Napoleon Bonaparte Sucked, and ‘Napoleon (2023)’ Shows Us Why

Lady Horatia

Lady Horatia

Published in The Ugly Monster

6 days ago (medium.com)

Credit: Apple Studios / Scott Free Productions. Distributed by: Columbia Pictures (through Sony Pictures Releasing) / Apple Original Films (through Apple TV+)

Napoleon has been represented in art before, from the neoclassical ‘Napoleon Crossing the Alps’ painting by Jacques-Louis David to being referenced in ‘Minions’ as a figure of great importance. He is the modern Alexander the Great, a conqueror and strategist. A man who was able to take control of a country after the greatest revolution in history brought it to its knees.

Ridley Scott’s 2023 film on Napoleon begins with the image of a country in chaos. We begin with Marie Antoinette being chased by the revolutionaries, surrounded by her children and afraid, before cutting to a crowd in a square.

In the center of the crowd is the guillotine, already rusting with the blood of the royals. The crowd spit on her and insult her, as she walks with her head held up high. They walk her up to the guillotine, and the queen herself is forced to her knees before the violence of the people. The blade comes down, severing her life from its strands and severing France from her control.

In the crowd a man watches. He is solemn, silent and expressionless, and yet with an air of superiority, as if he is somehow above the masses, better than them in some way. It is important that the film begins this way because it spends the rest of its 150 minute runtime proving that this man sucks.

‘Napoleon’ (2023) is a film about how pathetic Napoleon was. Ridley Scott character-assassinated Napoleon, and he did so with good reason.

Credit: Apple Studios / Scott Free Productions. Distributed by: Columbia Pictures (through Sony Pictures Releasing) / Apple Original Films (through Apple TV+)

The first time that we see Scott do this is when Napoleon sieges Toulon. After the revolution the English are still within France’s borders and they need to get rid of them. The exact political dynamics between this siege of a port castle is irrelevant to what the whole sequence sets up for our “hero”, Napoleon.

Despite Joaquin Phoenix’s age, in this sequence Napoleon is meant to be young, and more importantly inexperienced. And it is this second part that Phoenix encapsulates in such a fun and pathetic manner. When the French are sneaking their way to the castle and preparing their ladders to climb up the ramparts, Napoleon is watching from a distance.

As he watches, he is nervous. This is important. This is not the careful stoic tactician that we see in Jacques-Louis David’s neoclassical painting, or what we expect from the trailers of the film. This is a young man who keeps repeating to himself that they (the English) haven’t noticed the soldiers.

Napoleon is ready for blood. When the attack begins and the English are caught off guard, Napoleon charges into battle, muttering to himself along the way. His actions do not speak of a man who is careful and methodical, but one who is driven by instinct and adrenaline.

He rushes up the ladders and onto the ramparts and instead of the fluid expert swordsmanship we might expect, he is clumsy. He is barely able to even kill anyone, and when he does he doesn’t do it with much grace. It feels like Napoleon is stumbling his way into a victory rather than truly being the mastermind we imagine him to be.

Credit: Apple Studios / Scott Free Productions. Distributed by: Columbia Pictures (through Sony Pictures Releasing) / Apple Original Films (through Apple TV+)

You might criticize me in this moment, saying that this scene serves a different purpose. You might say that it is used to create contrast, to show us Napoleon’s growth as a character and general. The man might seem clumsy and impulsive at first, but will grow into a methodical individual who reasons his way into victory.

And in any other movie I might agree with you. But when later on in the film you see the same Napoleon, who is at that stage meant to be much older and wiser, still stumbling his way into a victory through the use of force in the scene when he wrests control from the Consulate, I cannot disagree with you more.

In this scene, his brother needs to read out the command that would dissolve the Consulate and give control over to Napoleon and his co-conspirators. It is a coup in every sense of the word. But Napoleon is impatient. He cannot wait for his brother to reason the Consulate into giving up their authority. He rushes in from behind the curtains, where he has been waiting in the darkness, and demands that they give up their roles and hand over all power.

The Consulate, obviously, refuses and they overwhelm Napoleon. He runs away in the most pathetic and comedic way possible. He runs to the soldiers for help and they force the Consulate to stop their pursuit. Exasperated and out of breath, Napoleon announces that he has taken control of France.

Napoleon is a little bitch. He’s afraid of losing power, and will run away from a confrontation when he knows he’s going to lose and will need greater strength to win. He didn’t win by “talking”. Napoleon doesn’t have a silver tongue. He doesn’t even have an iron heart, or a will of steel. Napoleon is like cheese left out in the sun: soft, ineffective, and pathetic. And this is the point of the film.

Credit: Apple Studios / Scott Free Productions. Distributed by: Columbia Pictures (through Sony Pictures Releasing) / Apple Original Films (through Apple TV+)

Many criticized the film because they felt that it was unfocused, jumping between Napoleon’s military exploits and his love life, without a clear direction. I disagree. Those who see it this way fail to understand what the film is really about, and the film is really about how unimpressive Napoleon is. Every scene and sequence is built to communicate one central message: men like Napoleon are pathetic.

It does this in different ways, from what has been mentioned above, and we can see it in his relationship to Josephine, but also in the way he fights.

