That “Crazy, Anarchic Spirit”? New York’s Still Got It

Question: How has New York City changed, and is it still exciting?

Jules Feiffer: Well, I’m the last guy to probably know how to answer that question because I live in the city, but I don’t really – I live in my own little ghetto on the upper west side of Manhattan, which has changed a lot over the years.  But New York is a place of neighborhoods.  And people who live uptown, as I do, seldom go downtown.  Or at a certain age you don’t go downtown.  I found it interesting when my now 40-year old daughter; I have three daughters, one in her 40’s, one in 20’s, and one in teens.  Well, my 40-year old, when she lived downtown in the East Village, and I would meet her in the local bar, it struck me how different in age everybody was in that local bar from the bars that I went to uptown.  And that she would never know or go to a bar that had anybody my age in it.  And except for this being my daughter, I wouldn’t have even know of the existence of the bar because it had her age in it, and they thought, as did I, that this was the entire universe.  This was the entire world.  That’s who they saw. That’s where they felt – we lived that way then, we live that way now, and we continue to live that way.  Everybody kind of hangs out with his or her own particular universe and you think that represents everything.

Question: Is New York becoming too gentrified and sterile?

Jules Feiffer: Oh, we have lived through periods of sterility over and over again.  Robert Moses, written about brilliantly in Robert Caro’s book, destroyed neighborhoods with his super highways, and drove immigrant cultures, whether from Eastern Europe or from the south, out of boroughs and sometimes out of the city entirely.  And so that kind of mix, which had been around since post World War I days, or even before then changed, and the city was changed, and the city was – and when I first started hanging out in the village in the 1950’s, I was told over and over again about Greenwich Village, that you should have been here, it’s ruined now, it doesn’t exist anymore.  And now the ‘50’s is considered one of those golden ages.  But now when I was starting out, that was considered part of the corruption.  You should have been here in the ‘30’s, or the ‘20’s.  So, I seemed to have missed everything.  Whenever I got there, it was always too late.  And that doesn’t change.  The city keeps reinventing itself.  And each generation thinks, as they enter it, that they’ve missed the best of it, and then they become the authors of the next “best.”  And so it goes on and on and on.  And New York keeps redefining itself and reinventing itself, and then you look at it and it’s pretty much the way it was back in the 1920’s., or in the 1930’s.  Something stylistically different in some ways, but it’s still got the same vitality. 

Whatever New York loses, if you go to other cities around the world, or around the country, New York still has a kind of energy level you find nowhere else.  Paris doesn’t have it, London doesn’t have it, San Francisco, a great city, doesn’t have it.  Chicago has many things better than New York.  I think Chicago theater is basically better than New York in terms of it’s more innovative, it’s more experimental, it’s not as bottom-line, it’s not as market-oriented.  But it doesn’t have that crazy anarchic spirit, which you only find in the city and you found it back in the ‘20s, you found it in the teens, and you find it still today.

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

\r\n

Whatever NYC loses to gentrification, the cartoonist argues, it maintains the same vitality it had throughout the whole 20th century.

Elizabeth Warren's plan to forgive student loan debt could lead to an economic boom

A plan to forgive almost a trillion dollars in debt would solve the student loan debt crisis, but can it work?

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Politics & Current Affairs
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren has just proposed a bold education reform plan that would forgive billions in student debt.
  • The plan would forgive the debt held by more than 30 million Americans.
  • The debt forgiveness program is one part of a larger program to make higher education more accessible.
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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Supreme Court to hear 3 cases on LGBT workplace discrimination

In most states, LGBTQ Americans have no legal protections against discrimination in the workplace.

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Politics & Current Affairs
  • The Supreme Court will decide whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also applies to gay and transgender people.
  • The court, which currently has a probable conservative majority, will likely decide on the cases in 2020.
  • Only 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws effectively extending the Civil Rights of 1964 to gay and transgender people.
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