David Rieff Remembers His Mother’s Avidity

Question: Did your mother’s “avidity” help her confront death?

Rieff:    I mean, the world divides… There are many artificial and perhaps even a few natural ways of dividing people in the world.  But one way to differentiate people is if you like the people who do a certain thing and don’t have enormous curiosity about the things they don’t do and those who are curious about everything.  One version of that, of course if you want to put it in terms of the history of ideas, is… as [a real] distinction between the hedgehog and the fox, which using the… a fragment of our [calcitics], says the hedgehog knows many things but the fox knows one big implicit.  My mother was very much someone was interested in everything and… whose curiosity didn’t abate with the years.  I mean, many appetites abate with age in that.  But in her case, curiosity, avidity for intellectual and cultural and aesthetic and sensual experience didn’t diminish.  Isaac Babel, the great Russian short-story writer, said, “You must know everything.”  I think, my mother… I believe I said this in the book, in “Swimming in a Sea of Death,” that my mother was very much of that view.  And that didn’t change.  And you could argue, I think, that if you… if you’re interested in everything, if you’re curious about everything, it’s a lot harder to die.  I think that I felt very strongly with her death and that everyone has, if they’re lucky enough, the right to die the death they want to die.  Lots of people don’t have that luck.  And so, if she wanted to believe in the idea that she would beat the odds once more, as she done twice in the past with cancer, it wasn’t for me to stand in the way of that or to gain, say, to use an old verb, that I was… I was there to help.  That’s the way I construed my role.  What I thought was irrelevant.  In the instance, of course, it’s relevant, now that it’s… she’s dead and all these things have taken place.  But at the time, I just thought I’m there to support her and if I can be of help, whatever I may think privately.  What I think privately isn’t all that important one way or the other.

The author describes the insatiable curiosity his mother, Susan Sontag, maintained throughout her life.

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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

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  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.