This week’s staff picks

A poem for February, industrial pollution as a crime of violence, massive Mexican murals and (of course) coronavirus
ASBMB Today Staff
By ASBMB Today Staff
Feb. 29, 2020

At the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, we love to read as much as we love to write. We also love to talk about what we’re reading or watching or listening to. Our office is always buzzing (either with not-so-hushed voices or the ping of email deliveries) as we share the inspiring, emotionally compelling, fascinating or simply funny articles, podcasts or videos we can’t stop reading/watching/listening to/scrolling through. So, we figured, why not keep the conversation going?

Here’s a compilation of our staff’s favorites for the week. Enjoy, and feel free to tweet us (@ASBMB) your thoughts.

Vida Americana (Whitney Museum of American Art) 

This exhibit, subtitled “Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925 – 1945,” takes you back to the end of the Mexican Revolution in 1920. Their society was bursting at the seams, and these muralists were in the middle of it all.  If you are familiar with Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, you have an idea of what their work is like, but when you see these incredible large-scale murals, it’s downright overwhelming. Really. Watch the video, and you may be inspired to catch a train to New York see this show for yourself. I know I want to!

— Lisa Schnabel, senior designer

Great Big Story  (YouTube)

 I always resort to this YouTube channel after spending 30 minutes trying to find something to watch on my various streaming services. Their videos give you a glimpse into different cultures and lifestyles around the world through captivating storytelling. One of my favorite stories is about how a professor became a chalk dealer at his institution. I enjoy being able to learn something new every time I watch one of their videos.

— Stephanie Paxson, diversity and undergraduate education coordinator

 COVID-19 highlights urgent need for increased public health funding  (Association of State and Territorial Health Officials)

This Public Health Review podcast is an insightful conversation on the importance of funding the entire public health spectrum — from the perspective of public health experts who are and will be on the front line of this public health emergency.

 — Benjamin Corb, public affairs director

 February Evening in New York (Denise Levertov/Poetry Foundation) 

I subscribe to Poetry magazine from the Poetry Foundation. It’s a highlight of my month when it arrives. I keep the issues on my coffee table, along with a rotation of some of my favorite poetry books. Whenever I feel confused or worried about some life circumstance (which I admit is weekly, if not daily … or hourly), I flip through a poetry book and usually land on something that I relate to — that helps knock some of the loneliness out of the worry. I also subscribe to the Poetry Foundation’s “Poem of the Day” email. Below is part of the poem for Feb. 26, by Denise Levertov. I really liked it, I hope you do too. 

As the buildings close, released autonomous  
    feet pattern the streets
    in hurry and stroll; balloon heads
    drift and dive above them; the bodies  
    aren't really there. 

— Ally Frick, multimedia and social media content manager

Industrial pollution is in your blood. Is that a form of battery? (Sara Talpos, Undark) 

For decades, multinational companies just couldn’t quit per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs. Developed in the 1950s, the chemicals were used in the manufacturing of nonstick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics and carpets, cosmetics, firefighting foams and all manner of products that resist grease, water and oil. And now they are part of us. The “forever chemicals,” popularly depicted in the 2019 legal thriller Dark Waters, do not naturally break down and are present in just about every American’s blood. They cause cancer, diabetes, ulcerative colitis and disrupted immune development. 

Some communities, including Belmont, Michigan, have been much harder hit by PFASs than others due to the careless disposal by a handful of very powerful corporations. Over decades, Wolverine Worldwide, headquartered five miles northeast of Belmont, dumped tannery waste, including PFASs, at unlicensed disposal sites; the chemicals contaminated the groundwater reservoir and wound up in the town’s drinking water. While lawsuits against that company and against the multinational conglomerate 3M, which first developed and sold PFASs, have yielded $65.5 million and $55 million settlements, respectively, to extend and remedy the public water systems, lawyers representing the residents of Belmont also have pursued a novel legal strategy: suing the companies for toxic battery.

— John Arnst, science writer

Mission impossible? WHO director fights to prevent a pandemic without offending China (Kai Kupferschmidt, Science)

Sometimes you have both a readerly and a writerly reaction to an article. In this case, my reaction on both counts was “wow.” As a reader, I was deeply compelled by the portrait of World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. The story opens with a gripping anecdote that shows his compassionate leadership and unfolds into a complex picture of how that style serves him as the head of an organization with more soft than hard power. As a writer, I was blown away by writer Kai Kupferschmidt’s pivot. It’s clear that he did most of the reporting before the outbreak of COVID-19 hit global headlines, but he focused the story on the fast-moving public health crisis, which will likely come to define Tedros’s tenure — and the result is a brilliant, timely feature that deepens the reader’s understanding. (Kupferschmidt, working with Jon Cohen, is covering the coronavirus beat for Science magazine, and I’d recommend all of their work if the topic interests you.) 

— Laurel Oldach, science writer

Year of wonders (Geraldine Brooks)

As I listened to yet another news story about the spread of the new coronavirus earlier this week (and worried about threats to my planned overseas vacation), this novel, published almost two decades ago, came to mind. It’s based on the true story of an English village struck by bubonic plague in the mid-17th century. The residents decide to quarantine themselves, so as not to spread the deadly disease. As with many great novels, it’s a story of everyday people reacting to huge events. It’s not a perfect book by any means (parts of it made me squirm), but it strikes me as timely. And Brooks is quite a writer.

— Comfort Dorn, ASBMB Today managing editor

ASBMB Today Staff
ASBMB Today Staff

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