” said Alcalay. “Learn some Spanish.”

After all, the archive—the existence of certain collections and the absence of others—is always a matter of politics. What gets chosen and surfaced depends wholly on who is doing the choosing. We tend to think of it as a rarefied space, the province of scholars and authorities. “The meaning of archive, its only meaning,” wrote Derrida, “comes to it from the Greek arkheion: initially a house, a domicile, an address, the residence of the superior magistrates, the archons, those who commanded.”

But public archives are everywhere, in libraries across the country. Anyone can visit and decide what’s important, as I discovered at the Centro. Think, too, of all the uncommanded archives, in cluttered homes and offices. “Some stuff ends up in dumpsters,” said Alcalay. To his mind, Lost & Found is an invitation to non-scholars to join the process, to become editors and archivists themselves. “It’s creating a consciousness and awareness that these are the materials of our culture, and they’re going to disappear if we’re not vigilant.” He hopes some minor archons will think to rescue these materials—or maybe spirit them his way: “If you don’t take charge of your culture, who will?”

(Source: The Paris Review)

The 10 greatest cardigans

From Marilyn Monroe in a shawl-collar number to Prince George in a blue button-up, here are some of the memorable knitwear moments of the last 100 years

10. Katie Holmes’s bradigan (2019)
The cardigan x the internet. A new-style twinset with a caption-friendly compound moniker, Katie Holmes’s Khaite cashmere bra-and-cardie combination became the first cardigan to go viral when an obliging paparazzi caught the moment it slipped off her shoulder just the right amount as she lifted her arm to hail a taxi. The look was such a hit that the bradigan (and an excellent late-summer suntan) rebooted the Katie Holmes brand almost as effectively as, say, landing a whopping contract with Marvel, or having a secret love affair with Justin Trudeau*. The cardigan, but make it fashion. (*Let the record state that this particular rumour is obviously ludicrous, although, when you think about it, Trudeau does look a bit like Cruise so you can see how it started.) Jess Cartner-Morley

9. Riri’s dress cardigan (2013)
Rihanna attends the Chanel show as part of Paris Fashion Week, 2013. Photograph: Stephane Cardinale/Corbis via Getty Images

Unlike the jumper dress – a look often derided for making the wearer look as if they have “forgotten” their skirt – the cardigan as a dress has the advantage of buttons, and thus the opportunity for the purposeful abandonment of not only skirts and trousers, but tops, too. Rihanna wore this ankle-grazing cardie to Chanel’s autumn/winter haute couture show in 2013, where what she lacked in underwear she made up for in pearls. The cardigan dress is a look the singer has returned to on numerous occasions – including earlier this year when she wore an oversized camo cardigan by Miu Miu following her first Savage x Fenty lingerie show in New York. Never have the words “granny” and “cardigan” felt further apart. Leah Harper

8. Danny Zuko’s Rydell High cardigan in Grease (1978)
“What is this, Halloween?” ask the T-Birds when Grease’s Danny Zuko swaps his black leather jacket for a white and red Rydell High-branded cardie towards the end of this vintage romcom. John Travolta’s slicked back hair and black jeans remain; rarely has a cardigan signified such a stark personality shift. Of course, this is not any old cardie: it’s sporty, it’s preppy, it belongs, really, in the wardrobe of annoyingly clean-cut love-rival Tom Chisum. And it is only worn for a little over a minute – being quickly shrugged off after Sandy rocks up with a perm and a cigarette – but it is a look that has been emulated – albeit, often with a sense of irony – ever since. Grease may be the word, but “varsity cardie” is undoubtedly the look. LH

7. The Big Lebowski cardie (1998)
Ah, the Dude. A hero to those of us who hate phones, abhor schedules and whose immediate response to authority is to roll our eyes into the back of our heads. Post-slacker and Kevin Smith and pre-Judd Apatow stoner (hi, Seth Rogan, Jonah Hill), The Dude became the ultimate cinematic antihero. And this cardigan, a bulky, Cowichan knit was his superhero outfit. On another body, this is less of a cardigan and more of a bro-digan – the sort of thing worn by a character in a 50s musical who is about to chop down some trees and quickly build a cabin in the woods. But in the Dude’s hands it signalled a life lived off the beaten track, off the clock and following the beat of your own drum. To paraphrase the great man, that cardigan really ties the room together. Priya Elan

6. The Clueless fluff-cuffed cardigan (1995)
Cher and Dionne’s tartan skirt suits are sartorial scene stealers in this coming of age comedy, but beneath their blazer jackets sit the co-ordinated cardigans that cement this look’s place in fashion history. But Cher (played by Alicia Silverstone) was also a sucker for a feather trim and her fluff-cuffed cardie has inspired many a 90s look in the years since – just take a look at Ukrainian brand Sleeper’s signature party pyjamas. It might not be Cher’s “most capable looking outfit”, but she certainly deserves snaps for her “courageous fashion efforts”. LH

5. Prince George’s blue cardie (2015)
 Prince George in his royal-blue cardigan. Photograph: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images
We’ve all been there: you look back at clothes your mum put you in and shake your head in disbelief, whether this was the strangely ornate knitted onesie that looked as if it was made for a 14th-century baby king or the PJ’s that went matchy-matchy with a sibling (despite the fact she was eight years older than you). So it’s surprising that Kate, Duchess of Cambridge was so on point with this sartorial choice for Prince George: a (yes) royal blue knit with five pearl-coloured buttons that gave George the look of a mischievous cartoon elf about to create havoc in a magical kingdom. It’s so good that we, as fully grown, non-infant humans, might consider replicating the look IRL. PE

4. Kurt Cobain’s MTV Unplugged cardigan (1994)
 Kurt Cobain on MTV Unplugged.Photograph: Frank Micelotta Archive/Getty Images
Lit by swathes of violet light and featuring long black Roman candles and huge white lilies, the visuals of Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged (released seven months after Kurt Cobain’s suicide) had the deep portent of Anton Corbijn’s Joy Division photographs. Instead of playing as the opener of Nirvana’s third act, the Unplugged show now played like a funeral waltz; a chilling premonitory evocation of what was to happen. In the accompanying video, the closeups of Kurt’s face were haunting: framed by his dirty, wheat-coloured hair and piercing blue eyes, frame after frame now suggested a broken man who had ascended to the position of sad angel. Central to this aesthetic was Kurt’s cardigan. Made of smooth, dreamy mohair, his unwashed, cigarette-burned, olive-green cardie became the Turin shroud of indie rock, as he ascended to the patron saint of musical sorrow. PE

3. Coco’s cardigan and cravat (circa 1925)
Coco Chanel is often credited with popularising cardigans for women – but it was born out of her penchant for masculine clothing (at the time, cardigans were mostly “heavy, long, and marketed to macho automobile drivers”) and, apparently, her dislike of the way men’s pullovers would mess up her hair when pulling them over her head. Pictured with her friend Vera Bate Lombardi in Scotland, Chanel is wearing her cardigan with a cravat, hat and tweed jacket. She also designed her own tweed cardigan jackets using light boucle wools in pastel colours which – in an early blurring of the line between men’s and women’s fashions – gave the garment greater appeal with women. Chanel’s cardigans were also predominantly designed to be worn indoors – revolutionary! LH

