Searching for Greatness and Finding It

David Orr raised the question in Sunday's Times Book Review of what constitutes “greatness” in poetry, writing, “our largely unconscious assumptions work like a velvet rope: if a poet looks the way we think a great poet ought to, we let him or her into the club quickly—and sometimes later we wish we hadn’t.”

But why not take Orr’s analysis of, as it were, The Principles of Admission in the Poetry Game, and apply it across the board—to bankers, Presidents, Oscar nominees and their couture? It's almost axiomatic.


That nagging sensation of it’s all gone to hell and why can’t we read Robert Lowell rather than US weekly is not only how it works, it’s what we need. Obama knew this. We need Greats, and we need the idea of greatness. Robert Browning put it well: “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a Heaven for?” 

So, while we might have taken Orr’s piece and thought this analysis of greatness could be applied broadly but not to our elected officials— Let’s. 

As America needs her Obama, Obama needs his Lincoln. The key is in choosing wise models and in retaining models a bit out of reach. Recently, the man from Hope, Bill Clinton, reminded the campaigner of Hope, Barack Obama: we need more hope and optimism! Even as, intellectually, we see its risks, it’s a far better choice than all the options—especially in a time of crisis. Hope is the opium of the masses and we like it.

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Scientists sequence the genome of this threatened species

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.

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  • 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.

elephant by Guillaume le Clerc

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.

Why cauliflower is perfect for the keto diet

The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.

Purple cauliflower. (Photo: Shutterstock)
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  • The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
  • The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
  • It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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