There are three types of sequences in this film:

  1. Josephine sequences
  2. Military combat sequences
  3. Diplomatic sequences

These often overlap, but overall each of these show us a new side of Napoleon’s pathetic-ness.

You might be asking why this was the case? Why did Ridley Scott (and writer David Scarpa) choose to present this monumental historical figure in this light? What was the purpose of this exercise?

The reason for this ties into the criticism that the film received. Many outlets commented on the historical inaccuracy of the film.

This is nothing new with historical films. We expect a degree of historical inaccuracy. It comes with the territory. And yet the discourse around Napoleon was different. Sure there were the usual articles posted along the lines of “everything wrong with ‘Napoleon (2023)’”, but there was something else as well.

Credit: Apple Studios / Scott Free Productions. Distributed by: Columbia Pictures (through Sony Pictures Releasing) / Apple Original Films (through Apple TV+)

What were the criticisms? They centered around the fact that ‘Napoleon’ was so egregiously inaccurate that it painted Napoleon as a bumbling ineffectual fool, trending to incel-esque in his interactions with Josephine, and overall just a pathetic man who wasn’t worth venerating as the great general which history believes him to be. This got so bad French historians said the film was Like Spitting in the Face of French People. This prompted Ridley Scott to say that The French Don’t Even Like Themselves.

All this fun drama aside, it is interesting that it escaped many who watched the film that this was the point. Presenting such a famous historical figure in such a pathetic light tells us one key thing — something that is increasingly important to remember in our current socio-political context.

That thing is: Men like Napoleon are truly pathetic, and it is pathetic for us to venerate or respect them. They are sad men who demand power through violence and can’t imagine anyone else having autonomy or agency over their lives.

They are so pathetic that they can’t imagine why an entire nation would want to exile them to an island, away from everyone else. They are so pitiful that they can’t accept their fate, live a better life, change as people and accept the new world they have been given. Instead, they leave the island they have been exiled to, march their way straight to the capital and demand to be placed back into power.

They are like children. They refuse to be placed into timeout when they play bad with their other friends in a sandpit, and so march back defiant and demand to be included in their games. Until of course they get defeated and put back in their place, when they finally resign themselves and accept their fate.

Credit: Apple Studios / Scott Free Productions. Distributed by: Columbia Pictures (through Sony Pictures Releasing) / Apple Original Films (through Apple TV+)

As Napoleon sits on the island of Saint Helena writing in his journal, he asks two little girls to stop playing and come closer. He asks them what is the capital of France, and then he asks them what is the capital of Russia. Then he asks them who burned it down, and they reply that they were told that it was burned down by the Russians themselves to get rid of the French. He asks who told them this and they say: “It is common knowledge, sir.

Napoleon is visibly disappointed, as if he expected them to say the Russians burned their city to get rid of him specifically. Or maybe he just wanted to hear his own name somewhere in the answer.

The man who once triumphantly marched into the capital of the largest Empire in the world at the time only to find the entire city empty and burning — by their own hands — has now been forgotten. His name isn’t even a word on the lips of the youth. They have already forgotten his actions. It is common knowledge that he didn’t even exist. And the only thing that he can do is throw dates at them and tell them to return to their play as he returns to his journal.

The final shot of the film is Napoleon framed from his back as he falls out of screen. This is much like how a chess player tips their king when they want to give up. Napoleon has given up the chess match and he has tipped himself. The emperor which once ruled half of Europe is no one anymore, so humiliated that he tips himself off of the board.

The film ends with a tally count of the deaths attributed to Napoleon. This is the essential point to end on. For all that it might be fun to tear down a figure like Napoleon and laugh at how pathetic he was, there was a cost to his actions. And the cost was real human lives. The film shows us the material cost of men like Napoleon. There is no defending a man who has the blood of 3 million people on his hands.

Credit: Apple Studios / Scott Free Productions. Distributed by: Columbia Pictures (through Sony Pictures Releasing) / Apple Original Films (through Apple TV+)

In this moment, as we read those words in the darkness, we are reminded of the haunting image from earlier in the film when the Austrians and the Russians fight Napoleon on a frozen lake. Napoleon surprises them by shooting the frozen lake and causing the army to drown in the icy waters. We are reminded of the lone banner soldier sinking into the depths of the lake surrounded by his comrades. The real cost of men like Napoleon is human lives. We too often forget this.

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Lady Horatia

Written by Lady Horatia

·Writer for The Ugly Monster

Bisexual Goblin who writes about whatever they feel like at any moment. Lover of films, TV shows, and Books. Consider supporting me with Donations Please.

How I Used the George Carlin Method To Write 100s of Smart Notes

I obsessed over taking notes for years. Then, I listened to George Carlin.

Bryan Collins

Bryan Collins

Published in Become a Writer Today

Dec 14, 2023 (becomeawritertoday.com)

I spent hours figuring out how to take good notes and use them for writing.

Evernote, Notion, Apple Notes, OneNote, Keep, Roam Research, DevonThink, Notion, Keep….

I tried them all.

I was borderline obsessive with the whole thing.

Then, I discovered George Carlin.

While in the gym or out for a run, I binged on his comedy albums on Spotify. After listening to several albums, I dove into his autobiography Last Words.