2. Marilyn Monroe on Santa Monica beach (1962)
I think we can agree that Marilyn Monroe knew how to do sexy. And long before Succession’s Logan Roy made the shawl-collar cardigan a thing, Monroe showed the world a chunky, cosy knit could pack a punch. George Barris’s photographs of her in a chunky graphic cardigan belted with a silk-robe looseness, platinum hair sideswept in the sea breeze, are a bluechip style reference. The cardigan fetched $167,500 when it was sold by Monroe’s estate at auction. Gigi Hadid with movie-star waves and winged eyeliner, opening Maxmara’s autumn 2015 catwalk show in a sensuous camel cashmere coat, was one of many homages. Just add jeans for your Boxing Day walk look. JCM

1. Michelle Obama’s cream J-Crew knit (2009)
 Michelle Obama wearing a cardigan at 10 Downing Street in 2009. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

As a symbol of Michelle Obama’s mastery of soft-power semiotics, this cardie is pretty apposite. Worn for her first visit to London to meet Sarah Brown (wife of the then prime minister, Gordon Brown), it is sparkly and upbeat, a souped-up version of the sort of garment women everywhere use to counteract the sexist chill of office air-conditioning. As Flotus, whether in the pages of Vogue or on inauguration day, Obama’s dedication to buttoned-up knits was unparalleled. She even wore one to meet the Queen, a choice Oscar de la Renta slammed, saying: “You don’t go to Buckingham Palace in a sweater.” Well, she did and it was great. Not to get too nostalgic, but there is something lovely about the fact that Obama’s go-to cover-up was something so understated and soft-edged – professional but in a cosy, approachable way. Clearly, there is a gulf between this and the highly tailored, armour-like suits favoured by the current establishment. Hannah Marriott

(Source: The Guardian)

Friday 29 November 2019

What we can all learn from this deathbed photo

Why would a picture of a dying grandfather having a final drink resonate with so many strangers around the world?

All Norbert Schemm, 87, of Appleton, Wisconsin, wanted in his final moments was his loved ones beside him while he sipped a beer.

Together his family talked, laughed and reminisced before taking an image which Mr Schemm's son Tom shared with the family Whatsapp group.

But hours later when Mr Schemm died and his grandson Adam posted the photo on social media, the entire family was overwhelmed by the number of strangers who took comfort in that last picture.
Norbert Schemm, 87, was surrounded by his loved ones during his final days

It has already had more than 4,000 comments, 30,000 retweets and 317,000 favourites on Twitter alone and has turned up on Reddit and other social platforms.

Adam said: "My grandpa had been relatively healthy over the course of his life but it was on the Sunday last week while he was in hospital that they realised it would be the end. He called his grandchildren to tell us on the Monday. We took the picture Tuesday night and then he died from stage four colon cancer on Wednesday."

"My dad told us that grandpa had wanted a beer and now when I look at that picture it gives me solace.

"I can tell my grandpa is smiling. He's doing what he wanted to do - it was an impromptu moment."
Adam said he was hesitant to post the picture on social media first because of the bittersweet context but decided to go ahead because it was just a beautiful moment.

"It's actually helped us with our grief. It's comforting to see that my grandparents and their children were all together in his final moments."

He said the family had been tracking to see how far the image had travelled and they loved that so many people were sharing it.

"It seems to have tapped into a sense of community and clearly is a moment lots of people relate to. The comments have been so kind and we've seen pictures of people toasting bottles of beer in his honour. I thought people I knew might want to see it and respond but had no idea just how many people it seems to have helped."

Ben Riggs, of Indianapolis, was among the strangers who felt prompted to respond to the image on Twitter. He posted a photo of his own grandfather Leon Riggs, 86, enjoying a final cigar and beer too.

Ben told the BBC he spotted the image on his Twitter feed and it reminded him of his grandfather's final request when he died in 2015.

"I don't delete the pictures on my phone. I returned to it and I felt compelled to reply and share my own photo. It brought me back and to see someone else experience that final bit of happiness before death was a good feeling."

Ben said his grandfather had had Alzheimer's and his memory would come in waves but towards the end, he and his dad felt it important to fulfil his grandfather's dying wish.

"While death never comes at the right time, I think it's important to always try and find the silver lining."

Ben said the evening his grandfather died, he, his brothers and his father got together to mark the passing and celebrate the life. They took another family photo. Tragically, Ben's father Mike died unexpectedly the next day from heart failure. He says both of these final pictures have brought him much comfort.

Ben Riggs lost both his father and grandfather within the space of 48 hours but finds comfort that he and his brothers have a photo taken with their dad hours before he died.
Brigid Reilly, of Philadelphia, also responded to Adam's original tweet with an image of her grandmother Theresa Meehan who passed away in October this year from heart and kidney failure at the age of 84.

She told the BBC: "My grandmother got put on hospice care so we knew she would be passing soon.

"Towards the end my family wanted to bring her her favourite things which included sushi, Frank Sinatra's music, all of us together, and her drink of choice which was Baileys. As she got closer to the end she requested we all do a final shot together."

Theresa Meehan wanted to drink Baileys liquor with her family as she came to the end of her life
Brigid said that the image was printed out and shown at her grandmother's funeral.

"We made a video commemorating her life and included it in that. But mostly I just cherish it personally. I think I'm really lucky to have had those final moments with her."

But what is it about the picture that has led to hundreds of thousands of people reacting to it?

Why did the photo resonate?
Ann Neumann, author of The Good Death, says: "It has resonated because it is something we all long for. Because the image gives us a chance to think of our own loved ones and to join the Schemm family in this most profound moment.

"But it also gives us a chance to grieve with them; in doing so we can think of our own loved ones, elderly, ill, dying and dead."

She said the image captures what everyone would want on their last night - to be surrounded by loved ones.

She adds: "Few of us know the time of our death or have the presence of mind to mark it in this way. We live far-flung lives, with our family members residing in other states or countries. There are millions of stories of adult children missing their parents' death because of distance.

"There are millions of stories of a dying parent being unconscious the last days of their lives. Missing the chance to say goodbye is a great human fear. The opportunity to share this rare and beautiful last gathering resonates because it is one version of an ideal death.

"If there is a lesson in this photo, it is to mark and hold dear all the time we have with those we love. Hoist a beer, hold hands, share stories. Time is finite."

Why do we share deathbed photos?
Dr Kenneth J Doka, senior bereavement counsellor at the Hospice Foundation of America and past chairman of the International Work Group on Death, Dying and Bereavement (IWG) Mission, says there is no specific right thing to say or do when it comes to the final moments of a life.

"I think the key thing is to listen and when someone is dying to let them share their moment of significance."

He described the photo as a delightful image and added he was unsurprised that Adam posted what could have been thought of as a private moment on social media.

