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Link Roundup 12.17

In this link roundup a portrait of Reddit by David Carr, Errol Morris released a new book, school bullies seem to target kids with autism spectrum disorders, a book as well as a recent documentary (The Act of Killing) looking into mass murders and moral impunity, recent scientific “discoveries” pertaining to what was once called “junk DNA”, a discussion about film format (film and digital), some thoughts on our “microbiom” or personal microbial communities, two books about immunology and a New York Times op-ed which could also be said to be about immunity.

• • •

  • The New York Times: “Left Alone by Its Owner, Reddit Soars” by David Carr, Sept. 2, 2012.

    There are many ways to measure the traction of a social media platform: time spent, page views or unique users. But it might be useful to add one more metric: if the leader of the free world stops by to answer questions from your users, you’re probably doing O.K.

    Reddit

  • Penguin.com: A Wilderness of Error by Erroll Morris, 2012. Official website, Amazon and an interview with Morris: “Errol Morris, Forensic Epistemologist” by Lawrence Weschler, June 18, 2012.

  • The New York Times: “School Bullies Prey on Children With Autism” by Anahad O’Connor, Sept. 3, 2012.

    While the problem of school bullying has received national attention, with many states passing anti-bullying legislation and school districts adopting anti-bullying programs, a troubling new pattern has emerged among victims. Research published on Monday in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine shows that children with autism spectrum disorders, who typically have difficulty in communicating and forming relationships, are far more likely to be bullied than their non-autistic peers.

    Bullying

  • Google Books: Massacres and Morality: Mass Atrocities in an Age of Civilian Immunity by Alex J. Bellamy, Oxford University Press, 2012.

    Most cultural and legal codes agree that the intentional killing of civilians, whether in peacetime or war, is prohibited. This is the norm of civilian immunity, widely considered to be a fundamental moral and legal principle. Yet despite this fact, the deliberate killing of large numbers of civilians remains a persistent feature of global political life. What is more, the perpetrators have often avoided criticism and punishment. Examining dozens of episodes of mass killing perpetrated by states since the French Revolution late eighteenth century, this book attempts to explain this paradox. It studies the role that civilian immunity has played in shaping the behaviour of perpetrators and how international society has responded to mass killing.

    Massacre

  • The Act of Killing, a documentary by Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012. Wikipedia, IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes.

    The Act of Killing is about killers who have won, and the sort of society they have built. Unlike ageing Nazis or Rwandan génocidaires, Anwar and his friends have not been forced by history to admit they participated in crimes against humanity. Instead, they have written their own triumphant history, becoming role models for millions of young paramilitaries. The Act of Killing is a journey into the memories and imaginations of the perpetrators, offering insight into the minds of mass killers. And The Act of Killing is a nightmarish vision of a frighteningly banal culture of impunity in which killers can joke about crimes against humanity on television chat shows, and celebrate moral disaster with the ease and grace of a soft shoe dance number.

  • Some news about the alledged “junk DNA”:

    • BBC: “Detailed map of genome function” by Fergus Walsh, Sept. 5, 2012.

      Genes are small sections of DNA that contain instructions for which chemicals – proteins – they should produce. The Encode team analysed the vast area of the genome sometimes called “junk DNA” because it seemed to have little function and was poorly understood. Dr Ewan Birney, of the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge, who led the analysis, told me: “The term junk DNA must now be junked”. “It’s clear from this research that a far bigger part of the genome is biologically active than was previously thought.”

    • The New York Times: “Bits of Mystery DNA, Far From ‘Junk,’ Play Crucial Role” by Gina Kolata, Sept. 5, 2012.

      The human genome is packed with at least four million gene switches that reside in bits of DNA that once were dismissed as “junk” but that turn out to play critical roles in controlling how cells, organs and other tissues behave. The discovery, considered a major medical and scientific breakthrough, has enormous implications for human health because many complex diseases appear to be caused by tiny changes in hundreds of gene switches.

    • CBS: “New DNA encyclopedia shows complex inner workings” by AP, Sept. 5, 2012.

      The work also shows that at least 80 percent of the human genetic code, or genome, is active. That’s surprisingly high and a sharp contrast to the idea that the vast majority of our DNA is junk.

    • The “junk DNA” metaphor is at the center of Thierry Bardini’s book Junkware, University of Minnesota Press, 2010. Google Books.

  • The New York Times: “Film Is Dead? Long Live Movies. How Digital Is Changing the Nature of Movies” by Manhola Dargis and A. O. Scott, Sept. 6, 2012.