Funny? Certainly, but fascinating too. I wanted to know how Carlin combined so many pithy observations from media like the news, radio, books, and plays with his personal life and insights.

It turns out Carlin spent a lifetime writing notes for himself about politics, pop culture, and the pains of daily life. In an interview with Vulture, Carlin explained he’d collected over 1,400 files on his computer. They contained notions, ideas, data, and materials from over 44 years. He said:

“So if I write something down, some observation — I see something on television that reminds me of something I wanted to say already — the first time I write it, the first time I hear it, it makes an impression. The first time I write it down, it makes a second impression, a deeper path. Every time I look at that piece of paper, until I file it in my file, each time, the path gets a little richer and deeper so that these things are all in there.”

Carlin also kept paper notes.

Hundreds of them.

Categorised by theme, topics, and his random and varying interests. After Carlin died in 2008, his daughter Kelly found not one but THREE packed storage units packed full of notes and observations.

George Carlin’s odd writing system

The difference between Carlin and many note-takers?

Hint: it wasn’t a Notion database.

Carlin didn’t stuff these notes in the back of a wardrobe, a filing cabinet, a personal journal, or some Notion template… and forget about them.

He’d write a note about something interesting. A few days or weeks later, he’d rewrite and expand on that note into pithy observations. He’d also figure out how his notes connected to each other.

Then, he’d turn them into bits for his shows. The result sounded like an off-the-cuff riff to the untrained listener… a riff months or even years in gestation. Carlin said,

“ I’m drawn to something and start writing about it, and then you really start writing, and that’s when the real ideas pounce out, and new ideas, and new thoughts and images, and then bing, ba-bam ba-boom, that’s the creative part.”

The National Comedy Centre in Jamestown, New York, acquired Carlin’s notes after he died in 2008. His estate archivist believes Carlin learned early, “A good idea is not of any use if you can’t find it.”

George Carlin’s odd writing system courtesy of the National Comedy Center

Amusingly, Carlin got a kick out of being able to type in words like “Asshole” and “Minister” into Spotlight on his Mac and watching his notes appear.

Carlin didn’t use this specific term, but his note-taking system was a type of Zettelkästen. That German word roughly translates as Slipbox. It describes the process of capturing, revising, and sorting a series of notes over time. Carlin is only one example of a creative who relied on this note-taking system for his work and writings.

Other prolific note-takers with similar systems include politicians like Ronald Reagan, writers like Anne Lamott, and German scientific researcher Niklas Luhmann (who popularized Zettelkästen).

They all created a habit of recording observations, random ideas, and personal anecdotes. Reagan turned his observations into captivating speeches. Luhmann published dozens of books and scientific papers. Ann Lamott has written over a dozen fiction and non-fiction works.

How I Take Notes Like George Carlin

You don’t need to pay for fancy Notion templates or lose sleep searching for the best note-taking app. Anyone can build a note-taking system like Carlin. Here’s my Zettelkästen process in a nutshell:

  • When you see, read, or think of something interesting, write it down. Don’t assume you’ll remember It later.
  • Record your notes regularly AND in one place. That way, they’re easy to find.
  • Review your notes every few days, rewrite them, and expand them. Write about what interests you.
  • When editing your notes, consider how note A connects to note B, B connects to note C, etc.
  • Practice turning notes into a public-facing work like a Twitter thread, blog post, article, newsletter, or other content type. Don’t let them sit on your computer or notebook.

Building this type of system means you’re far more likely to stumble across ideas that you’ve forgotten about. You’ll also find random connections between ideas from different domains.

Sure, some materials won’t be usable. Carlin didn’t turn all 1400+ notes into bits for his shows. But Carlin’s odd-note-taking system was the genesis for his life work:

  • 14 stand-up comedy shows, albums, and HBO specials
  • Five books
  • Dozens of TV and film appearances

By taking and writing notes like this, you’re gradually smaller writing pieces into more substantial works, much like a Russian doll.

Note by note.

Day by day.

Piece by piece.

And that’s much easier than trying to create a perfect note-taking system or writing a masterpiece.

Bryan Collins

Written by Bryan Collins

·Editor for Become a Writer Today

I offer 𝘄𝗿𝗶𝘁𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗮𝗱𝘃𝗶𝗰𝗲 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝗯𝘂𝗶𝗹𝗱𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝘆𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗯𝘂𝘀𝗶𝗻𝗲𝘀𝘀 👋 Content Strategist | Copywriter | USA Today Best-Selling Author

Mysteries of Precognitive Dreams and Premonitions

Marta Henriques

Marta Henriques

Published in New Earth Consciousness

Nov 25, 2023 (Medium.com)

Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

Precognitive dreams and premonitions have long fascinated individuals across cultures and time periods. The concept of gaining insight into future events through dreams or intuitive feelings has been a recurring theme in human experience. This article delves into the intriguing realm of precognition, examining its connection to dreams and premonitions and exploring the scientific and metaphysical perspectives surrounding this mysterious phenomenon.

1. Defining Precognitive Dreams and Premonitions: Precognitive dreams involve dreams that seem to foretell future events, often with a striking level of accuracy. Premonitions, on the other hand, are intuitive feelings or forewarnings about upcoming events, providing individuals with a sense of anticipation before the occurrence. Both phenomena raise profound questions about the nature of time and consciousness.