"We have always used technology to deal with dying and death. The Ancient Egyptians used pyramids; what we are doing now is adapting our rituals to the technology that is available."

Adam says his grandpa would have found the attention remarkable.

"I don't think he would have minded. He would have got a laugh out of it.

"I think the biggest lesson to be learned and what I believe my grandfather would say is to 'be kind, love each other, and that family matters'.

(Source: BBC)

First Brahmin woman to teach Arabic in Kerala to retire after 29 years of service

"Everyone welcomed me, the students loved me a lot. I am happy and satisfied now when I leave my job"

Arabic is a beautiful language, says Gopalika, possibly the first Brahmin teacher of the language in the country.

However, when she began to teach Arabic in 1987, there was an uproar. People said that a Brahmin person should not be teaching the language.

At the age of 17, Gopalika Antharjanam told her family that she wanted to learn Arabic. It wasn’t a big deal. “I had this passion to learn different languages. In high school, I learned Sanskrit. Our village had an institution that taught Arabic and I was interested in the language.”

Gopalika hails from Kunnamkulam village in Thrissur district; her family were traditionally priests of the Kottiyoor temple. “My village had people from all communities, people did not differentiate between religious communities. I had classmates from different religions. Everyone welcomed me (at the Arabic institute),” she says.

There were also some other Brahmin students at the institute, but she doesn’t know if any of them took up the language as a teacher.

Gopalika may be the first Brahmin teacher of Arabic in Kerala and has taught the language for over two-and-a-half decades. Initially, though, it was difficult.

The year 1987 was a tumultuous one. She got married to Narayanan Namboothiri of Panayoor Mana that year and moved to Malappuram district where she took up a job as an Arabic teacher. However, there was opposition to her appointment: The idea that a Brahmin woman was teaching Arabic, was something unheard of. She was fired, but she decided to fight it out.

She approached the Kerala High Court and it ruled in her favour in 1989. She then joined government service through the Kerala Public Service Commission in another Malappuram school. These events caused much public and political discussion in Kerala.

“The encouragement I got from my in-laws and my husband gave me the strength to fight it out. It was because of my husband that I was able to pursue my career,” she said.

Then on, there were no hiccups in her career. “Everyone welcomed me, the students loved me a lot. I am happy and satisfied now, at the time of leaving my job," she said.

Gopalika is due to retire on March 31 as a teacher from Chemmaniyodu Government Lower Primary School, and even though she was unable to pursue higher studies in Arabic due to personal reasons, she has no regrets. “I am satisfied, happy and overwhelmed at this point,” she says with a smile.

Last year, she was honoured by a Muslim group on World Arabic Day. She says that people’s attitudes towards Arabic had grown beyond religion and caste. “Now the situation has changed. Irrespective of caste and religion, people are learning Arabic because of its scope (for jobs) and it should be welcomed,” she said. “Consider Arabic as a beautiful language rather than connecting it with a particular religion.”

(Source: TNM)

Too many cats

When we’d all made it through the winter, and spring had arrived, a small tabby cat showed up at our place and she was pregnant. By this time, Blackie was pregnant, too. The two cats loved each other and, because they were expecting, they followed me around incessantly. Wherever I went, they went, too, and I was always tripping over them, but nothing upset them as long as they could be with me. They would gaze at me adoringly and I knew they were looking to me to help them when their time came.

My neighbor, Mr. Eliáš, made me a bird feeder, an absurd looking contraption cobbled together from an old radio. He’d removed the guts, staved in the front panel, mounted it on a base that he fastened to a post, then drove the post into the ground outside his window, right where there was a break in the fence. Whenever I arrived at the cottage to tend to my cats and to write, I’d crumble some dry bread and oatmeal into the feeder for the sparrows and the titmice and the occasional jay.

I was horrified at the prospect of the cats having kittens. I was afraid they’d have them in my bed, as Blackie’s mother, Máca, had done. I worried about what we’d do with so many kittens and it killed me to think that if each cat had four kittens, I’d have to drown them. Not all of them, I’d leave the mothers two kittens each, but I’d still have to be the executioner, which is what I used to have to do in Nymburk, when no one wanted to drown the kittens and it fell to me, who loved cats, to be the one to do it, and to dispose of the bodies as well, and it was all because once, we kept all five kittens and when they were old enough to live on their own, no one wanted them, and we ended up with so many cats that we were constantly stumbling over them and then, as the devil would have it, four of the five kittens turned out to be female and within a year all four of them had young ones and we were as unhappy as my wife was later, when she’d complain, whenever she came to Kersko for the weekend: “What are we going to do with all those cats?”

At the time, my wife would spend most of the day cooking for the cats and doling out milk for them, but the main problem was they were happiest in the kitchen and the room reeked of cats. I was so used to them I couldn’t smell it myself, but anyone who came to visit would always sniff the air. The cats would do their business, not just in the basin filled with sand, but sometimes in the corner of the kitchen, or the pantry, and when they had diarrhea, they’d poo wherever it caught up with them, and my wife would go around in a permanent state of seething reproach. She was sick and tired of washing the sheets and cleaning up the mess on the carpet, so I would do it. Every weekend I’d wipe up after the cats, first with a paper towel and then with a damp rag, and sometimes my nerves would snap and I’d shout at them and shoo them outside, and sometimes I’d even hit one of them. Or I’d be sitting and writing and suddenly, instead of a cat meowing at the door to be let out, I’d hear the awful sound of innards being voided, and I’d see red and pick the cat up and smack it, or sometimes I’d drop it on the doorstep and send it arcing into the woods with a powerful kick. The other cats would immediately flee outside, where they’d cower in shame and guilt and I would stop writing and feel sorry for them. I couldn’t write because I had struck a cat that I loved, I had kicked an innocent creature who meant everything to me, and sometimes, when in Prague, I’d feel such a sudden longing to see them that I’d drive out to Kersko and pick them up and press them to my forehead, so they could absolve me of my fears and my sorrow.

I was ashamed at what I’d done and I’d go outside and would sometimes spend the rest of the day trying to win back their trust, to get back into their good graces and persuade them to come back home. But those creatures were more deeply ashamed than I was and they were loath to go back to a place they’d been kicked out of, a place from which I’d driven them, because not only can cats feel deeply embarrassed, they cannot forgive as readily as I forgave them.

So I stopped spending the night in Kersko. I’d merely write what I had to write, feed the cats, and then leave by bus or by car, but I’d always turn to look back, or stop the car, and I’d see all the cats standing there as usual, peering through the fence, and their tiny heads looked so sad I’d step on the gas, or jump on the bus, which was my preferred means of travel because I’d be so distraught at leaving the cats I feared I might drive down the wrong side of the road, or into the ditch.

