Afghanistan and the "Choreography" of Not Getting Laughed At
"Obama's War," the smart Frontline episode about Afghanistan and Pakistan, includes a disquieting exchange between a U.S. Marine and two tribal elders in a remote Afghan village. Since this Global Pedestrian blog aspires to be about revelatory moments such as these, I can't stop myself from sharing it here.
In the segment, a Marine sergeant tells a group of villagers, "I need you all to answer my questions. If not, then I'm going to believe right now that the Taliban does come here, they talk to you, you talk to them and you're still on their side, all right? You need to understand that we are here to keep the Taliban out."
Then, a translator for the Marines -- perhaps because his command of English seems shaky or perhaps because he has his own sense of how the softer side of counterinsurgency is supposed to sound -- mellows the Marine's words in translation: "As you know, we are here to keep the Taliban out. Why are you not helping us?"
A first elder replies, "What can we do?"
The second elder adds, "You have planes, tanks, and guns. We're simple people with nothing. We don't even have a sword. If you can't win, how can we?"
There's one more detail. As his words trail off and the second elder's words begin, the first elder chuckles fatalistically.
Later, on the same evening I watched the Frontline episode, I remembered that chuckle as I re-read "Shooting an Elephant," the essay about George Orwell's experiences as a cop in colonial Burma. Orwell wrote, "... my whole life, every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at."
A few days later, I came across something else that reminded me of the exchange between the Marine and the elders. It was a YouTube video of a lecture Michael Semple gave at Harvard last month. Semple has worked in Afghanistan for more than two decades. About 39 minutes into his Harvard lecture, Semple summarized advice he's given to military units preparing for deployments to Afghanistan:
"To be well informed, you have to be able to meet with a wide range of actors. The dynamics of how they will interact with you and what they will say to you depend on who else is in the room. So you have to be able to do choreography so that you show due respect to the people who are formally on top and create opportunities in a way that is non-threatening to them to be able to talk to the other people at another time where they'll really let their hair down and tell you what's going on."
I do not pretend that I'd manage to carry out this "choreography" -- especially not with the constant stress of knowing that Taliban bullets might start flying at any moment. We ask so much of our troops.
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If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
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- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
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