2. The Role of Dreams in Precognition: Dreams have been regarded as a gateway to the subconscious mind, and some argue, a conduit for glimpses into the future. Psychologists and parapsychologists alike have studied cases where individuals claim to have dreamt of events that later unfolded in reality. The exploration of the relationship between the dream state and precognition opens avenues for understanding the mysteries of time perception.

3. Scientific Perspectives on Precognitive Experiences: While the scientific community tends to approach such phenomena with skepticism, there have been studies exploring the neural and psychological mechanisms underlying precognition. Some researchers suggest that the brain may have the capacity to process information beyond the constraints of time, offering a potential explanation for precognitive experiences.

4. The Quantum Consciousness Hypothesis: Drawing inspiration from quantum physics, proponents of the quantum consciousness hypothesis propose that consciousness is not confined to the present moment. Instead, they argue that consciousness may interact with future events on a quantum level, providing a basis for precognitive experiences. This perspective challenges conventional notions of time and perception.

5. Cultural and Historical Perspectives: Across various cultures and throughout history, stories of individuals experiencing precognitive dreams and premonitions abound. From ancient civilizations to modern times, these accounts often carry cultural and spiritual significance, shedding light on the enduring human fascination with glimpses into the future.

6. Personal Testimonies and Anecdotes: The article explores real-life accounts and personal testimonies of individuals who claim to have experienced precognition through dreams or premonitions. Examining these narratives provides a human dimension to the discussion, highlighting the emotional and psychological impact of such experiences on individuals.

Precognitive dreams and premonitions remain enigmatic phenomena that bridge the realms of science, psychology, and spirituality. Whether viewed through the lens of dreams as a window to the future, explored within the context of quantum consciousness, or understood through the rich tapestry of cultural narratives, the intersection of precognition, dreams, and premonitions invites us to reconsider our understanding of time, consciousness, and the mysteries that may lie beyond our current comprehension. As research continues and personal accounts accumulate, the exploration of precognition promises to be an ongoing journey into the fascinating depths of human experience.

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Marta Henriques

Written by Marta Henriques

·Writer for

New Earth Consciousness

The Creator of “The Stardust Club” Publication. Show me your support https://medium.com/@martahenriques46/membership

Of Wonder, the Courage of Uncertainty, and How to Hear Your Soul: The Best of The Marginalian 2023

By Maria Popova (themarginalian.org)

Hindsight is our finest instrument for discerning the patterns of our lives. To look back on a year of reading, a year of writing, is to discover a secret map of the mind, revealing the landscape of living — after all, how we spend our thoughts is how we spend our lives.

In accordance with the annual tradition, here is the best of The Marginalian in hindsight — a Venn diagram of what I most loved writing and what readers most loved reading, spanning from the outermost reaches of the universe where physics probes the nature of reality to the innermost regions of being where poems reckon with the truest truths.

17 Life-Learnings from 17 Years of The Marginalian

Read it here.

* * *
The Most Important Thing to Remember About Your Mother

Read it here.

* * *
How to Love the World More: George Saunders on the Courage of Uncertainty

Read it here.

* * *
The Donkey and the Meaning of Eternity: Nobel-Winning Spanish Poet Juan Ramón Jiménez’s Love Letter to Life

Read it here.

* * *
The Seamstress Who Solved the Ancient Mystery of the Argonaut, Pioneered the Aquarium, and Laid the Groundwork for the Study of Octopus Intelligence

Read it here.

* * *
The Courage to Be Yourself: Virginia Woolf on How to Hear Your Soul

Read it here.

* * *
Enchantment and the Courage of Joy: René Magritte on the Antidote to the Banality of Pessimism

Read it here.

* * *
Ursula K. Le Guin on Change, Menopause as Rebirth, and the Civilizational Value of Elders

Read it here.

* * *
Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” Brought to Life in a Spanish Flashmob of 100 Musicians

Read it here.

* * *
How to Bear Your Loneliness: Grounding Wisdom from the Great Buddhist Teacher Pema Chödrön

Read it here.

* * *
The Transcendent Brain: The Poetic Physicist Alan Lightman on Spirituality for the Science-Spirited

Read it here.

* * *
The Double Flame: Octavio Paz on Love

Read it here.

* * *
Nick Cave on the Art of Growing Older

Read it here.

* * *
The Work of Happiness: May Sarton’s Stunning Poem About Being at Home in Yourself

Read it here.

* * *
How We Render Reality: Attention as an Instrument of Love

Read it here.

* * *
Everything Is Already There: Javier Marías on the Courage to Heed Your Intuitions

Read it here.

* * *
Center of the Universe: Non-Speaking Autistic Poet Hannah Emerson’s Extraordinary Poem About How to Be Reborn Each Day

Read it here.

* * *
The Ant, the Grasshopper, and the Antidote to the Cult of More: A Lovely Vintage Illustrated Poem About the Meaning and Measure of Enough

Read it here.

* * *
Spell Against Indifference

Read it here.

* * *
bell hooks on Love

Read it here.

* * *
How to Be More Alive: Hermann Hesse on Wonder and the Proper Aim of Education

Read it here.