It was strange, when I’d drive to the cottage by car, when I’d enter the Kersko forest and arrive at the spot where I turned into the lane leading to the cottage, I could see my cats come running in from the neighboring lots and gardens, so that by the time I pulled up to the gate, they’d all be standing there, beaming with delight that I’d come to be with them, that I’d made it, that I’d be giving them milk and food and taking them into my arms and finding consolation in each of them and giving each of them the courage to go on living, because these cats of mine may well have felt completely alive only when I was with them. And when I’d finished cuddling them and the weather was nice, I’d urge them to go outside and get some fresh air, to go and warm their coats, but I’d have to carry them out of the bedroom because they wouldn’t have gone on their own. Their greatest delight was to be with me.

That week I didn’t sleep over in Kersko because I didn’t want to be there when the cats had their kittens. One day, I arrived to find the tabby cat missing, only to discover her in the woodshed where she’d given birth to five tiny kittens in a potato basket. She licked my hand and then, with her paws, she guided my fingers to her babies, who sucked at them, and they were as tiny as transistor radio batteries.

I stroked the kittens but was trembling with dread because the longer I allowed my hand to linger, the more I knew that this was the hand that would have to randomly choose some of those kittens and usher them out of this world. I felt the bile rise within me and my stomach began to ache. I poured out milk for the other cats and cut up pieces of meat for them, but when I sat down at the typewriter, I couldn’t write, because my hands were shaking and I couldn’t type a coherent sentence. I walked past the woodshed, followed by Blackie, who walked behind me because her belly, too, was enormous and she was close to her time. I squatted down and she hopped onto my knee and arched her back and nuzzled against me, seeking reassurance. I knew she was terrified of giving birth alone and wanted me to be with her when it happened.

I was disturbed because I could see the pointlessness of having come here. Kersko was not what my friends claimed it was, an ideal place to write and that I was lucky to have two places to live. In fact, the opposite was true. Whenever I was in Prague I worried about what my cats were doing and I couldn’t write for fear they were hungry and alone. Then when I came to Kersko, I’d curse myself for not having stayed in Prague, because I couldn’t write there, either. My wife, it seems, was beginning to make sense. What were we going to do with all those cats? I already had enough cats of my own and now I had an extra one who’d just given birth to five kittens, and Blackie would shortly be giving birth to five more.

I was beginning to think it would be best to make a huge mail sack, beat all the kittens to death in it, then crawl into the bag and drown myself in the pond in the woods, or …

I now understood why my cats’ favorite pastime was playing with that large fiber handbag with the large green circular handles. Sometimes all the cats would crawl into it and fall asleep. The bag had been left behind by a fortune-teller, Mařenka, a former nurse who, in her free time, would walk the streets of our little town in a white turban with a green teardrop jewel on it. One day she came to gather wild mushrooms, and before she left she told my fortune from a deck of cards. She predicted not only that I would become a writer, but that I would find myself in a situation that would drive me to hang myself on a willow tree beside a river. She left behind that capacious handbag with the round green handles and never came back to pick it up because, in the meantime, she died.

At first I’d made light of her prophecy but then later took it seriously enough that I had all the branches of a willow tree beside the brook cut off. Nevertheless, within a year it had sprouted so many new branches that ten people could have hung themselves from it, as in a drawing by Goya.

Today, with her prediction on my mind, I went down to the brook and the willow tree was standing there, prepared to receive me, but I was not yet ready to fulfill Mařenka’s prophecy. To be on the safe side, though, I put all the milk and all the meat out on plates and then left, because I was terrified of what awaited me the next day.

An odd kind of inertia set in, making it impossible for me to be in Prague or Kersko, and since I was in Prague, I set out once more to Kersko to see the cats, and when I pulled up and got out of the car and the cats ran out to greet me, I knelt down and patted them but did not pick them up or press them to my face. I walked slowly under the birches, feeling aggravated and anxious because my favorite cat, Blackie, who was fondest of me and about whom I was crazy, had not come out to welcome me. I unlocked the door and poured out the milk and laid out the meat, and when I opened the window and looked out, I froze. There was Blackie lying in the bird feeder made from an old radio, and transmitting such an adoring look of love that I walked out of the house in a trance. When I reached the bird feeder, I saw that Blackie, too, had a litter of kittens, black and brindled, and she’d turned over on her back like a foundering battleship and was gazing at me lovingly, inviting me to behold the joy she’d brought to my parcel of land, that here, in the bird feeder, she was offering me her treasure, her five little kittens. I stuck my hand inside and Blackie licked it, and I rested my head on top of the feeder and held both hands out to Blackie, pressing my head on the old radio as though I were listening to news of fresh catastrophes in the world. I took a deep breath and tried to relax but couldn’t quite manage it, so I remained there a while longer, my heart pounding, while the words my wife would utter to brighten my weekends in Kersko came into my head: “What will we do with all those cats?”

When I had regained some of my composure, my first thought was of Mařenka’s prophecy, but then I realized that were I to hang myself from my own willow tree by the brook, there would be no one to give food and drink to the cats. I stepped back from the feeder and looked at Blackie, at her beautiful, adoring eyes bright with pride, then she turned on her side so the kittens could suckle more easily and I was so moved by her eyes and by the love flowing from those eyes to mine that I stuck my head into the feeder and Blackie and I touched noses and she licked me over and over again as if I were one of her kittens, and snuffled such sweet words of kitty love into my ears that I decided I would keep all of those kittens, come what may, and would offer five hundred crowns as a kind of kitty dowry to anyone who would agree to take one.

I brought Blackie some milk in a saucer, and she lifted herself up on her front legs and lapped it up, then I took the saucer to the woodshed for the tabby cat. After that, I went for a walk around our property, at times as far as the end of the lane where I turn to go to the bus stop, and from there I looked back at my cottage beneath those towering pines and birches, and thought that no one would believe I could be so utterly miserable here because of all those cats. I knew I’d have to kill some of those kittens in the woodshed in the canvas mail sack under the potato basket where the stray cat had given birth to five kittens, as many as Blackie, who had dropped her litter of five in the bird feeder among the remnants of the bread crumbs and oatmeal. I looked at my cottage from a distance and thought that no one, myself included, would have the audacity to claim that this modest house with the green shutters, shaded by tall trees, was anything but a place of pleasure and delight, providing a comfortable life for a writer who maintains two households and is free to choose between them, according to the mood of the moment.

That Sunday, when my wife was again bemoaning the fact that we had so many cats, a car pulled up to our gate and a young man got out and, to our surprise, he was holding an emaciated tomcat in his arms. He said that his mother had been persuaded to return Renda to us because he refused to touch his liver or milk, though it was only in the past week that he started making a fuss about it and so the young man’s mother had agreed to send him back to where she’d got him over three months before. Then the young man left, and Renda, my glorious tomcat, that king of cats, that Renda who had been such a gorgeous creature and took care of all the kittens regardless of whose they were, now sat there, nervously clawing away at a coat of fur that had once glistened and shone like an otter’s pelt but was now limp and stringy, as though he had just crawled out of a sewer. And when he got up and began walking toward the cottage, he recognized at once where he was and arched his back. He went inside, walked around his chair and rubbed noses with his relatives, then he sat down in front of me and stared at me so long and intensely that I had to avert my eyes. Renda jumped up on my lap and put his paws on my shoulders and looked right into me, and I had to return his gaze and I saw that his eyes were the eyes of Máca, who had run off to the Míčeks’ and never come back, preferring to die somewhere in a woodshed to being here with me and those other annoying kittens.

