Minority Book Report: How Reading Grows Our Empathy
What's it like to be a minority in America? To find out, read a book written by one.
Gene Luen Yang began making comics and graphic novels in the fifth grade. In 2006, his book American Born Chinese was published by First Second Books. It became the first graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award and the first to win the American Library Association’s Printz Award. It also won an Eisner Award for “Best Graphic Album – New.”
In 2013, First Second Books released Boxers & Saints, a two-volume graphic novel about the Boxer Rebellion. Boxers & Saints was nominated for a National Book Award and won the L.A. Times Book Prize. He’s done a number of other comics, including Dark Horse Comics’ continuation of the popular Nickelodeon cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender and DC Comics’ Superman!
In addition to cartooning, he teaches creative writing through Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. I teach alongside amazing authors like Anne Ursu, Gary Schmidt, Laura Ruby, Matt De La Pena, and more.
In January 2016, the Library of Congress, Every Child A Reader, and the Children’s Book Council appointed Gene as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.
Yang was named to the 2016 class of the MacArthur Fellows Program, receiving what is commonly called the "Genius Grant". The MacArthur Foundation that names the fellows said that his "work for young adults demonstrates the potential of comics to broaden our understanding of diverse cultures and people."
Gene Luen Yang: I think one of the benefits of reading fiction, especially own voices fictions—Own voices fiction is stories about experiences within minority communities or written by insiders, written by people who are a part of those communities. I think own-voices stories can be so powerful because they really do give us a glimpse of what it’s like to inhabit that life experience. It gives us a glimpse of what the world looks like through those eyes with that mind, right. And ultimately in my personal reading experience it seems like reading those stories ultimately it emphasizes the common humanity that we all have. I think that’s sort of how your empathy grows. In our current world we are asked on a regular basis to interact with people who are very different from us. Own voices stories are a great tool for us to figure out how to carry through those interactions I think. And I also think that a great own voices story will instill a certain sense of humility in you. Because at the end of that story you’re going to have all these questions in your brain and you’re going to realize those questions are going to make you realize how much you don’t understand about this other group. You just get a drop in the bucket. And approaching people with that humility I think is so important within a diverse world, within a diverse setting.
With cultural appropriation, you know, the first time I really thought about this hard was actually with the last Airbender movie. It came out a few years ago. It was based on this amazing television show, an animated TV series called Avatar: The Last Airbender, which some people say—and I agree with this—Some people say Avatar: The Last Airbender is the best written American animated series ever in the history of American animation. So when they adapted this show from the animated series to a live action film they took all of the lead roles. The original show as actually set in this fantasy world. But it’s a fantasy world that was based on real world Asian cultures. And if you look at the show bible, if you look at the show notes all the characters were supposed to look either Asian or Inuit. So they took all those roles and they gave them to white actors. I was really mad about it. I ended up doing this web comic about how I was going to boycott the movie. To this day I’ve never seen the movie but from what I’ve heard the casting issues are the least of that movie’s problems. Like Roger Ebert said it was the worst movie of the decade. And I was like man, that dude watches a lot of movies. How bad does a movie have to be to be the worst movie of the decade? Anyway that was when I started really engaging. I got in touch with this group called Racebending.com which calls out Hollywood and different American storytelling industries on casting issues on cultural appropriation.
I know there’s this huge debate about political correctness as well and whether or not it’s exceeded its original intention, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, whether it gets in the way of having a sense of humor. I can hear all that, right and I’m actually a very ambivalent person so I’ll read one article about something and afterwards I’ll agree with it. And then I’ll read another article that states the exact opposite view and afterwards I’ll agree with that. My understanding of political correctness is this: My understanding is that political correctness is all about people figuring out what labels they themselves want to use. It’s giving people power over their own identities, right. It’s basically like me saying I get to decide what you call me and I think in a lot of ways it’s tied into the history of colonialism, the history of people feeling like labels were placed on top of them and they had no say in what those labels were. So I think the heart of political correctness is about a respect for human dignity, about a respect for the dignity of every individual, you know. And then that way I think it’s an important – like I don’t think we can just get rid of political correctness. I don’t think that would be a good thing. I do think that there is an important conversation about maybe when – like the interface. The interface of political correctness and free speech. I think that’s an interesting part. And I don’t feel like I have any answers for that but I do think that’s an interesting and worthwhile conversation to have in a respectful manner.
Fiction is so much more than a vehicle for entertainment. Graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang believes "own-voice" stories, told by people from within those communities, have immense power to show us the world through the eyes and mind of a different cultural group. It can also make our real-world interactions with people who are different to us so much richer, through empathy. "In my personal experience it seems like reading those stories ultimately emphasizes the common humanity that we all have," he says. "I think that’s how your empathy grows." Of course, with minority stories has come much debate surrounding how they're presented, and who is behind it. What is cultural appropriation, and do we even know what's being appropriated? Can just anyone tell a minority story? Listen to Yang dissect this topic through the lens of his own experience — and find out why he's been boycotting the blockbuster film The Last Airbender since 2010 (still going strong). Gene Luen Yang's most recent book is Paths & Portals.
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
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