What I've been reading, featuring refugees illustrated, “Roma”, and neural prosthetics

In her essay “We Refugees”, Hannah Arendt wrote, “Nobody wants to know that contemporary history has created a new kind of human beings—the kind that are put into concentration camps by their foes and internment camps by their friends.” Nearly eighty years later, the world has come no closer to ensuring the rights of a human without a country. Mostly, governments propose quarantine. Internment camps grow in Tornillo, Texas, in Lesbos, in Zaatari, and in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. It won’t work. Each year, the world grows warmer. The oceans rise. Wars are fought for ever-scarcer resources. If the wealthy West worries about one million Syrians, what will it do with millions of climate refugees?”

“It was odd, on a visit this spring to a school in the Indian state of Rajasthan, to hear a Muslim teacher, Sana Khan, ask her entirely Muslim eight-grade social science class, “Was there anything positive about Mughals"?”… the textbooks’ promotion of an essentially Hindu history provides a foundation for slowly remaking India into an essentially Hindu country.”

  • I attended an advanced screening of Alfonso Cuarón’s new film, “Roma”, expected to be a strong awards season contender. I don't know how autobiographical it is on Cuarón's part, but it must be in large measure 'cause the movie just breathes love and gratitude to the women that raised him. It's set in 1970s Mexico City, but it may be the closest thing I've seen on screen to my upbringing in Southeast Asia, particularly its depiction of the relationship between a privileged middle-class family and their live-in staff and the maybe-contradictions of such a relationship.

    • I liked the Washington Post review, but in general reading the responses of the standard names (some of whom I respect immensely) revealed a homogeneity in the backgrounds of the cultural intelligentsia (have always wanted to use that word). In the face of an obviously intimate film in a very specific setting and depicting a complex familial dynamic, they seem to use technical observations as a crutch for their unfamiliarity—I don’t think that’s good enough.

    • To that end, credit to Brooklyn-based Remezcla for soliciting Latino critics’ responses. One recommends the 2015 film “Que horas ela volta? (The Second Mother)” out of Brazil as a more thorough exploration of the maid-family dynamic.

    • On the topic of Southeast Asian domestic staff, recommending some excellent but heartbreaking reading:

  • A 2015 history of Brazil (newly updated and translated to English) rebuts prevailing views that slavery there has not left a racist legacy akin to America’s

  • The New Yorker had a long-read on the development of neural prosthetics. Especially timely for me as someone who recently completed Doc Ock’s storyline on Spider-Man on the PS4. Schwartz’s biotech falls short of Octavius’s sentient metallic limbs, but to Schwartz’s credit, he better achieves Octavius’s original goal of helping amputees.

    Engrossing science and technology story here, but the patient, Jan Scheuermann, quickly steals the show with her personality:

    • “They said, ‘You know this includes voluntary brain surgery?’ I said, ‘Yup, that’s OK. I’m going to move that robotic arm!’ They said, ‘Well, these two pedestals will stick out of your head, about three-quarters of an inch, and it will be that way until we take them out.’ and I said ‘OK, sure. I want to move that robotic arm with my mind!’”

    • “Protruding from the top of her head were the two pedestals: cylinders reminiscent of Frankenstein’s monster, each the diameter of a quarter, and capped to prevent moisture from getting into the contact points. Scheuermann vowed to embrace them. She told herself they were instruments of exploration, and named them Lewis and Clark.”

    • “Then they asked me if I had a goal. I sensed they wanted me to say that I wanted to touch my children, or my husband. I said, ‘Yeah, I have a goal. I want to feed myself chocolate.’”

    • “I flew a plane today. I freaking flew a plane today! I am 54 years old, I’ve been a quadriplegic for 14 years, and I flew a plane today! In my mind, I’m still flying.”

    • Her quote to end the piece is a tear-jerker

    • 60 Minutes segment on the same patient from five years ago:

 

I admire her commitment to doing the New York Times crossword puzzle