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Finding a Voice When Liberals Had None

Question: As you wrote your memoirs, which moment in your life was most fun to look back on?

Jules Feiffer: Well, look, I’m 81 years old.  It’s got to be more than one.  And it’s harder to define what fun was.  I mean, there’s fun in private life, which is all sorts of things, including making out and sex.  But this is a book that centers primarily on career, although it does involve some of that other stuff.  In terms of career, it was getting to the Village Voice and getting printed for the first time because I had been trying, without success; to get into print for something like 4 ½, nearly five years, and nobody would touch me.  So, that of course was very exciting.  And then after that, discovering that I was going to write for the theater and the trajectory that moved me into that area and how that developed, and also how the excitement and euphoria that went with writing my first play.

Question: Which moment in your life was most challenging to write about?

Jules Feiffer: Oh well, when you do this kind of work, everything is challenging, but probably the most challenging thing is getting up in the morning and getting on with it because it’s so easy to stay in bed and not get on with it.

Question: How did you persist through rejection to get your start at The Village Voice?

Jules Feiffer: Well I had been trying to sell my stuff, which were books of satire, cartoon satire, which now would be called graphic novels or graphic novellas, there was no such term at that time.  And I wasn’t interested in labels.  There were things I wanted to talk about and write about in a satiric form and cartoons.  This was at the height of the Cold War, the height of a form of domestic suppression where, in the days of Joe McCarthy, Senator Joe McCarthy, and the Eisenhower Administration, liberals and left-wing people in general were basically driven from the debate.  They had no place in the national dialogue, or if they did, they were very, very cautious and careful about it and I had nothing to be cautious or careful about because my elders were afraid of losing their jobs.  I didn’t have a job.  They were afraid of losing their reputations.  I didn’t have a reputation.  I had zilch.  So, I had the freedom, which unemployment gives you, and that was to behave as badly as I believed I should under the circumstances.  And the circumstances were quite awful. 

At the time, liberals didn’t understand that they had First Amendment rights.  So, I was doing cartoons in this narrative cartoon form about subject surrounding that and as I was turned down by editor after editor at each publishing house, I began to notice on their desks this new newspaper called The Village Voice, which I then went and picked up and thought, well my god, these editors that were turning me down all, whom tell me how much they like my stuff, but they don’t know how to market it because nobody knows who I am.  If I got into this paper, they would know who I am.  And when editors say, “nobody knows,” what they really mean is, “I don’t know.”  And once they got to know I thought something might happen, and that’s exactly what happened.  I went to the Voice, I showed them my work, they loved it, they put it in the paper, it got on the editor’s desk, the editor’s say, “oh my god, he’s famous,” and they publish me. 

So, it was a strategic decision that I made at the age of 26, or 27, that actually turned out well.

Question: Which of your Village Voice cartoons stirred the most controversy?

Jules Feiffer: Well, in the beginning, it was the form of them.  I mean, it’s hard for me to answer that question because at the start of it, and for that matter to this day when I look back at the work, I really don’t understand what the fuss was about.  So, I can’t say it’s about this or that.  When people started reading me and talking to me about the work, they didn’t say how funny, or how satiric, or how brilliant, or how this or how that, they said, how’d you get away with it?  How’d you get that into print?  And apparently, addressing what I had said before, that liberals didn’t have First Amendment rights, that saying the sort of things that I said that my friends and I said in coffeehouses and bars to each other, these things were not generally said in public any more and hadn’t been in some years.  So, I was saying it in a form that simply wasn’t familiar to anybody who was liberal, or on the left.  And these people would read it and say, “Oh my god, this is the way I talk, how come it’s getting into print?  Why isn’t he arrested?” 

So it was the shock of recognition, probably, rather than the quality of the work.  I mean, the quality may have been fine, but there’s a lot of fine work out there.  It was the fact that I was doing something that at that time, nobody else was doing, except for say, Mort Saul out in San Francisco on The Hungry Eye, and “Second City” was emerging out in Chicago. Nothing in print.  It was basically happening in cabaret and nothing in fiction.   And certainly nothing in New York in cartoons.

Recorded on February 22, 2010
Interviewed by Austin \r\nAllen

\r\n

How the legendary cartoonist got started at the Village Voice, and why his work struck a nerve in a decade when "liberals didn’t understand that they had First Amendment rights."

Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

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  • Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

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Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
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Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

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Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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