When Renda had finished looking into my eyes, he jumped down, this former charmer who had once glistened and shone and bristled with electricity, and walked unsteadily away, arching his gaunt back as if to demonstrate how wretched I’d made him, and he left, only to come back a while later, as if there were something more he had to tell me, some additional details about all that had befallen him during those three months, but he reconsidered and, cocking his wretched neck, he strutted off at a comic gait toward the river.

—Translated from the Czech by Paul Wilson

(Source: The Paris Review)

Thursday 28 November 2019

New Zealand launches world's first HIV positive sperm bank

Effort aims to reduce the stigma experienced by those living with the virus

The world’s first HIV positive sperm bank has been launched in an effort to reduce the stigma experienced by those living with the virus.

Sperm Positive has begun with three male donors from across New Zealand who are living with HIV but have an undetectable viral load, meaning the amount of the virus in a person’s blood is so low that it cannot be detected by standard methods.

Although this does not mean the HIV has been cured, it does mean that the treatment is working well and so the virus cannot be passed on – even through sex without a condom or childbirth.
 The online clinic aims to give people diagnosed with HIV the opportunity to create life and to raise awareness. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Donor Damien Rule-Neal was diagnosed with HIV in 1999 but was confirmed undetectable after starting treatment some 18 years ago.

He said there was still a lack of education among the public in New Zealand about what an undetectable status meant, and that he had experienced stigma about living with HIV in both his work and personal life.

“I have many friends who are also living with HIV who’ve gone on to have children,” he said.

“Being able to help others on their journey is so rewarding, but I also want to show the world that life doesn’t stop post-diagnosis and help to remove the stigma.”

The online sperm bank said it will be made clear to people looking for a donor that they have HIV but are on effective treatment and so cannot pass the virus on.

The initiative, created by the New Zealand Aids Foundation, Positive Women Inc and Body Positive, hopes to educate people in New Zealand about HIV transmission.

Dr Mark Thomas, an infectious diseases doctor and Auckland University associate professor, said he had seen changes in public opinion after working with those diagnosed with HIV for more than 30 years.

He said: “I’m glad to say that in this time there have been great changes in public understanding of HIV, but many people living with HIV still suffer from stigma.

“Stigma can lead to inconsistent taking of medicines, and result in much less effective treatment of HIV, and risk of transmitting HIV.

“Fear of stigma and discrimination can stop people at risk from getting tested, and those living with HIV from accessing treatment and support.”

As well as informing the public, the online clinic aims to give people diagnosed with the virus the opportunity to create life and to raise awareness that fertility services are available for them.

Sperm Positive said it will not be operating as a fertility clinic and, if a match is agreed by both parties, it will put them in touch with local fertility clinics.

The online bank was launched ahead of World Aids Day 2019, on December 1.

(Source: The Guardian)

Alaska’s ice cellars melting due to climate change after being used to store food for generations

Rising temperatures are causing dramatic changes to an ancient way of life in Alaska’s far-north

After generations of storing their food in handmade cellars dug deep into the permafrost, growing numbers in Alaska’s far-north now find their cellars filling up with water and blood.

Dozens of the naturally refrigerated food shelters exist underneath the region’s mainly Inupiat whaling villages – where many rely on hunting and fishing to eat.

But now climate change and other modern factors are forcing changes to an ancient way of life, rendering traditional storage methods dangerously unreliable.

Ranging from small arctic root cellars to spacious, wood-lined underground chambers, ice cellars are typically stocked with vast amounts of whale, walrus, seal and caribou.
Alaska's traditional ice cellars, upon which many native communities rely upon for large portions of their diet in the harsher months, are being impacted by climate change ( Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium/AP )

These chambers, usually built 10 to 12 feet below the surface, have long been used to age subsistence food to perfection and ensure a steady supply during the sparser months, which is critical for survival.

But increasingly, these cellars are beginning to collect mould and water, in some cases becoming completely submerged. Others collapse completely.

In Alaska’s northernmost community, Utqiagvik – which saw its warmest summer on record this year – about 60 per cent of the 1,500 households rely on subsistence foods for at least half of their diet, National Geographic wrote in 2015.

“I’m worried,” said Gordon Brower, a Utqiagvik whaling captain whose family owns two ice cellars.

One is more than a century old and used to store at least two tonnes whale meat set aside for community feasts. The other, built in 1955, is used to feed Mr Brower and his family.

He recently asked his son to retrieve some whale meat from the one of the cellars, and discovered both were in a bad state.

“He came back and said: ‘Dad, there’s a pool of blood and water at the bottom,’” said Mr Brower, who is now housing the community’s meat under a tarpaulin sheet above ground.

“It seems like slight temporary variations in the permafrost – that active layer – is affecting the temperature of our cellar,” Mr Brower said.

There were once at least 50 ice cellars in Point Hope, a native village built precariously on a thin spit of land caught between the Chukchi and Arctic oceans.

Now, there are less than 20 cellars in the village of 750 people.

Many in the community have little money and cannot afford to replace traditional methods with modern freezers.

To compensate, Point Hope whaling captains have use of three walk-in freezers that were donated for use by the whaling community.

But the much colder freezers do not impart the taste of aged whale meat so favoured throughout the region.

“It’s definitely a challenge at this time to be able to feed our people that acquired taste,” said 52-year-old whaling captain Russell Lane, who has spent his whole life in Point Hope.

The problem has been building for decades as a warming climate impacts multiple facets of life in the far-north – thawing permafrost, disruptions in hunting patterns and shorter periods of coastal ice that had long protected coastal communities from powerful storms. Other factors include development and soil conditions.

The changes have increased vulnerability to foodborne illnesses and raised concerns about food security, according to studies by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

State health officials said so far they have not heard of anyone becoming ill.

Despite the unprecedented rate of modern climate change, ice cellars have failed as far back as the early 1900s, according to a 2017 study in Utqiagvik in response to reports of flooded and collapsed cellars.
An entrance to a traditional Alaskan ice cellar (Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium/AP)
Researchers mapped 71 ice cellar locations around town and monitored five functioning cellars from 2005 to 2015, finding little thermal change over that relatively short timeframe. One of those cellars has since failed, however, and another is starting to collapse.

The study concluded that while a changing climate has great potential to affect ice cellars, there are other factors, including soil conditions and urban development.

“Climate change, air temperatures, all these physical changes are affecting them,” said Kelsey Nyland from George Washington University, one of the study’s authors.

“But also, a lot of it has to do with development and modern life in an arctic setting.”

Scientists had previously agreed that an underground tunnel, known as the utilidor, built in Utqiagvik in 1984 to provide water, electricity, and other utilities had been responsible for the failure of some cellars, National Geographic reported in 2015.

To adapt to the new environment, the village of Kaktovik, on the Beaufort Sea coast, took ambitious steps after it lost all but one family’s cellar to flooding.