* * *
Blue Is the Color of Desire: The Science, Poetry, and Wonder of the Bowerbird

Read it here.

* * *
How to Bless Each Other: Poet and Philosopher John O’Donohue on the Light Within Us and Between Us

Read it here.

10 actually good things that happened in 2023

This was a hard year. But these 10 news stories remind us a better future is possible.

By Izzie RamirezOshan Jarow, and Kenny Torrella  

Dec 28, 2023, 8:00am EST (Vox.com)

An illustration of a rough ocean. “2023” sits on the horizon like the moon. The water within its glow is calmer than the surrounding water.

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Finding the best ways to do good.

I’m not going to lie to you: 2023 was an ugly year. War rages in GazaUkraine, and Sudan, with millions displaced, injured, or dead. On top of global strife, AI-fueled misinformation runs rampant, we’re barreling past climate goals, and abortion access dwindles.

But when the world is mired in horrible things, it’s important to imagine a better future; without hope, new solutions wouldn’t be possible. In 2023, despite everything, there were moments when that hope actualized into meaningful wins.

From the Supreme Court upholding America’s toughest animal cruelty law to new developments in curing sickle cell disease, 2023 saw progress across policy and scientific research that will help shape well-being for humans and animals alike for years to come. Here are 10 breakthroughs in 2023 that help remind us that a better future is worth fighting for. —Izzie Ramirez

The economy started undoing 40 years of rising inequality

Among the many surprises of the post-pandemic economy was a deep reversal in long-running trends of wage inequality. Over the last three years, an unusually tight labor market has undone an estimated 38 percent of the wage inequality between poor and wealthy workers that shot up between 1980 and 2019. Researchers dubbed this “the unexpected compression.”

Young workers without college degrees benefited the most. That’s especially good news given the ongoing debates around “deaths of despair,” where economists are trying to figure out how to counter the rising mortality rates from heart disease and drug overdose among Americans with the least education. The boosted wages were concentrated among workers who changed jobs. Low-wage workers tend to raise their pay faster by switching jobs than by staying put, but the costs of leaving a bad and low-paying job, especially with the relatively weak American safety net, often keep workers in place.

Toward the end of 2023, the wage compression looked to be cooling off, but not reversing. To be clear, inequality remains a defining feature of the American economy, evidenced by calling its reduction an “unexpected” compression. The Biden White House is pushing some ideas that could help solidify these trends, like banning noncompete agreements or boosting workers’ bargaining power. With a few structural changes and a bit of luck, 2024 could build on these trends, transforming our expectations so that reducing inequality becomes the norm. —Oshan Jarow

After completing phase 3 trials, psychedelic-assisted therapy seeks FDA approval

In September, MAPS Public Benefit Corporation (BPC) — a company developing prescription psychedelics — published positive results from their second phase 3 clinical trial on MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD. (Phase 3 trials feature thousands of patients, and are mostly randomized and blinded.) CEO Amy Emerson stated that these results, published in Nature Medicine, were the last hurdle before applying for FDA approval of MDMA-assisted therapy.

For decades, new and effective treatments for mental illnesses like PTSD, depression, and anxiety have been scant. Over the same period, a resurgence in clinical research on psychedelics has been amassing evidence of their potential for treating precisely these conditions (the potential benefits of psychedelics extend beyond therapy, but that’s another story).

The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the nonprofit that owns MAPS PBC, has been patiently working toward FDA approval of MDMA therapy since its founding in 1986. This most recent randomized study included 104 participants who’ve lived with PTSD for an average of 16 years. Participants were split into a treatment group that received MDMA plus three monthly therapy sessions, and a placebo group that received extended therapy sessions but no MDMA.

86.5 percent of the treatment group experienced measurable benefits, and 71.2 percent no longer met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis. The therapy-only group still experienced significant benefits, but less so: 69 percent recorded clinically significant improvements, with 47.6 percent no longer meeting PTSD criteria.

In December, MAPS PBC officially filed its application to the FDA, concluding a nearly 40-year effort. The approval of MDMA-assisted therapy would mark a watershed moment in the world of mental health, and likely pave the way for other psychedelic drugs, like psilocybin, to follow. —OJ

It’s another year of massive progress in developing and deploying vaccines

This past year saw a wave of progress in vaccines and treatments for malaria (a disease that still kills about half a million people in Africa each year), tuberculosis (that killed 1.3 million people in 2022), and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV (the leading cause of infant hospitalization in the US and the killer of over 100,000 children worldwide in 2019).

In October 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended its first-ever malaria vaccine, RTS,S. In July 2023, the WHO, Unicef, and Gavi (a global vaccine alliance) committed to delivering 18 million doses of RTS,S across 12 African countries over the next two years. Then, this October, the WHO recommended a new and improved R21 malaria vaccine with an efficacy of 75 percent that can be maintained with booster shots.

On the tuberculosis front, there hasn’t been a new vaccine in over a century, but a promising option, the M72 vaccine, is entering its final phase of clinical trials. And more are in the works. The advent of mRNA vaccines for Covid-19 has inspired similar efforts to develop mRNA vaccines for TB, too.