    I’m not antidigital, even if I prefer film: I love grain and the visual texture of film, and even not-too-battered film prints can be preferable to digital. Yes, digital can look amazing if the director — Mr. Soderbergh, Mr. Mann, Mr. Godard, David Fincher and David Lynch come to mind — and the projectionist have a clue. (I’ve seen plenty of glitches with digital projection, like the image freezing or pixelating.) I hate the unknowingly ugly visual quality of many digital movies, including those that try to mimic the look of film. We’re awash in ugly digital because of cost cutting and a steep learning curve made steeper by rapidly changing technologies. (The rapidity of those changes is one reason film, which is very stable, has become the preferred medium for archiving movies shot both on film and in digital.)

    Samsara (Ron Fricke, 2011) was entirely shot on 70 mm film but exclusively released in digital formats (either 2K or 4K): see “Note from Mark Magidson on 70 mm film, digital projection and Samsara by Mark Magidson, August 23, 2012. Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film The Master (2012) was also shot on 70 mm and will mostly be distributed in a digital format. However, 70 mm prints were made and shown: see “Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master’s Master” by Scott Foundas (Village Voice)) Sept. 5, 2012.

  • Scientific America: “Body Count: Taking Stock of All the Bugs That Call Humans Home” by Katherine Harmon, June 13, 2012.

    We have long focused on single bacteria as sources of disease (E. coli or streptococcus, for example). But we have now been learning that, for the most part, these trillions of microbes that make their homes in and on us do an excellent job keeping us healthy (crowding out harmful microbes) and sated (breaking down a lot of the food we ingest).

    Now that disturbances in this rich microbiome community have been linked to weight gain, inflammatory bowel disease, vaginal infections and risk for infection with harmful microbes (such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA), the importance of understanding what makes up a “healthy” microbiome has become even more apparent.

    Microbe

  • The Human Microbiom Project:

    The Common Fund’s Human Microbiome Project (HMP) aims to characterize the microbial communities found at several different sites on the human body, including nasal passages, oral cavities, skin, gastrointestinal tract, and urogenital tract, and to analyze the role of these microbes in human health and disease.

  • Simon & Schuster: An Epidemic of Absence by Moises Velasquez-Manoff, 2012. Google Books.

    In the past 150 years, improved sanitation, water treatment, and the advent of vaccines and antibiotics have saved countless lives, nearly eradicating diseases that had plagued humanity for millennia. But now, a growing body of evidence suggests that the very steps we took to combat infections also eliminated organisms that kept our bodies in balance. The idea that we have systematically cleaned ourselves to illness challenges deeply entrenched notions about the value of societal hygiene and the harmful nature of microbes. Yet scientists investigating the rampant immune dysfunction in the developed world have inevitably arrived at this conclusion. To address this global “epidemic of absence,” they must restore the human ecosystem.

  • Google Books: The Immune Self: Theory or Metaphor? by Alfred I. Tauber, Cambridge University Press, 1996.

    The Immune Self is a critical study of immunology from its origins at the end of the nineteenth century to its contemporary formulation. The book offers the first extended philosophical critique of immunology, in which the function of the term “self” that underlies the structure of current immune theory is analyzed. However, this analysis is carefully integrated into a broad survey of the major scientific developments in immunology, a discussion of their historical context, and a review of the conceptual arguments that have molded this sophisticated modern science.

  • The New York Times: “The Power of the Particular” by David Brooks, June 25, 2012.

    It makes you appreciate the tremendous power of particularity. If your identity is formed by hard boundaries, if you come from a specific place, if you embody a distinct musical tradition, if your concerns are expressed through a specific paracosm, you are going to have more depth and definition than you are if you grew up in the far-flung networks of pluralism and eclecticism, surfing from one spot to the next, sampling one style then the next, your identity formed by soft boundaries, or none at all. […]

    The whole experience makes me want to pull aside politicians and business leaders and maybe everyone else and offer some pious advice: Don’t try to be everyman. Don’t pretend you’re a member of every community you visit. Don’t try to be citizens of some artificial globalized community. Go deeper into your own tradition. Call more upon the geography of your own past. Be distinct and credible. People will come.

    This could be read as a symptomatic reaction to the opposite trend arguing for an ever growing openness of the “self” toward the “other”: raising “hard boundaries” against “some artificial globalized community”. Compare with the following statement made by Marine Le Pen during an interview she recently gave to the French newspaper Le Monde:

    Je ferai inscrire dans la Constitution que “la République ne reconnaît aucune communauté”. Ce qui permet de s’opposer à toutes les revendications communautaristes, y compris dans le secteur privé.