In 2013, the village launched a project to build a community ice cellar incorporating traditional designs with contemporary technology used in Alaska’s North Slope oil fields – thermosyphons, off-grid tubelike refrigeration devices that cool the ground by transferring heat outside.

The hand-excavated cellar was ready for use in 2017, but it has yet to be filled. Whaling captains want to expand it first, according to whaling captain George Kaleak Sr, who represents Kaktovik on the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission.

Temperature sensors inside the cellar show it’s working as intended, Kaleak said. He expects the expansion to begin as early as next spring.

But experts warn melting ice cellars are a problem for hunters across the Arctic.

While some communities are able to avert crisis using modern technology, in Siberia the disappearance of millennia-old permafrost is now creating climate refugees.

With researchers continually revising their predictions for how quickly permafrost could melt, and how this could contribute to the warming of the planet, it seems increasingly likely those forced to leave their homes will not be the last.

“The permafrost is thawing so fast,” Anna Liljedahl, associate professor at the University of Alaska told The Washington Post in October “We scientists can’t keep up anymore.”

(Source: Independent)

First woman priest performs marriage without kanyadaan

Amidst the budding patriarchal societal order, the first woman Hindu priest of West Bengal, Nandini Bhowmik became the talk of the town for solemnising a wedding ceremony, without performing the patriarchal practice of kanyadan.

“I want to do away with the patriarchal mindset where parents appear to be renouncing the custody of their Kanya (daughter), treating her like a commodity and giving her away as dana (donation),” said Nandini Bhowmik.

A benchmark for women empowerment, Nandini Bhowmik presided over the wedding ceremony of the couple- Anvita Janardhanan and Arka Bhattacharya on February 24..

What is her profession?
A Sanskrit teacher at the Jadavpur University, Bhowmik has undertaken a unique way of solemnising as many as 40 marriages over ten years.

No matter how much she is occupied in her schedule of teaching and being involved in over ten drama groups, she takes out time to perform the wedding ceremonies of most inter-religious, inter-caste and inter-ethnic couple throughout Kolkata and its suburbs.

Bhowmik draws all her inspiration from her teacher, Gouri Dharmapal. In fact, whatever little she earns from her sittings, she donates most of it to an orphanage in Balighai near Puri in Odisha.

On February 24, she was accompanied by her team- college-mate and fellow priest, Ruma Roy and vocalists Semanti Banerjee and Poulami Chakraborty.

While Nandini and her team simplified the Sanskrit hymns to English and Bengali for the bride and the groom to chant, the troupe sang Rabindra Sangeet in the background.

Arka who was awestruck when Nandini and her team simplified the Sanskrit hymns to English and Bengali believed that by engaging in this practice, the women were not only breaking the male stereotypes but were also adding value to the priesthood.

“I have heard so many male priests reciting the mantras wrong. At a friend’s wedding officiated by Nandini and her friends last year, I was instantly drawn to the way the Sanskrit lines were vividly explained in English and Bengali,” said Arka.

In the holy texts
The practice of women priests solemnising weddings without Kanyadaans is mentioned in the earliest Hindu texts, especially the Rig Veda.

Thus, Nandini calls herself a “change agent”, who wishes to propagate that school of thought from the society.

From the scholars
Sanskrit scholar and Indologist Nrisingha Prasad Bhaduri said, “There is nothing in Hindu scriptures that bars women from becoming priests. In fact, there were multiple references to women priests, participating in spiritual and philosophical debates in the Vedas.”

The practice of women priest presiding over the weddings is trending among today’s youths, who have started approaching Nandini through social media.

Bhowmik, who solemnised her daughter’s marriage and then this one, will soon be seen presiding over another wedding ceremony with her team.

(Source: The Logical Indian)

South African doctor cures deafness with first-ever middle ear transplant

The achievement–which used 3D-printed technology to reconstruct broken bones–is being celebrated as a long-term solution to conductive hearing loss.

A team of South African doctors in the capital city Pretoria has been hailed as pioneers in the field of global medicine after performing the first-ever transplant of a patient’s middle ear.

The achievement–which used 3D-printed technology to reconstruct the broken bones of a middle ear–is being celebrated as a long-term solution to conductive hearing loss. What’s more, the surgery can be performed on people of any age, including newborn babies, curing patients of a form of deafness that is caused by physical damage or infection in the middle ear as well as congenital birth defects and metabolic diseases.

The first patient to undergo the procedure was a 35-year-old male who lost his hearing after a car accident devastated his middle ear. Due to the nature of his trauma, the operation lasted about an hour and a half, according to Legit.

The brains behind the medical team at the University of Pretoria’s Steve Biko Academic Hospital, Professor Mashudu Tshifularo, had been studying conductive hearing loss over the past decade, but in the past two years he began investigating the use of 3D printing technologies for the purpose of scanning and wholly recreating the smallest bones, or ossicles, of the middle ear–namely the hammer, anvil and stirrup.

In a celebratory press release issued by the South African Department of Health, Tshifularo is quoted as explaining:

“By replacing only the ossicles that aren’t functioning properly, the procedure carries significantly less risk than known prostheses and their associated surgical procedure.

We will use titanium for this procedure, which is biocompatible. We use an endoscope to do the replacement, so the transplant is expected to be quick, with minimal scarring.”

Tshifularo told local radio station Jacaranda FM:

“This was one of our patients we have been waiting for, for this reconstruction for almost three years now because they are not affordable … [but] we have done something new in the world and people will remember us for that.”

While expressing pride that he was the first in the world to revolutionize the new approach to address hearing loss, Tshifulara remains steadfast that the treatment must eventually become accessible and affordable for poor and working-poor patients, such as those who use South Africa’s public hospitals.

Tshifularo continued:

“Because we are doing it in the country and we are going to manufacture here, it has to be affordable for our people in state hospitals.

It will be very accessible because as long as we can train the young doctors to be able to do this operation, then it will be accessible for them as well.”

For Tshifularo, “innovate or perish” sums up his approach to medical science–both in terms of education, research, invention and clinical procedures, and also in terms of devising new solutions to the array of problems faced by struggling communities.

He hopes that he and his team at the university’s Department of Otorhinolaryngology (Ear, Nose and Throat) will receive the necessary funding from the government and private sponsors to ensure that this innovative approach to hearing loss treatment can get off the ground.

South African Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi has already pledged that the Department of Health will “do everything in our power to assist and mobilize resources to make sure that Prof. Tshifularo gets all the help he needs for this far-reaching innovation.”

(Source: The Mind Unleashed)

Slumping vehicle sales hit employment in Japan's auto sector

Slumping vehicle sales are starting to take a toll on the employment situation in the automotive industry.

Since Nov. 8, Mazda Motor Corp. has stopped soliciting new workers on fixed-term contracts at its head office plants in Hiroshima Prefecture, which mainly manufacture finished vehicles, and the Hofu plant in neighboring Yamaguchi. Honda Motor Co. has also suspended recruitment of workers on similar terms at its Yorii plant in Saitama, which produces SUVs and sedans.

