Pic of the day x 2

The refugee crisis in Europe, the ongoing war in Yemen, Serena Williams at the French Open, Zinedin Zidane manages Real Madrid to Champions League glory – the best photography in news, culture and sport from around the world this week.


Click to enlargeAlaa Al-Marjani/Reuters

Shi’ite fighters take a selfie while mounting an artillery attack on Isis militants.
 


Click to enlargeStephane Mahe/Reuters

A protestor uses a tennis racket to return a teargas canister during a demonstration against the government’s assault on labour rights.

“I Just Wanted to Be Free” — Muhammad Ali


Ali refusing the draft, walking away from the Houston Draft BoardAP Photo

“If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”

The reverberations. Not the rumbles, the reverberations. The death of Muhammad Ali will undoubtedly move people’s minds to his epic boxing matches against Joe Frazier and George Foreman, or there will be retrospectives about his epic “rumbles” against racism and war. But it’s the reverberations that we have to understand in order to see Muhammad Ali as what he remains: the most important athlete to ever live. It’s the reverberations that are our best defense against real-time efforts to pull out his political teeth and turn him into a harmless icon suitable for mass consumption.

When Dr. Martin Luther King came out against the war in Vietnam in 1967, he was criticized by the mainstream press and his own advisors who told him to not focus on “foreign” policy. But Dr. King forged ahead and to justify his new stand, said publicly, “Like Muhammad Ali puts it, we are all — black and brown and poor — victims of the same system of oppression.”

When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island, he said that Muhammad Ali gave him hope that the walls would some day come tumbling down.

When John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists on the medal stand in Mexico City, one of their demands was to “Restore Muhammad Ali’s title.” They called Ali “the warrior-saint of the Black Athlete’s Revolt.”…

The question is why? Why was he able to create this kind of radical ripple? The short answer is that he stood up to the United States government… and emerged victorious. But it’s also more complicated that that…

…Through the Champ’s words on the streets and deeds in the ring, bravery was not only standing up to Sonny Liston. It was speaking truth to power, no matter the cost…

Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality…

RTFA. Says what a lot of us felt – and still feel – Black, Brown and White activists in the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, struggles to end bigotry and exploitation, imperialism and complicity in colonial oppression.

Our plastic politicians will praise Muhammad Ali, this week – even his courageous refusal to join in the VietNam War. Just remember one thing. All of them, including the “Brother” in the White House, would send him to jail, today, for displaying the same resistance to imperial war.

Scientists hold private discussion about creating synthetic DNA

This was published a few days after the meeting

Scientists are now contemplating the fabrication of a human genome, meaning they would use chemicals to manufacture all the DNA contained in human chromosomes.

The prospect is spurring both intrigue and concern in the life sciences community because it might be possible, such as through cloning, to use a synthetic genome to create human beings without biological parents.

While the project is still in the idea phase, and also involves efforts to improve DNA synthesis in general, it was discussed at a closed-door meeting on Tuesday at Harvard Medical School in Boston. The nearly 150 attendees were told not to contact the news media or to post on Twitter during the meeting.

Organizers said the project could have a big scientific payoff and would be a follow-up to the original Human Genome Project, which was aimed at reading the sequence of the three billion chemical letters in the DNA blueprint of human life. The new project, by contrast, would involve not reading, but rather writing the human genome — synthesizing all three billion units from chemicals…

It was made clear to participants that public discussion, expanded scientific discussion, would begin with publication of discussion documents in SCIENCE…allowing access to a wider audience than participants could have gauged in advance or managed to accommodate.

The project was initially called HGP2: The Human Genome Synthesis Project, with HGP referring to the Human Genome Project. An invitation to the meeting at Harvard said that the primary goal “would be to synthesize a complete human genome in a cell line within a period of 10 years.”

But by the time the meeting was held, the name had been changed to “HGP-Write: Testing Large Synthetic Genomes in Cells.”…

Scientists and companies can now change the DNA in cells, for example, by adding foreign genes or changing the letters in the existing genes. This technique is routinely used to make drugs, such as insulin for diabetes, inside genetically modified cells, as well as to make genetically modified crops. And scientists are now debating the ethics of new technology that might allow genetic changes to be made in embryos.

But synthesizing a gene, or an entire genome, would provide the opportunity to make even more extensive changes in DNA…

…Cost and capabilities are rapidly improving. Dr. Endy of Stanford, who is a co-founder of a DNA synthesis company called Gen9, said the cost of synthesizing genes has plummeted from $4 per base pair in 2003 to 3 cents now. But even at that rate, the cost for three billion letters would be $90 million. He said if costs continued to decline at the same pace, that figure could reach $100,000 in 20 years…

“Our ability to understand what to build is so far behind what we can build,” said Dr. Jeremy Minshull, who was invited to the meeting at Harvard but did not attend. “I just don’t think that being able to make more and more and more and cheaper and cheaper and cheaper is going to get us the understanding we need.”

Lots of pertinent questions raised within the scientific community. The ethicist wing of junk science will be full-bore on the topic. As will be those more concerned with reason and material reality than trying to construct a script to sell to Disney.

The NY TIMES covered its buns doing truthful headlines in some editions and scare headlines after they saw competitors successfully processing clickbait with tales of a “secret” meeting. I walked back to a date closer to the original meeting and used this one for the post.