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The Communist Plot to Assassinate George Orwell

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Duncan White writes at Literary Hub:

When George Orwell returned to Barcelona for the third time, on June 20th, 1937, he discovered that the Spanish secret police were after him. He had been forced to return to the front in order to have his discharge papers countersigned and, in his absence, the Communists had initiated a purge of their perceived enemies. Orwell was on the list. As he arrived in the lobby of the Hotel Continental, Eileen approached him calmly, placed her arm around his neck, and smiled for the benefit of anyone watching. Once they were close enough she hissed in his ear:

“Get out!”


“Get out at once.”


“Don’t keep standing here! You must get outside quickly!”

Eileen guided a bewildered Orwell toward the hotel exit. Marceau Pivert, a French friend of Orwell’s who was just entering the lobby, seemed distressed to see him and told him he needed to hide before the hotel called the police. A sympathetic member of the staff joined in, urging Orwell to leave in his broken English. Eileen managed to get him to a café on a discreet side street, where she explained the seriousness of the situation.


David Crook, a young Englishman working for the Independent Labour Party’s (ILP) Barcelona office, had become friends with both Orwell and his wife over the last few months. He was not what he seemed. He had arrived in Spain in January 1937, the month after Orwell, eager to join up with the International Brigades and fight the Fascists. He was descended from Russian-Jewish immigrants and grew up in Hampstead, attending the prestigious Cheltenham College.

Like many young men who grew up after the First World War, he was attracted to left-wing causes. He moved to New York City, where he attended Columbia University and embraced radical politics, joining the Young Communist League. As a student delegate he traveled down to Kentucky to support the famous miners’ strike in Harlan County, witnessing its brutal suppression by the National Guard. On his return to London he became a member of the British Communist Party. At one meeting, the doomed poet John Cornford spoke about the Republican cause in Spain, and Crook was inspired to enlist.

Like Hyndman, Crook was thrust straight into the action at the Battle of Jarama, taking three bullets to the leg. Recovering in Madrid, he socialized with the literary set, including the brilliant war correspondent Martha Gellhorn, her lover Ernest Hemingway, Mulk Raj Anand, and Spender. At this point he came to the attention of Soviet intelligence agents. After recruiting him, the NKVD sent him to a training camp in Albacete, where he was given a crash course in sabotage and surveillance techniques.

There he became a Communist spy. Crook’s mission was to infiltrate the ILP and report on all their activities. The Soviets already had one agent in place, David Wickes, who volunteered as an interpreter with the ILP and passed what information he found on to his handlers. Now Crook was to infiltrate deeper and get hold of documents. Orwell was his most prestigious target. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2019 at 6:37 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Politics

MIT Media Lab Kept Regulators in the Dark, Dumped Chemicals in Excess of Legal Limit

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Another instance of overweening entitlement. Something needs to be done to slap some sense into the heads of these people with excessive self-regard. (I don’t mean literally “slap”; I mean sent to prison for a decade or so.) Lisa Song, ProPublica, and Max Larkin, WBUR-FM, report in ProPublica:

Documents and interviews show the Media Lab, already under fire for accepting contributions from Jeffrey Epstein, is being investigated for an apparent violation of state environmental regulations. They paused operations after we asked questions.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab have dumped wastewater underground in apparent violation of a state environmental regulation, according to documents and interviews, potentially endangering local waterways in and near the town of Middleton.

Nitrogen levels from the lab’s wastewater registered more than 20 times above the legal limit, according to documents provided by a former Media Lab employee. When water contains large amounts of nitrogen, it can kill fish and deprive infants of oxygen.

Nine months ago, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection began asking questions, but MIT’s health and safety office failed to provide the required water quality reports, according to documents obtained by ProPublica and WBUR. This triggered an ongoing state investigation.

After ProPublica and WBUR contacted MIT for comment, an institute official said the lab in question was pausing its operations while the university and regulators worked on a solution. Tony Sharon, an MIT deputy vice president who oversees the health and safety office, didn’t comment on the specific events described in the documents.

The state’s investigation adds to recent scrutiny of the Media Lab for accepting donations from Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender who was charged with trafficking minors before he died in jail last month. Joichi Ito, the director of the Media Lab, has resigned, and students have called for the resignation of MIT President L. Rafael Reif, who signed off on at least one of Epstein’s gifts.

The lab responsible for the dumping is the Open Agriculture Initiative, one of many research projects at the Media Lab. Led by principal research scientist Caleb Harper, who was trained as an architect, the initiative has been under fire for overhyping its “food computers”: boxes that could supposedly be programmed to grow crops, but allegedly didn’t work as promised.