Both firms have no idea when they will restart hiring of the so-called fixed-term workers. Employment conditions for such staff tend to be affected easily by fluctuations in economic conditions.
A production line at Mazda Motor Corp.'s plant in Hofu, Yamaguchi Prefecture, is seen in May 2018. | KYODO

The hiring adjustments come on the heels of stagnant factory operating rates, amid faltering sales not only in domestic markets but also in major overseas markets such as the United States and China.

Sales of new automobiles in Japan tumbled 24.9 percent in October from a year before, the first decline in four months, due to the effects of Typhoon Hagibis — which hit that month — and the consumption tax hike from 8 percent to 10 percent on Oct. 1.

Concerned about growing uncertainty about the course of the world economy, six of the seven major automakers in Japan have lowered their global automobile sales estimates for fiscal 2019.

In addition to Mazda and Honda, Nissan Motor Co. announced in July that it did not plan to renew the contracts of more than 880 existing fixed-term workers at its plants in Tochigi and Fukuoka prefectures. The move was said to be aimed at bolstering the firm’s financial resilience. Auto parts maker Aisin AW Co., an affiliate of Toyota Motor Corp., has halted its hiring of such workers.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp., whose earnings are slumping, plans to reduce back-office workers.

(Source: JT)

This algorithm can remove the water from underwater photos, and the results are incredible

An engineer has developed a computer program that can, in her words, “remove the water” from an underwater photograph. The result is a “physically accurate” image with all of the vibrance, saturation, and color of a regular landscape photo.

The technology, called Sea-thru, was developed by oceanographer and engineer Derya Akkaynak while she was a post-doctoral fellow under Tali Treibitz at the University of Haifa, and it has the potential to revolutionize underwater photography. While “remove the water” isn’t the most scientific explanation for how the technology works, as you can see in the Scientific American feature above, that’s more or less what it does.

By automatically removing the color cast and backscatter caused by the way light moves through a body of water, she’s able to capture underwater landscapes as they would look to the human eye on dry land—in other words: if all the water were gone.

Akkaynak and Haifa created Sea-thru by capturing “more than 1,100 images from two optically different water bodies,” each of which include her color chart. These photos were then used to train a model that compensated for the way light is both scattered and absorbed by water.

“Every time I see a reef with large 3D structures, I place my color chart at the base of the reef, and I swim away about 15 meters,” explains Akkaynak. “Then I start swimming towards the reef, towards the color chart, and photograph it from slightly different angles until I get to the reef.”

Once trained, the color chart is no longer necessary. As Akkaynak helpfully explained on Reddit, “All you need is multiple images of the scene under natural light, no color chart necessary.”

This sample image, published alongside the research paper explaining this technique in detail, shows you just how incredible Sea-thru really is:

To be clear, this method is not the same as Photoshopping an image to add in contrast and artificially enhance the colors that are absorbed most quickly by the water. It’s a “physically accurate correction,” and the results truly speak for themselves. And while this technology was developed with an eye towards scientific uses, we can only imagine the results it would produce if shared with incredible National Geographic photographers like Paul Nicklen…

To see the algorithm in action and learn more about how Akkaynak was able to achieve this, watch the Scientific American feature up top. And if you want to dive into the nitty gritty of how this algorithm was developed and how it works, you can read the full research paper on Sea-thru here.

(Source: PP)

Wednesday 27 November 2019

Vogue cover features Indigenous transgender 'Muxe' from Mexico for first time

The iconic fashion magazine shines a light on Mexico's "third' gender

Vogue has featured a “muxe” - an indigenous transgender woman from Mexico - as its cover star for the first time.

Muxes (pronounced ‘moo-she’) have a unique gender identity that mixes gay male and feminine characteristics and is sometimes referred to as a “third” gender.

Both the British and Mexican editions of the magazine will carry the image of of Estrella Vasquez, a weaver and designer from Oaxaca, a southern Mexican state that is home to the largest muxe community in the country, although British Vogue will feature it inside the magazine.

The photo marks the first instance in Vogue’s 120-year publication history that a muxe has been placed on the cover.

“I think it’s a huge step,” 37-year-old Vazquez - who had never heard of Vogue when she was approached for the shoot - said.

“There’s still discrimination [in Mexico], but it’s not as much now and you don’t see it like you once did.

“Everyone is seeing this cover, everyone is congratulating me. I don’t know; it’s just hard to make sense of the emotions I’m feeling. It almost makes me want to cry,” she added.

The full shoot, shot by photographer Tim Walker, features a dozen muxes in traditional indigenous dress and is an attempt by Vogue to highlight the remarkable singularity of muxe culture, which is specific to Mexico.

"We're delighted to collaborate with Vogue Mexico for the first time ever on this amazing fashion shoot featuring members of Oaxaca’s indigenous muxe community," a British Vogue spokesperson told The Independent.

Muxes last made international news for their prominent role in rescue efforts following the 2017 Juchitan earthquake.

Many dug through rubble with their bare hands and lead organising efforts after the disaster.

However, outside the quais-matriarchal indigenous community, minority persecution in Mexico persists, which has some of the highest rates of crime in the world against individuals who identify as LGBT.

One LGBT person was murdered every three to four days between 2014 and 2016 in the country.

(Source: Independent

Record number of people register to vote on deadline day after huge last-minute spike

A record number of people registered to vote on the final day applications were open, with a huge last-minute spike taking the number of people who registered on Tuesday to 659,666.

The previous record for a single day was ahead of the 2017 general election, when 622,398 registered.

Before the final deadline at midnight on 26 November, there had been well over 3 million applications to register since the general election was called in October.

The figure is around 40 per cent higher than the 2.3 million applications to register in a similar period in the 2017 election, and the Electoral Reform Society said on Tuesday that of the applications made since October, 67 per cent were made by people aged 34 or under – a figure which is generally seen to be beneficial to Labour.

(Source: Independent)

Pope to list nuclear weapons as immoral in Catholic manual

Pope Francis, who met victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster while in Japan, is planning to change official Catholic Church teaching to declare the use and possession of atomic weapons as “immoral,” a move that makes clear that his rejection of the Cold War-era doctrine of deterrence is to be official church policy.

Francis had declared the possession of nuclear weapons immoral on Sunday in Hiroshima during an emotional encounter with survivors of the U.S. atomic bomb.

On Tuesday, during a news conference en route home from Japan, Francis indicated that his Hiroshima address should be considered part of his magisterium, or official church teaching.

“This must go in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” he said, referring to the published compendium of official church teaching.

“Not just the use, also the possession,” he said. “Because an accident of possession, or the insanity of a leader or someone, can destroy humanity.”

Francis first articulated his opposition to the doctrine of deterrence in 2017, during a Vatican conference, when he said the possession of nuclear weapons was “to be condemned.”
Pope Francis speaks to reporters Tuesday during a news conference on his flight back to Rome after a weeklong trip to Thailand and Japan. | POOL / VIA AFP-JIJJI

The shift upended three decades of the Vatican’s tacit acceptance of nuclear arsenals. Starting in 1982, St. John Paul II had held that deterrence could be morally acceptable in the interim as long as it was used as a step toward mutual, verifiable disarmament.