And in July, the FDA approved a new preventative treatment for RSV. The only approved antiviral treatment for RSV before that was a monoclonal antibody developed in 1998 called palivizumab, a monthly treatment that was expensive, approved only for certain at-risk infants, and reduced infant hospitalizations by about 58 percent. The new treatment, Beyfortus, offers a number of upgrades. It’s approved for all infants up to 24 months, not just those at high risk. Its efficacy in reducing not just hospitalizations but all doctors’ visits is up to 70 percent as compared to placebo. And immunity lasts five months, enough to cover the full RSV fall season. As with the others, more promising treatments are already in the works. —OJ

Mexico decriminalizes abortion

Latin America’s abortion rights movement — colloquially called the “Green Wave” after the verdant scarves Argentine activists wore in the late 2010s — notched another win this year.

In September, Mexico’s Supreme Court eliminated all criminal penalties at the federal level for people seeking abortions. The ruling will require all federal health institutions to offer abortion to anyone who requests it. As my colleague Nicole Narea explains, states will have to change their laws to comply, new clinical standards and guidelines will have to be rolled out, and the public will have to be educated on their newfound right to an abortion and how they can access it. It’s a big shift, one that will have cascading effects for years to come.

Mexico’s decriminalization of abortion fits in a wider discussion around femicide and women’s rights across all of Latin America. Thanks to the Green Wave stemming from the 2015 Ni Una Menos (Not One Woman Less) protests, Argentine lawmakers voted to legalize the procedure in 2020, Colombia’s highest court decriminalized abortion in 2022, and Ecuadorian lawmakers made abortion legal in cases of rape in 2022. There’s still progress to be made, but considering the US backslide, Mexico’s shift comes at an opportune time—IR

Bangladesh gets the lead out of turmeric

We all know lead isn’t good for you, but its true deadliness can often be overlooked. Lead poisoning contributes to as many as 5.5 million premature deaths a year — more than HIV, malaria, and car accidents combined.

In poorer countries, lead remains ever-present, but Bangladesh has a story of success where scientists, advocates, and government officials worked together to lower lead exposure levels.

Despite phasing out leaded gasoline in the 1990s, high blood lead levels continued to be a problem in Bangladesh. When researchers Stephen Luby and Jenny Forsyth tried to isolate the source in 2019, it turned out to be a surprising one: turmeric, a spice commonly used for cooking, was frequently adulterated with lead.

With this in mind, the Bangladeshi government and other stakeholders launched an education campaign to warn people about the dangers of lead. Once producers had been warned that lead adulteration was illegal, the government’s Food Safety Authority followed up with raids and fines to those who were caught.

A 2023 paper found that these efforts appear to have eliminated lead contamination in turmeric outright in Bangladesh. “The proportion of market turmeric samples containing detectable lead decreased from 47 percent pre-intervention in 2019 to 0 percent in 2021,” the study found. And blood lead levels dropped in the affected populations, too. —IR

The Supreme Court upheld America’s strongest animal welfare law

In 2018, Californians voted to pass Proposition 12, a law requiring that much of the eggs, pork, and veal sold in the state come from animals given more space on factory farms — essentially cage-free conditions. The change is incremental, as cage-free farming is still pretty terrible for the animals, but it represents progress on a massive scale: Californians buy about 12 percent of the US meat and egg supply. (Disclosure: From 2012 to 2017, I worked at the Humane Society of the United States, which led the effort to pass Prop 12.)

It was the biggest legislative victory yet for the farm animal welfare movement, reducing the suffering of more animals than any other US law. But this year, the Supreme Court came close to striking it down.

After Prop 12 passed in 2018, pork producers sued the state to repeal the part that covers pork. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and I anticipated the business-friendly conservative majority would side with the pork producers. They didn’t. The court upheld Prop 12 in a 5-4 decision.

The vote guarantees that the 700,000 or so breeding pigs raised for California’s pork supply won’t be confined in cages so small they can’t even turn around in a circle for virtually their entire lives. It also protects a number of similar laws animal advocates have helped pass since the early 2000s, ensuring millions of animals don’t go back into cages. —Kenny Torrella

You can now buy slaughter-free meat

Almost a century ago, Winston Churchill predicted that eventually humans would grow meat directly from animal cells, rather than raising animals on farms. It wasn’t until 2015 that a company, Upside Foods, was launched to give it a shot.

This summer, eight years after its founding, the startup sold its first “cell-cultivated” product — chicken grown from animal cells, no slaughter required — at an upscale restaurant in San Francisco, after the US Department of Agriculture gave final approval. Another startup, GOOD Meat, gained final regulatory approval on the same day and is selling its cell-cultivated chicken at a José Andrés restaurant in Washington, DC.

Each company is serving up very limited quantities of meat, so it’s nowhere near coming close to displacing conventional meat. The two startups, and the other 150 or so cell-cultivated meat companies around the world, have a long way to go to scale up their technology and bring prices down to compete with farmed meat. It’s far from certain they’ll ever get there. But it’s promising that, in under a decade, the nascent field has made major technological and political strides in the attempt to transform the inefficient, inhumane, and unsustainable factory farming system. —KT

Governments around the world are investing in a meat-free future

Animal farming accounts for around 15 to 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet governments have invested only about $1 billion since 2020 in developing meat alternatives, and very few policymakers have proposed initiatives to help humanity cut back on its meat consumption. By comparison, governments have invested $1.2 trillion since 2020 to scale up clean energy.