Throughout early 2018, the lab’s research site in Middleton, about 20 miles north of the main MIT campus in Cambridge, routinely drained hundreds of gallons of water with nitrogen into an underground disposal well, at concentrations much higher than the lab’s permit allowed, according to documents and interviews. The nitrogen came from a fertilizer mix used to grow plants hydroponically.

The information comes from dozens of emails and lab results shared by Babak Babakinejad, a former researcher in Harper’s lab. Babakinejad said he decided to speak out because he’s worried about the health and environmental impacts of the dumping. Babakinejad’s account of the lab’s actions was confirmed by two other sources with knowledge of the experiments, who asked for anonymity.

Babakinejad told ProPublica and WBUR that he warned Harper and MIT’s Environment, Health and Safety Office (EHS) about the situation after he realized their hydroponic solution exceeded their environmental permit, which limited the wastewater to concentrations of 10 parts per million (ppm) for nitrogen.

EHS is responsible for health and safety throughout the institute, from environmental sustainability to the proper handling of toxic chemicals in research labs.

“Our base fertilizer regiment is at 150 ppm Nitrogen… way above the required limit,” Babakinejad wrote in an April 2018 email to Harper, other Media Lab employees and senior staffers at EHS. “I am looking forward to discuss available options such as diluting our waste water… or apply for an appropriate license.”

Harper responded to Babakinejad within the hour, scolding him for emailing health and safety officials: “Writing emails directly to Senior EHS / Facilities teams at MIT, especially those that effect [sic] our groups ability to do research, without asking [the project’s assistant director] or I to review, comment and approve is inappropriate… If emails are directed to you regarding our teams [sic] EHS responsibilities please redirect them to me until further notice.”

This followed prior emails when Babakinejad had questioned Harper about whether the lab’s food computers could really do what Harper claimed. In news reports about this question, Harper did not address allegations about the project’s shortcomings.

Babakinejad said he later spoke to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) in the fall of 2018, prompting the agency to take a closer look at the lab’s wastewater disposal permit.

For more than five months, a MassDEP scientist tried to get basic information from MIT’s EHS office about how the lab disposed of its wastewater. This June, the scientist expressed frustration in an email to a senior EHS official:

“MassDEP is concerned about the time that it is taking to provide what should be easy to obtain information regarding the (disposal well) discharges and other on-site discharges,” he wrote. “MassDEP is concerned that MIT still hasn’t indicated to MassDEP its long term solution to the management of spent growing solution wastewater containing unacceptably high concentrations of total nitrogen.”

In a statement, MassDEP spokesman Edmund Coletta stated the agency was “concerned about the wastewater discharge issue connected to the Open Agriculture Initiative’s facility in Middleton (MA) and we are investigating the issue further. However, as this is a potential enforcement matter, I cannot offer any other comments.”

Harper provided a statement through his lawyer, David Siegal: “Mr. Harper and his lab are, and have always been, deeply committed to protecting the environment. He has been and will continue to be fully cooperative with and responsive to MIT’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in their efforts to make sure the lab conforms to all environmental laws and regulations,” Siegal said.

At this point there is no evidence that the discharge from Harper’s lab has reached local drinking water or the nearby Ipswich River.

Excess nitrogen, when ingested by infants under four months old, can prevent blood from carrying oxygen, which can be fatal if left untreated. Municipal water systems routinely check for contaminants, but homes and businesses that use private drinking water wells are responsible for monitoring their own water. ProPublica and WBUR did not obtain any of those testing results.

Pamela Templer, a Boston University professor who studies biogeochemistry, said nitrogen is an essential component of all living things.

“But at high concentrations, it can become what we consider too much of a good thing,” she said. “In waterways, it can lead to phenomena like harmful algal blooms, which can be toxic to people and pets.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2019 at 6:14 pm

A cure for chronic pain?

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I know people who suffer chronic pain, and it’s a tough row to how. That’s why this article by Sophie Elmhirst in the Economist 1843 caught my eye:

Peter McNaughton, a professor of pharmacology at King’s College London, is a devoted optimist. He acknowledges that his positivity can sometimes seem irrational, but he also knows that without it he wouldn’t have achieved all that he has. And what he’s achieved is quite possibly monumental. After decades of research into the cellular basis of chronic pain, McNaughton believes he has discovered the fundamentals of a drug that might eradicate it. If he’s right, he could transform millions, even billions, of lives. What more could anyone hope for than a world without pain?