In the ensuing years, however, the Holy See has watched as arms control treaties collapsed, new nuclear powers emerged and the policy of assured mutual destruction resulted in a permanent stockpiling of bombs.

Francis also went further Tuesday in his comments on nuclear energy, saying he would rule out its use until scientists can offer “total security” to ensure that accidents, natural disasters and “crazed” individuals won’t destroy humanity and the environment with nuclear fallout.

Francis offered his “personal opinion” that went beyond the “concern” he expressed in public a day earlier during a meeting with survivors of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, where he noted a call by Japan’s Catholic bishops to abolish nuclear power outright.

The Japanese government strongly backs nuclear energy despite the 2011 “triple disaster,” in which three Fukushima nuclear reactors partially melted down after an earthquake triggered a tsunami. The disaster spewed nuclear fallout across the region and at one point forced the evacuation of 160,000 people.

“I have a personal opinion,” Francis said. “I would not use nuclear energy as long as there’s not a total security on the use.”

Francis stayed in Japan for four days beginning on Saturday, during which he called for the elimination of nuclear weapons in addresses to Nagasaki and Hiroshima — the two Japanese cities that were devastated by U.S. atomic bombings in the closing days of World War II.

Visiting both cities was his desire, the pope said, adding that his trip to Nagasaki, where Christianity has taken root in Japan, was especially “touching.”

Francis was elected as the Roman Catholic pontiff in 2013. His trip to Japan was the first papal visit to the Asian country in 38 years.

(Source: JT)

Toshiba says its device tests for 13 cancer types with 99% accuracy from a single drop of blood

Toshiba Corp. has developed technology to detect 13 types of cancer from a single drop of blood with 99 percent accuracy, the company announced Monday.

Toshiba developed the diagnosis method together with the National Cancer Center Research Institute and Tokyo Medical University, and hopes to commercialize it in “several years” after starting a trial next year.

The method could be used to treat cancer in its early stage, it said.

The method is designed to examine the types and concentration of microRNA molecules secreted in blood from cancer cells. Toray Industries Inc. and other companies have also developed technologies to diagnose cancer using microRNA molecules from a blood sample.

“Compared to other companies’ methods, we have an edge in the degree of accuracy in cancer detection, the time required for detection and the cost,” Koji Hashimoto, chief research scientist at Toshiba’s Frontier Research Laboratory, told a press briefing.

The test will be used to detect gastric, esophageal, lung, liver, biliary tract, pancreatic, bowel, ovarian, prostate, bladder and breast cancers as well as sarcoma and glioma.

Toshiba has developed a chip and a small device that can conduct the diagnosis in less than two hours. A blood test using it is expected to cost ¥20,000 or less, it said.

It is possible that the device will be used in health checkups, the company said.

In its five-year business strategy from April 2019, Toshiba has positioned medical businesses, including genome analysis and cell diagnosis, among key growth pillars along with automation, batteries and digital solutions using artificial intelligence.

(Source: JT)

Nepal’s ‘Mother Teresa’ has rescued over 18,000 girls from sex trafficking

Anuradha Koirala works to help exploited Nepali women and children sold into sex slavery.

Inspired by Mother Teresa, Anuradha Koirala always knew she was destined to serve people. So she became a teacher, educating young children in Kathmandu, Nepal. But after two decades, she decided to pursue an even greater calling: protecting women and girls from abuse, trafficking, and exploitation.

On her morning walks past the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu in the early 1990s, Koirala would regularly encounter women begging on the street. She was drawn to them and began to engage the women in conversation — they all told her that they had been victims of some type of gender-based violence, she recalled in her 2015 TEDx Talk.

Koirala was far too familiar with their pain, having suffered extreme physical abuse at the hands of her ex-husband.

"Every day, there was battering. And then I had three miscarriages that I think [were] from the beating. It was very difficult because I didn't know in those days where to go and report [it], who to,” she told CNN in 2010.

Her decision to change careers was triggered by her traumatic personal experience.

Koirala began educating the women about gender-based violence and the empowerment of women. She offered to help them support themselves if they stopped begging on the streets.

At first, just eight women took her up on her offer, and she gave them 1,000 rupees each from her meager earnings to start small street shops. Through a portion of their profit — the two rupees that Koirala would collect from each of them daily — she was then able to provide security and economic opportunity to other women in need.

Soon after, she took her mission a step further, founding the nonprofit Maiti Nepal in 1993, through which she has served exploited women and children for the last 26 years. Throughout her career as a humanitarian and activist, she has specifically focused on tackling sex trafficking, a rampant industry that forces young girls from underprivileged communities across the India-Nepal border to be sold into sex slavery.

“These are poor regions with high illiteracy rates. If a relative or friend turns up offering someone a job, it is often the girls’ parents themselves who encourage them to go, without realizing what is really happening,”she told the Guardian. “It is the perfect breeding ground for traffickers.”

Maiti Nepal, which now caters to over 1,000 children, has grown to include three prevention homes through which at-risk girls are identified and educated on the dangers of trafficking. The organization also runs 11 transit homes that operate as immediate shelters for rescued girls, two hospices that treat women and children infected with HIV/AIDS, and a formal school.

Today, Koirala is 70 years old and, touted as Nepal’s own “Mother Teresa,” continues to fight against sex trafficking through her organization, which hosts a series of initiatives, including awareness campaigns, female empowerment programs, and skills training sessions for children and women.

Maiti Nepal, in collaboration with local law enforcement, regularly conducts rescue operations and patrols 26 points on the India-Nepal border in an effort to stop trafficking. The organization has saved over 18,000 girls since the founding of Maiti Nepal, Koirala said at the Global Peace Leadership Conference in 2012.

“When I see their pain — their mental pain as well as physical pain — it is so troubling that I cannot turn myself away. This gives me strength to fight and root this crime out,” she said in a phone interview with the Borgen Project.

Maiti Nepal also assists in the apprehension of trafficking criminals and has aided in the prosecution of over 700 traffickers.

While some survivors of sex trafficking are able to recover from their trauma and go on to live full lives, Koirala recognizes that not all are so lucky. Some survivors contract HIV, and require antiretroviral therapy to control the virus. The treatment can slow its progression and reduce the chances of transmission, so the organization also offers access to the treatment to affected women and children. Its two hospice centers provide those suffering from AIDS a safe place and comfortable place to live.

Koirala has been widely recognized for her work and has been awarded numerous local and international awards, including the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award. She was also named the CNN Hero of the Year in 2010, for which she won $125,000 to further her work.

“Just imagine what would happen if your daughter was standing there, and if your daughter was there, what would you do? How would you fight? So you have to join hands. You have to take each child as your daughter,” she said in a video played during the 2010 CNN Heroes program.

“I want a society free of human trafficking,” she added, as tears welled in her eyes. “I hope I will make it happen one day.”

(Source: Global Citizen)