The lack of attention to making food production more sustainable is starting to change, and some big developments occurred this year.

Most notably, the government of Denmark invested nearly $100 million into a fund to help farmers grow more plant-based foods and companies develop meat- and dairy-alternative products. It also launched the world’s first “action plan” to guide new plant-based food initiatives, like training chefs to cook plant-based meals, reforming agricultural subsidies, and increasing exports of Danish plant-based food products. South Korea announced a similar plan this year too, while German policymakers are putting 38 million Euros toward building up the country’s plant-based industry sector and helping farmers transition to growing plant-based foods amid falling meat production and consumption.

Canada announced a renewal of $110 million into its multi-year program for plant-based food R&D and investments in plant-based companies, while Cataloniathe UK, and other countries also put down money this year to develop alternative proteins.

Much more is needed, and fast, but increasingly, policymakers are grasping the necessity of transforming food systems in order to meet critical climate goals. —KT

Europe is quickly phasing out the ugly practice of “male chick culling”

Each year, the global egg industry hatches 6.5 billion male chicks, but because they can’t lay eggs and they don’t grow big or fast enough to be efficiently raised for meat, they’re economically useless to the industry. So they’re killed hours after hatching, and in horrifying ways: ground up or burned alive, gassed with carbon dioxide, or suffocated in trash bags.

In the last five years, however, scientists have begun to commercialize technologies to identify the sex of a chick while still in the egg, enabling egg hatcheries to destroy the eggs before the males hatch. The first machine came online in Europe in 2018, and the technology is now being adopted by European egg companies at a rapid pace.

According to the animal welfare organization Innovate Animal Ag, at the end of September 2023, 15 percent — or 56 million — of Europe’s 389 million egg-laying hens came from hatcheries that use this technology. That percentage is expected to further rise in the years ahead as several more egg-scanning machines will come online soon.

In the realm of animal farming, technology is often deployed in ways that hurt animals, like breeding them to grow bigger and faster while sacrificing their health and welfare. But here, it’s used to end one of the industry’s cruelest practices. I hope we’ll see even more technologies used for good in the food and farming sectors in the years ahead. —KT

The FDA has approved the first-ever gene editing treatment for use in humans, offering a cure for sickle cell disease

In December, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first-ever therapy using CRISPR gene editing technology for patients 12 and older, offering a potential cure for sickle cell disease (SCD). The disease affects 100,000 people in the US and millions more abroad. Prior to the approval, the only cure for SCD was a bone marrow transplant, a procedure that requires a compatible donor, and kills 5 to 20 percent of patients.

SCD is a collection of inherited blood disorders where a mutation in hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells, shapes them into crescents (”sickles”) that restrict blood flow and limit oxygen delivery across the body’s tissues, causing severe pain and organ damage.

The new therapy, under the brand name Casgevy, uses CRISPR like a molecular pair of scissors. It edits a specific portion of a patient’s DNA to make bone marrow cells produce more fetal hemoglobin, which boosts oxygen delivery. In clinical trials, 29 of 31 patients who received treatment were cured of the events that cause pain and organ damage. A second therapy was also approved, Lyfgenia, which adds to a patient’s DNA the functional hemoglobin genes that are resistant to sickling.

As with many novel therapies that rely on frontier technology, the treatment will be expensive, time-consuming, and unavailable to the majority of those in need. At least at first. Roughly three-quarters of those living with sickle cell disease are concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa. And with price tags of $2.2 million for Casgevy and $3.1 million for Lyfgenia, they remain a pipe dream for most (though racking up payments across a lifetime of SCD is also expensive, averaging about $1.7 million for those with insurance).

Still, the news of a cure is providing hope to millions who live with severe chronic pain, and the question of how to expand accessibility is already at the forefront of many doctors’ minds. Clearing the major hurdle of getting the first-ever gene editing therapy approved for use in humans will allow experts to turn their attention to the question of how to make the treatment available for the millions of people with SCD whose lives could be dramatically improved by it. —OJ

Book: “They Flew: A History of the Impossible”

They Flew: A History of the Impossible

Carlos M.N. Eire

An award-winning historian’s examination of impossible events at the dawn of modernity and of their enduring significance
 
Accounts of seemingly impossible phenomena abounded in the early modern era—tales of levitation, bilocation, and witchcraft—even as skepticism, atheism, and empirical science were starting to supplant religious belief in the paranormal. In this book, Carlos Eire explores how a culture increasingly devoted to scientific thinking grappled with events deemed impossible by its leading intellectuals.
 
Eire observes how levitating saints and flying witches were as essential a component of early modern life as the religious turmoil of the age, and as much a part of history as Newton’s scientific discoveries. Relying on an array of firsthand accounts, and focusing on exceptionally impossible cases involving levitation, bilocation, witchcraft, and demonic possession, Eire challenges established assumptions about the redrawing of boundaries between the natural and supernatural that marked the transition to modernity.
 