McNaughton, nearly 70, is long-limbed, grey-haired and bespectacled. Though he has lived in London for decades, his voice still carries the cheery cadence of his native New Zealand. He wears blue Levis and black Nikes and delights in a late-blooming informality after years of heading university departments and turning up in a suit. Now, running his own lab, he can dress as he likes. On a Friday morning in April he waited for his young team to arrive at the modern, red-brick building in south London where he conducts his research. (McNaughton is always the first to arrive.) Today the team was assembled to hear a presentation by Rafaela Lone, a Brazilian scientist, who had spent the past six months in McNaughton’s lab breeding mice with symptoms that mimic fibromyalgia, a long-term condition that causes widespread pain and chronic fatigue. Lone explained that her mother had suffered from fibromyalgia for seven years. Her life had been reduced to a misery of symptoms ranging from urinary-tract infections to intense sensitivity to cold. Some days were bear-able; on others she couldn’t get out of bed. “She learns how to hold the pain,” said Lone.

McNaughton looked aggrieved at this (he finds it so hard to tolerate other people’s discomfort that, when his grandchildren come to stay, he lets them sleep in his bed because he can’t bear to disappoint them). But there was hope. Lone’s slides revealed her preliminary findings. Using genetic and pharmacological methods based on McNaughton’s research, she had achieved a consistent eradication of the mice’s pain. McNaughton looked exultant: “It’s really worked spectacularly well, hasn’t it?”

His eureka moment occurred back in 2010. From previous research, he knew that a group of ion channels (protein molecules that span a cell’s membrane), known as the HCN family, modulated pain sensation. When a nerve is stimulated, a message is sent via the spinal cord to the brain, which then interprets it as pain. The challenge was to find the right ion channel to target with a drug. His team slowly worked their way through the group: blocking HCN1 had little effect and they didn’t want to interfere with HCN4 as it regulates the heart rate. Then they tried HCN2.

The team bred genetically engineered mice from embryos that had HCN2 excised from their DNA. Subsequent experiments showed that these mice did not develop neuropathic pain (the kind that affects the nervous system and is often caused by long-term conditions such as cancer or diabetes). Not only that, the mice with HCN2 cut out were still able to feel acute pain – the necessary, protective jolt that tells us to remove our finger from a drawing pin. “That’s the holy grail,” McNaughton told me, sitting in his modest office in his lab, pictures of his family looping on his computer screensaver. “It is! It really is!” (On the mice in question, McNaughton was remorseful: “I’m acutely aware that this is unpleasant for the mice,” he said.)

After his discovery, McNaughton’s research group developed chemical compounds able to achieve, by blocking the HCN2 ion channel, the same effect in mice as the genetic technique. These form the basis for a prospective painkilling drug with the potential to treat multiple chronic-pain conditions (further research has shown strong evidence that blocking HCN2 has a positive effect on mice mimicking symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and migraine).

McNaughton filed three patents, pitched his research around the large pharmaceutical companies and a deal was then reached earlier this year between King’s College London and the Wellcome Trust (who helped fund the research) and Merck, an American pharmaceutical giant. The deal is worth $340m plus royalties if the drug comes to market. That may sound like a large sum, but it is nothing compared with the profits that Merck could reap, in an industry where the larger the potential patient pool, the greater the reward. Chronic pain is estimated to affect a fifth of the global population, or 1.5bn people. “It’s an absolutely vast market,” said McNaughton.

The windfall would not touch McNaughton himself. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2019 at 11:58 am

How to Be Brave: The freedom to fail and recover

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Bravery in our culture right now has become a privilege for men.

— Reshma Saujani, founder and chief executive of Girls Who Code

t was a room full of colorful Post-its that put it all into perspective.

In 2010, Reshma Saujani decided to run against Representative Carolyn Maloney for her seat in the House. It seemed as if Saujani had a good chance at toppling the veteran New York congresswoman: She had raised more money than her opponent, she got John Legend to perform two fund-raising concerts, and she scored several high-profile endorsements.

On Election Day, her staff moved into a hotel room on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to prepare it for a victory celebration. They jotted down messages of support on Post-its and stuck them all over the walls. One read, “Brown girls taking over Washington” and another read, “To all the young people, it’s our time.”

Then Saujani lost, grabbing just 19 percent of the votes. “I got back to that hotel room and I just cried and cried,” she told me.

But in that rock-bottom moment, she realized failure wasn’t the end of the world. Gasp! Surprise!

After a bit more crying, some red wine and another failed race (in 2013, for New York City public advocate), Saujani went on to found her nonprofit, Girls Who Code, which teaches girls around the world to code, and publish a book, “Brave Not Perfect,” about the fear of failure.

So why is failure so scary for so many women?

It stems from years of cultural and social conditioning, Saujani said, an assertion that has been supported by several studies. “From a very young age, we tell our girls to smile pretty, play it safe, get all A’s,” she said. Boys, meanwhile, are encouraged to play rough, break things, fall hard and get back up.

“Bravery in our culture right now has become a privilege for men,” Saujani said. And if women are taught to strive for perfection, failure is simply not an option, she said — a mentality that can make women unhappy (read: regretful, envious, anxious) and discourage them from pursuing their goals.

