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A long-running Indian TV game show about a group of disparate people consciously living under the continuous view and direction of an omniscient but an unseen observer may make for the entertainment of some but should actually warn of technology’s capacity to intrude into all aspects of human life. Much more so if used by the state to stifle dissent and instill conformity – as warned by a great writer whose one dire creation was used as the name of the original British version.
But “Big Brother” was not George Orwell’s only contribution to culture, politics, and society, but just one of his newly-created words and terms – Cold War, thought police, and thoughtcrime (“Thoughtcrime does not entail death, thoughtcrime IS death”), doublespeak and unperson – that continue to have significant resonance even more than six decades after he coined them. Especially for our country in present times.
Unlike monarchs and statesmen who can acquire immortality simply by their names becoming an adjective used to refer to their era, those in the cultural realm must earn it by pioneering a new style or enduring creations that awe, inspire, regale, or warn – and Orwell’s acquired it through the latter reason’s last criterion.
Like Dickensian connoting the poor social conditions of the author’s times, or Kafkaesque for surreal and disorienting situations or somewhat menacingly complex authority, Orwellian is also not very positive with its connotations of regime control and governance through propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, a cultish infallible leader, a scapegoat and/or external enemy and manipulation of the past – all designed to curb freedom and individuality.
But, Orwell, the pen name of Bihar-born Eric Arthur Blair (1903-50) and most atypical middle-class Englishman, needs to be seen through a wider prism than his last two – though most famous – works.
And neither should “Animal Farm” (1945), an allegorical account of how revolutions can get subverted and “1984” (1949), set in a dystopian future where an authoritarian state does its best to stamp out individual thought and foster blind conformity and adoration of leaders, be dismissed as just referring to Stalinist Soviet Russia, due to the superficial resemblances.
Let alone his other longer works of social satire or his non-fictional accounts of poverty and deprivation and internecine infighting on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War, Orwell’s best writings are his lucid essays.
These span a wide gamut of political, social, and literary issues, from witnessing the taking of life or performing the act oneself to the travails of a book reviewer, and from that unique English affectation – making the perfect cup of tea – to a vividly evocative description of the spring season to defending P.G. Wodehouse, in trouble for ‘propaganda’ broadcasts for Germans early in the Second World War, and a penetrating analysis of his works.
But those that stand out are on nationalism and language and its relation to politics and both remain as, if not more, relevant today as when he wrote them in the 1940s.
In “Notes on Nationalism” (published in October 1945), Orwell makes a compelling case that it is based on abandoning common sense and facts, with it has the “habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’,” and secondly, it entails “the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil…”
He, however, stresses it be not confused with “patriotism”, which is “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people” and by “its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally” while nationalism is “inseparable from the desire for power”. His examples may be dated, but the principles remain valid.
Likewise, in “Politics and the English Language” (April 1946), he postulates a link between bad prose and oppressive ideologies, and how “political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible”, such as (for then) “continuance of British rule in India”. Since the brutal language, such a defense will entail will be unpalatable, it necessitates “political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness”. We are all too familiar with it for decades now.
Orwell also divined measures that could divert attention of the masses – “films oozing with sex” and “rubbishy newspapers containing almost nothing but sport, crime and astrology” (as per “1984”). It would have been interesting to know what he would have made of social media and handheld communication and entertainment devices. (Vikas Datta, IANS)
The US researchers have discovered a class of immune cells that plays a role in miscarriage, which affects about a quarter of pregnancies.
Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco found that the recently discovered subset of cells known as extrathymic Aire-expressing cells in the immune system may prevent the mother's immune system from attacking the placenta and fetus.
The researchers showed that pregnant mice who did not have this subset of cells were twice as likely to miscarry, and in many of these pregnancies fetal growth was severely restricted.
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"When you're pregnant, the immune system is seeing the placenta for the first time in decades -- not since the mother made a placenta when she herself was a fetus," said Eva Gillis-Buck, from UCSF.
"Our research suggests that this subset of immune cells is carrying out a sort of 'secondary education' -- sometimes many years after the better-known population of the educator cells have carried out the primary education in the thymus -- teaching T cells not to attack the fetus, the placenta and other tissues involved in pregnancy," she added. The findings are published in the journal Science Immunology.
