Farnaz Fassihi Describes Everyday Life in Iraq

Question: How did you come up with the title?

Fassihi:    It was sort of towards the end of finishing the manuscript.  I had always wanted to have ordinary day or the sense that ordinary life had been interrupted in the title of the book, but I couldn’t really come up with something that captured it, and I was talking to my book editor Clive [Clive Peterland].  We kept, you know, playing on how can we put “Ordinary Day” and came up with “Waiting for an Ordinary.”  And the reason that I wanted “Ordinary Day” is because, you know, Iraqis, as I say in the book, often tell you as soon as you say, you know, what’s going on and how are you feeling, they’ll say, “Until now we are waiting.  Until now we are waiting.”  And it struck me as, well, what are they waiting for?  You know, what is it possibly that they want?  And I think it’s just the return of ordinary, normal life.

Question: Was life more ordinary under Saddam?

Fassihi:    I think life was ordinary in terms of the mundane, daily things that make up life.  It was definitely a lot more secure.  You know, Saddam was a dictator.  There’s no disputing that.  But I think the Iraqis knew were the red lines were.  If they didn’t get involved with politics or with activism, they could have a day to day normal life, go to work, come back, you know.  It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t this total catastrophe of not knowing whether you’re going to be alive if you go to work, which was kind of the state of affairs until recently.  So, you know, that’s one of the things.  Security is the number issue.  The other thing is infrastructure, you know.  There’re still about 5 or 6 hours of electricity on average, sometimes even less than that.  Clean water is a very big problem.  Some Iraqis are digging up wells in their backyards and trying to manipulate the piping system to get more air, more water, sorry.  And so, you know, municipal services, like picking up the garbage and sewage systems, these things are also very problematic.

Farnaz Fassihi on following the quotidian.

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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)

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?

  • 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.