In an effort to dismantle the perfectionist ideal, Saujani has been airing her personal failures and vulnerabilities publicly on Instagram with the hashtag #FailureFriday — like losing her son in public and failing her practice driver’s test.

She also challenges her followers to make bolder choices in their own lives — and share them. As she writes in her book, bravery is a muscle and it requires consistent, daily flexing.

How to be braver? Here are some of her tips:

  • Send an email with a typo: “We spend so much time crafting that perfect email with the perfect amount of exclamation marks,” said Saujani, that even the slightest error can push us into a mental spiral. A tiny typo will force you to accept imperfection.

  • Do something fun that you suck at: Karaoke, baking, pottery, whatever — if it’s fun for you, do it. This will help you dissociate enjoyment from achievement. For example, Saujani took up surfing last summer despite not yet knowing how to swim.

  • Get some rest: “You can’t be brave if you’re tired,” Saujani said. Take care of . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2019 at 11:27 am

Posted in Daily life

The true Paleo diet: LOTS of plants

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How do we know? Because dietary fiber comes only from plants.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2019 at 9:02 am

“Did You Eat the Whole Cake?” On Learning Estonian

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Judith Knott writes at

In 2018 I made my first trip to Estonia, to take a beginners’ summer course in the Estonian language at the University of Tartu. I was so enthralled that I kept up my studies at home and went back for more this year.

Estonian is popularly known as a difficult language to learn. Much of its vocabulary is unfamiliar, as the only other national languages it’s related to are Finnish1 and, more distantly, Hungarian. It’s even been described as the most difficult Latin-alphabet language for a native English speaker, and some of its features have assumed an almost mythical status. From my experience so far, I would agree that it’s challenging, but one of the coping strategies is to focus on one’s own reality as a learner (which will be different for each individual) and not be daunted by the myths.

Linguistic map of the Uralic (Finno-Ugric) languages, the non-Indo-European group of which Estonian is a member [Image: By User:Nug derived from a german version created by User:Chumwa – German language version, CC BY-SA 3.0, Used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 Licence]

The sound world

The only individual sound that’s unusual for speakers of most European languages is the vowel denoted by õ. This is a wide, highish back vowel (International Phonetic Alphabet ɤ), not too far away from Russian ы. It occurs very commonly in Estonian words, so learners have to become familiar with it from the start.

Estonian is also known for having three lengths of vowel and consonant: short, long (usually spelt as a double letter) and overlong. This has provoked a lot of interest and debate among linguists2, but isn’t something that beginner courses dwell on. Estonian orthography generally distinguishes only two lengths, short and long, and learners don’t need to be unduly concerned about the third length, at least at the outset.

Nouns: 14 cases, over 400 patterns

It’s with the nouns that the myths often begin: Estonian has at least fourteen different case forms, each in singular and plural, for each noun. That’s a total of 28 forms, and with some nouns having alternative forms for the same case, sometimes with a slightly different nuance, there can even be as many as 30 different forms.

While I would agree that the noun forms are the greatest source of complexity for the beginner, for me the difficulty wasn’t so much in the sheer number of case forms as the irregularity of around four or five of them. Not all cases are born equal.

Most of Estonian’s fourteen cases are formed in an absolutely regular way, using case endings which are identical in the singular and plural. These are added to either the genitive singular or plural form respectively, for example: kohviku­­s “in the café”, kohviku‑te‑s “in the cafés”.

There are a total of 6 cases expressing location: in and on, each in three varieties (static location, motion towards and motion away from). The real difficulty is in knowing which case to use – for example, that it is teatr‑isse “to the theatre” (lit “into”) but kontserdi‑le “to the concert” (lit. “onto”). But this kind of difficulty is very similar to the challenge of learning which preposition to use when, which is encountered in many other European languages.

Beyond the cases expressing location, some examples will give a flavour of the more exotic cases:

Essive case: ‑na “as a”             

Ma töötasin ettekandjana – “I was working as a waitress”

Translative case: ‑ks “becoming, turning into”

Ma sain ettekandja‑ks – “I became a waitress”

Comitative case: ‑ga “with”

Ma rääkisin ettekandja‑ga – “I talked to/with the waitress”

(NB This case is one for vegetarians to be aware of – if you see anything in a café described as peekoniga, it will contain bits of bacon.)

Abessive case: ‑ta “without”

Riik on ilma juhi‑ta – “The country is without a leader” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 September 2019 at 6:00 pm

Posted in Daily life, Esperanto

Free ebook: Nutrition by Carrie — The Gut Health Issue

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This has just been made available. Here it is.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 September 2019 at 4:06 pm

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