Reading and Listening

Koala with chlamydia. No joke!

It’s one of the leading killers of koalas, and one of the reasons they haven’t been prospering lately. The underlying problem, NY Times reporter James Gorman explainsm is Koala retrovirus, or KoRV — “a bit of protein and genetic material in the same family as H.I.V. that began inserting itself into the koala genome about 40,000 years ago and is now passed on from generation to generation” and animal to animal, like a typical viral infection.

“In recent years, scientists have found that the insertion of viruses into the genomes of animals has occurred over and over again,” Gorman notes. “An estimated 8 percent of the human genome is made up of viruses left over from ancient infections, ancient as in millions of years ago, many of them in primate ancestors before human beings existed.

“The koala retrovirus is unusual because 40,000 years is the blink of an eye in evolutionary time, and because the process appears to be continuing. A group of scientists reported in Cell on Thursday that they observed a genome immune system fighting to render the virus inactive now that it has established itself in the koala DNA. They also reported that koala retrovirus may have activated other ancient viral DNA. All of this activity stirs the pot of mutation and variation that is the raw material for natural selection.”

See also Why the Heck Do So Many Koalas Have Chlamydia?

WeWork? Not Weally.

In the Sept. 30th issue of New York Magazine, Reeves Wiedman dissects the business plan not only of WeWork but of its principal investor, SoftBank, and of sundry other companies following the Amazon course to either domination or disaster.

What Demagogues Depend On

“The typical citizen,” Joseph Schumpeter wrote in Capitalism and Society, “drops down to a lower level of mental performance as soon as he enters the political field. He argues and analyzes in a way which he would readily recognize as infantile within the sphere of his real interests. He becomes a primitive again.”

Remembering Judith Krantz (1928-2009)

“Soon, very soon, he was as naked as she. He savaged her abandoned flesh with an urgency, almost a cannibalism, he hadn’t known in years.” Who else among us could have written those sentences? They come from p. 425 of Princess Daisy.

Image result for princess daisy krantz

What’s wrong with these people?

I refer to the people of Belize and Guatemala and the separate plebiscites in which they have voted to have the International Court of Justice decide a centuries-old territorial dispute.

Guatemala held its vote last year. Belize finished up this week. The Guatemalan government, according to Reuters, hailed the result and said it would be reaching out to its neighbor to plan the next steps in the process. “The final resolution of the dispute will broaden and deepen the good relations that exist between Guatemala and Belize,” Guatemala’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Somebody needs to warn them before they go too far down the road of amity: modern nations aren’t supposed to behave this way! They pontificate. They fulminate. They infiltrate and subvert. They invade. Otherwise, they come off as weak. Is that really a price worth paying for something as nebulous as a resolutoion that will “broaden and deepen… good relations”?

Watch out for what’s left after Trump is gone

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez reminds us: “He can stay, he can go. He can be impeached, or voted out in 2020. But removing Trump will not remove the infrastructure of an entire party that embraced himl; the dark money that funded him; the online radicalizion that drummed his army; nor the racism that he amplified and reanimated.”

Enough already with electability!

In the Washington Post of May 3, Paul Waldman has a refreshing take on this tired question:

“Every four years we have a discussion about electability, and every four years the consensus on electability is mistaken,” he writes. “A buffoonish, bigoted reality TV star without a day of political experience? Completely unelectable. A 40-something African American senator with an Arabic middle name? Absurdly unelectable.

“You know who everyone agreed was electable, though? War heroes with long records as respected legislators. Like John McCain, John Kerry and Bob Dole. Also electable: moderates who know how to reach across the aisle, like Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, and Al Gore.”

The most important element of a candidate’s electability, Waldman suggests, might be one that is almost never considered: the ability to excite your own party’s voters. If you’re a voter, then, the best thing you can do is vote for the candidate who excites you, if anybody like that is running.

Co-Equal? Hell no!

Writing in the Outlook section of the May 12 Washington Post, Rep. Jamie Raskin takes his fellow House Dems to task for whining about President Trump’s failure to acknowledge Congress as a “co-equal branch of government.”

“[T]his naive cliché is now the heart of our current troubles,” Raskin says. “Congress was never designed as, nor should it ever become, a mere ‘co-equal branch,’ beseeching the president to share his awesome powers with us. We are the exclusive lawmaking branch of our national government and the preeminent part of it. We set the policy agenda, we write the laws, and we can impeach judges or executives who commit high crimes and misdemeanors against our institutions. As James Madison observed in the Federalist Papers, “In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates.” Congress is first among equals…”

“It’s tempting to think of the president as the main actor in the story of America, because he (or she) is a cast of one,” he continues. “But as the great Rep. Thaddeus Stevens reminded Americans during Reconstruction, “The sovereign power of the nation rests in Congress,” and its members stand around the president “as watchmen to enforce his obedience to the law and the Constitution.”

Stand watch, y’all!

2001: What a Backstory!

On Studio 360, Kurt Andersen revisits the making and reception of 2001: a Space Odyssey. It’s a hell of a yarn. So many flukes. So many happy accidents. That flying bone, for example, seems to have started out as a mistake on the part of an actor in a hominid suit. The actor apologized for letting his bone fly, but Kubrick kept the shot and built it into an unforgettable transition from 3+ million b.c. to 2000+ a.d. And those monoliths – they were going to be translucent plastic panels, capable of lighting up with glimpses of future human evolution. But Kubrick didn’t like the way they looked (“like glass), and they settled on black tablets instead. As for Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube waltz, it was originally just a piece of “temp track” used in the editing room. Alex North had been commissioned to write an original score. And he wrote one, perhaps too reminiscent of his music for Spartacus and in any case too much in the standard Hollywood epic vein. (To see and hear what might have been, check out this YouTube video of the opening shots with North’s theme instead of Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra.)

Kubrick never had the heart to tell North his score had been junked. North apparently made that discovery when he showed up for a critics’ and celebrities’ premiere at Loews Capitol in Times Square. He was not the only unpleasantly surprised person in the house. The long silences of the film were filled with catcalls, boos and derisive audience laughter, and 241 people walked out. Kubrick, who prowled the rear of the theater monitoring what he called “the squirm factor,” feared he had spent four years making a disaster.

That was certainly the judgment of many critics. Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic described 2001 as “so dull, it even dulls our interest in the technical ingenuity for the sake of which Kubrick has allowed it to become dull.” Pauline Kael called the movie “monumentally unimaginative.” Arthur Schlesinger Jr. said it was “morally pretentious, intellectually obscure and inordinately long.” Variety complained that the movie “uses up almost two hours in exposition of scientific advances in space travel and communications, before anything happens” and criticized the makeup as “amateurish compared to that in ‘Planet of the Apes.’”

The day after the premiere, Kubrick’s wife Christiane woke up to a clock radio bearing news of long lines of young folks down Broadway. The critics had been outfoxed. The whole story is splendidly told in Michael Benson’s 2018 book Space Odyssey.