The immune system has to be educated not to attack one's own tissues and organs to prevent autoimmune disease. But pregnancy presents a unique challenge since the fetus expresses proteins found in the placenta as well as proteins whose genetics are distinct from the mother.
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"It was a conceptual leap to link Aire-expressing cells, which are critical for preventing autoimmune disease, to pregnancy," said Tippi Mackenzie, Professor of Surgery at UCSF's Center for Maternal Foetal Precision Medicine.
In the thymus, Aire-expressing cells begin interacting with other immune cells very early in life to teach them what not to attack. The thymus begins to shrink and is nearly gone by adulthood, by which time most immune cells have been educated. But as the thymus shrinks, the population of eTACs in lymph nodes and the spleen expands, the researchers explained.
The study suggests a healthy pregnancy may depend on having these cells around, they added. (IANS/KB)
The tiny emojis being shared on billions of devices worldwide can play a major role in digital communication, with most people saying that emoji compels them to feel more empathy towards others, according to an Adobe report.
Adobe's global emoji study found that emoji even helps people overcome language barriers and form connections that would otherwise be difficult to do.
"We were surprised and delighted by the discoveries made in the survey, most notably how enthusiastic respondents were for emoji as a means to express themselves," the company said in a statement.
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Emojis sometimes get criticized for being overly saccharine, but this sweetness is key when it comes to diffusing some of the heaviness of online communication.
"Many of the emoji are focused on positive emotions, so it's easy to insert them into our conversations and lighten the mood," the Adobe study said.
It's not surprising that over half of those surveyed feel more comfortable using emojis than talking on the phone or in person.
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This applies to less intense situations too. Dating, for example, can be tricky — especially when it's online or via digital apps, as it often is now.
The study also found that emoji even helps people overcome language barriers and form connections that would otherwise be difficult to do.
In celebration of World Emoji Day on Saturday, Adobe's '2021 Global Emoji Trend Report' surveyed 7,000 people in the US, the UK, Germany, France, Japan, Australia, and South Korea. (IANS/KB)
Following the grand Richard Branson show where he carried Andhra Pradesh-born Sirisha Bandla and fellow space travelers on his shoulders after successfully flying to the edge of space, it is time for Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos to applaud Sanjal Gavande, one of the key engineers who designed the New Shephard rocket set to take Bezos and the crew to space on July 20.
Billionaire Bezos is set to fly to the edge of space aboard what is touted as the world's first unpiloted suborbital flight. Born in Kalyan, Maharashtra, Gavande is a systems engineer at Blue Origin who always dreamt of designing aerospace rockets.
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After completing Bachelor's in mechanical engineering from the University of Mumbai, she flew to the US in 2011 to pursue a Master's in mechanical engineering from the Michigan Technological University. She also applied for an engineering job at the US space agency NASA but finally landed her dream job at Blue Origin
Sirisha flew to the US in 2011 to pursue a Master's in mechanical engineering from the Michigan Technological University.IANS
Bezos, his brother Mark, aviation pioneer Mary Wallace 'Wally' Funk, and other passengers are set to liftoff from west Texas and travel just beyond the edge of space on July 20. Blue Origin announced this week that Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old high school graduate from the Netherlands, would join the crew.
Oliver is the son of millionaire Joe Daemen, Founder, and CEO of the Dutch investment company Somerset Capital Partners. Blue Origin, however, did not reveal how much Daemen paid for his son's trip to space. Bezos chose July 20 as the launch date to honor the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
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The launch site for Blue Origin's first human flight will be in a remote location north of Van Horn, Texas, from where the firm had launched New Shepard for previous flights. Blue Origin has received final approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to carry humans on the New Shepard rocket into space.
On July 12, Bandla touched the edge of space with three others, including Virgin Galactic's billionaire CEO Richard Branson. Bandla vaulted into space onboard VSS Unity 22. After the successful spaceflight, Branson carried the Indian-American on his shoulders while celebrating their flight to space, at Spaceport America in New Mexico. (IANS/KB)