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


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.

Other Posts on Words

Monday, August 28, 2017

Harvey: Once-in-500-years-storm

In my recent post about the Dutch approach to preparing for storms and floods, I mentioned that their goal was to be ready for a once-in-a-thousand-years storm. We were told on a tour that America's goal is to be ready for a once-in-a-hundred-years storm. Since Harvey is being described as a once-in-500-years storm, it's not surprising Houston wasn't ready for it. I wonder if the Dutch would have coped?