Using as his case studies stories about St. Teresa of Avila, St. Joseph of Cupertino, the Venerable María de Ágreda, and three disgraced nuns, Eire challenges readers to imagine a world animated by a different understanding of reality and of the supernatural’s relationship with the natural world. The questions he explores—such as why and how “impossibility” is determined by cultural contexts, and whether there is more to reality than meets the eye or can be observed by science—have resonance and lessons for our time.

(Goodreads.com)

Mahalia Jackson: You’ll Never Walk Alone

Thejazzsingers channel • Apr 9, 2011 To my dear Friend Riekie she passed away today i promisse to load up her song from this concert . You’ll Never Walk Alone Part 5 of this great concert . When you walk through a storm Hold your head up high And don’t be afraid of the dark At the end of the storm Is a golden sky And the sweet silver song of the lark Walk on through the wind Walk on through the rain Though your dreams be tossed and blown Walk on walk on with hope in your heart And you’ll never walk alone You’ll never walk alone When you walk through a storm Hold your head up high And don’t be afraid of the dark At the end of the storm Is a golden sky And the sweet silver song of the lark Walk on through the wind Walk on through the rain Though your dreams be tossed and blown Walk on walk on with hope in your heart And you’ll never walk alone You’ll never walk You’ll never walk You’ll never walk alone.

‘God of Chaos’: NASA sends spacecraft to study asteroid approaching earth

(France24.com)

A NASA spacecraft, recently returned from a mission to asteroid Bennu, has been relaunched to study another asteroid as it approaches Earth’s orbit: Apophis, named after the Egyptian god of Chaos. The space rock is expected to pass within 32,000 kilometres of the Earth’s surface on April 13, 2029.

An artist's impression of a grey, irregularly-shaped asteroid, like those which often pass safely past Earth.
An artist’s impression of a grey, irregularly-shaped asteroid, like those which often pass safely past Earth. © European Space Station via AFP

By: Pauline ROUQUETTE

On December 22, NASA announced it had relaunched its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft to study a 370-metre-diameter asteroid approaching Earth’s orbit named Apophis.

In Egyptian mythology, Apophis is a serpent-shaped god and an embodiment of darkness and disorder which seeks to eradicate the world. Thankfully, the asteroid bearing its name has no such intention. 

Like Earth, Apophis orbits the sun and now and again, it almost comes into contact with our planet. On April 13, 2029, the 40-50 million ton asteroid is expected to get within 32,000 kilometres of Earth, closer than some artificial satellites – something that has never occurred in recorded history.

Weather permitting, five years from now, Apophis’s passage may be visible to the naked eye in Asia, the Indian Ocean, Australia, most of Africa and Europe, and part of the Pacific Ocean.

Old spacecraft, new mission

After a seven-year journey to the Bennu asteroid, the OSIRIS-REx returned to Earth in September. After the 4 billion kilometre journey, the spacecraft still had a quarter of its fuel left and was thus sent off to intercept Apophis.

Several other destinations, including Venus, were considered though the voyage to Apophis won out. For its new mission, the spacecraft was renamed OSIRIS-APEX (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security – Apophis Explorer).

The mission will cost an estimated $200 million, according to NASA.

Apophis is an “S-type” asteroid composed of silicate and nickel-iron materials, distinguishing it from “C-type” asteroids, rich in carbon, like Bennu. 

When the asteroid gets closer to Earth, OSIRIS-APEX will get within 25 metres of Apophis’s surface to extract as much information as possible. Of particular interest to scientists is “how the surface changes when interacting with Earth’s gravity”, said Amy Simon, the mission’s principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in the NASA press release announcing the mission.

Coming into contact with Earth’s gravitational field could trigger earthquakes and landslides on the asteroid, which would then stir up matter. “Apophis’s close encounter with Earth will change the asteroid’s orbit and the length of its 30.6-hour day,” said NASA.

“We know that tidal forces and the accumulation of rubble pile material are foundational processes that could play a role in planet formation,” said Dani Mendoza DellaGiustina, principal investigator of the OSIRIS-APEX mission at the University of Arizona. “They could shed light on how we evolved from the debris of the early solar system to full-blown planets.”

While most known potentially hazardous asteroids (whose orbits approach within 4.6 million kilometres of Earth) are S-type, Apophis’s proximity to Earth allows NASA to research planetary defence, one of the organisation’s top priorities.

Collision with Earth ruled out

The discovery of the Apophis at Arizona’s Kitt Peak Observatory in 2004 raised concerns and still fuels theories about a potential collision with Earth. “Apophis is coming, that’s why they’re building their bunkers,” reads a post from a user on X.

In the early stages of discovery, the asteroid was classed as a level 4 on the Torino Scale (used to categorise the risks of impacts from near-Earth objects, such as asteroids or comets, on a scale from 0 to 10), the highest-ever classification.

But in December 2004, just a few months after the asteroid’s discovery, updated modelling demonstrated the possibility of impact with Earth was nearly zero. 

Furthermore, in June 2021, Apophis passed 17 million kilometres from Earth, allowing NASA to adjust calculations and definitively rule out the possibility of a collision. 

Dismissing a “Don’t Look Up” scenario, NASA officially removed Apophis from its Earth Close Approaches list.

After the asteroid passes, OSIRIS-APEX will operate near it for 18 months to study the changes caused to Apophis by its proximity to the Earth.

This article has been translated from the original in French.